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Seneca hopes to build off successful, playoff-clinching 2019 season

Like every other high school football coach in the state of Illinois, Seneca’s Ted O’Boyle is excited to see his squad back on the field.

But he’s also thrilled to see what this year’s team — albeit in a shortened season — can do.

The Fighting Irish finished the 2019 season 5-5 overall and 4-2 in the Sangamon Valley Conference while qualifying for the Class 3A playoffs for the first time since the fall of 2013. The boys in Green and Gold fell at Farmington by a pair of touchdowns in the opening round of the postseason under O’Boyle, who begins his ninth year as Seneca head coach and 19th overall.

There won’t be a chance for a second straight playoff berth, but O’Boyle says right now it’s just about the kids — 64 players in the program, 18 upperclassmen — getting to play.

“Being back out on the practice field has been great, and the morale of all the kids couldn’t be much better,” said O’Boyle. “I’m thankful that these kids are going to get a chance to play a few games this season. The effort has been really good the first few practices, but I knew that would be the case. We have good kids who work extremely hard and want to win.

“We want to carry over the success we had last season in making the playoffs into this spring season, and hopefully keep building into next fall that will only be four short months away when we are finished up this spring. Many of these players got a taste of the postseason and want to continue to play good football.

“It had taken us a while to get back to the playoffs, so I think even with the season moved to spring and no playoffs, these kids want to prove themselves.”

The Irish, which scored 24.7 points a game in 2019, have four players — seniors Brayden Roe and Spencer DeGraaf, junior Carter Ellis, and freshman Nathan Grant — vying for the starting and backup quarterback spots. Senior running back/linebacker/safety Ryan McCauley, an All-SVC selection and Times All-Area honoree had a 7.5-yard-per-carry average and ran for 836 yards and nine touchdowns, also adding a team-high eight receptions for 171 yards and three scores. Defensively, he recorded 27 tackles and an interception. Junior Brock Moore, an All-SVC inside linebacker, is also expected to get some carries in the Seneca ‘T’ system.

O’Boyle sees seniors Maveric Varland (All-SVC), Rick Milliman, Nathan Elliott, Jacob Elliott (maybe at TE), and Nathaniel Finch (TE, also DE or OLB) blocking up front, while senior Gavin Robertson (FB, Guard, D-line) returns after rushing for 104 yards and recording 39 total tackles with 11 going for losses and three quarterback sacks out of the defensive line. Senior Cole Underhill and sophomore Collin Wright will be at linebacker.

“Our lines are going to be a work in progress that will be pieced together as they go,” said O’Boyle.

Graduation hit Seneca the hardest in the secondary, according to O’Boyle, but said he sees Trey Hauch and Chase Hauch more than likely in the defensive backfield, but with many spots up for grabs.

“I really think if we’d played in the fall, we’d have been in good shape to playing when Week 10 rolled around, but with the way things are, we’ll just have to readjust our goals and keep the guys motivated towards the goals,” said O’Boyle. “We may have some inexperienced kids out there the first couple of games, but hopefully they’ll be a few that really step up for us.

“We will definitely miss not playing Marquette, that is one I think each school looks forward to. We open the season with Paxton-Buckley-Loda (Friday, March 19 at 5:30 p.m.) and at Clifton Central (Friday, March 26 at 7 p.m.), who will both be top teams in our league, so right now those are two games right off the bat we’re looking forward to. That being said, I think Week 1 will be the biggest game for us in the sense it will be the first one back on the field in actual competition that we’ve obviously had in a while.

“We’ll come out and play hard and see what happens.”

The Irish’s final four weeks — all Friday games at 7 p.m. — will be hosting Watseka (April 2) and Momence (April 9), then on the road to Dwight (April 16) and Iroquois West (April 23).

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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