DANVILLE — Dealing with adversity and learning to produce is the theme for the Danville Vikings football training camp this season.
Coming off a disappointing 4-5 season a year ago, where a young Vikings squad missed the playoffs because of a 55-22 loss to Peoria Notre Dame in the season finale, coach Marcus Forrest says this team needs use the experienced they gained and take it a step forward.
"We've had to deal adversity over the summer. We couldn't get into the weight room because of the renovations being complete at the high school, so we had to find other ways to improve our strength,'' Forrest said. "I've noticed over the years that our kids seem to struggle when something changes. So, we used this summer as an opportunity to teach them about dealing with adversity and dealing with changes.
"A year, we did a lot of learning on the job. This year, I want them learning to produce. We shouldn't have to do as much teaching this season, but just more refining the things that they should already know.''
On Monday, Danville hit the field at the Wayland-Young Athletic Facility for the first official day of practice allowed by the IHSA.
This is a day that coaches all around the state of Illinois discover just how many players are actually going out for football this season.
"We had pretty good numbers all summer and nearly all of those guys were here today,'' said Forrest, noting that Danville did pick up a few 'extras" as well.
"Our kids have been really committed,'' he said. "But, you always have a few kids that maybe were not able or weren't as committed to the summer stuff that show up for that first practice.''
And Forrest wanted to see how many guys were ready for the season.
After a long discussion about expectations, along with the rules of the program, Forrest opened the 2019 practice season with the "County Fair" practice drill — which has five stations of different drills.
"Our goal is get them out there running around, right away,'' Forrest said. "We want to push them to their limits, help them get through that point, so that we can push them to even higher limits. It's all part of the process of developing the best team that we can get.''
Most of the first practice dealt with individual drills, but there was also portions of the practice that was used for refreshing their memories of what they learning last season on either varsity, junior-varsity of freshman football teams.
Danville returns 19 players from last year's squad — including 15 of their 22 starters.
Leading the way for the Vikings is junior running back Devin Miles, who rushed for 989 yards and 12 scores. Additionally, the Vikings return all five starters on the offensive line.
Defensively, Danville will be built around three of the top four tacklers from last year. Senior linebacker John Ward was the No. 2 guy in tackles with 71 followed by senior Bennie Harris with 63 after missing the final two games and No. 4 tackler was junior safety Larvell Watkins with 61.
Senior D.J. Barnette will handling the punting duties again this season for the Vikings. Last year, five of his 10 punts were placed inside of the opponents' 20-yard line.
One of the biggest changes this year for Danville came on its schedule.
When the school year ended, the Vikings discovered that Thornwood, a team that Danville beat 19-0 in South Holland last year, had its conference schedule changed and the Thunderbirds would not be able to honor their contract to play in Danville on Sept. 27 at Ned Whitesell Field.
"That was kind of a shock,'' Forrest said. "After contacting the IHSA, we started searching for a team in the state of Illinois. There were conflicts with each of the schools that we talked with, so we expanded our search.''
Finally, Danville was able to secure a ninth contest with Gary (Ind.) Roosevelt. But instead of it being a home game for the Vikings, they will be making the trip to Gary on Saturday, Sept. 28.
"Because of the travel, they really wanted a Saturday game and that's the day of the Midwest Classic Band Competition at Danville,'' Forrest said. "We understand that's a very big deal, so we will instead go up to Gary.
"I recently found out that the house that Michael Jackson lived in is right across the street for the football field at Gary Roosevelt. So, we are going to be able to make this trip a learning experience for our players.''
The first home game for the Vikings will be Friday, Sept. 6 against the Urbana Tigers.
Danville will also host an intrasquad scrimmage on Friday, Aug. 23 at the Wayland-Young Athletic Facility.