The Waterloo, Columbia and Dupo high school football teams are ready for the long-awaited return of Friday Night Lights.
The IHSA updated its COVID attendance rules recently to 20 percent venue capacity for outdoor sports, meaning more of the community can take in the action this spring than what was allowed in gyms this winter.
Waterloo is participating in the Mississippi Valley Conference Bowl Series, with the three first games in pool play and the final three games as part of an eight-team bracket.
The Bulldogs, who open at home Friday night against Civic Memorial on the old grass field off Rogers Street due to the WHS turf field needing repairs, have an experienced group of 15 seniors returning in 2021.
Linemen Evan Fink and Brett Howard are senior captains being counted on to lead.
“They have been itching to get back on the field and show the work they have put in over the past four years,” Waterloo assistant coach Matt Lucash said.
They are joined on the offensive line by AJ Lattimore, Noah Meyers, Anthony Maxey and Adam Yount.
Waterloo’s backfield will be led by senior quarterback Eric Brown. Joining him for the bulk of the snaps will be Evan Davis, Jack McFarlane, Dustin Crawford and Ethan Horvath.
“We have one of our quickest and most athletic backfields/receiving corps that we’ve had in a while,” Lucash said. “We will be able to distribute the ball to many players and not rely on one single guy.”
Waterloo’s defense features many of the same players from the offensive side of the ball, and will also include experienced players like ends Tyler Barnes and Drew Goff.
“We plan to get after opponents using our speed and athletic ability,” Lucash said.
The WHS coaching staff is impressed with the amount of work put in by players to improve speed and strength.
“Like most teams, our kids have been waiting for the opportunity to get back on the field,” Lucash said. “They have not sat around waiting for it to come to them. We have some athletes that we think may surprise some people this year because they have put in the work and prepared for this spring football season.”
Columbia, which opens at home this Friday against Red Bud, returns just one starter on offense and three on defense in 2021.
Londyn Little, a speedster who has scored in a variety of ways for the Eagles, returns at wide receiver, defensive back and as a return specialist.
Dominic Voegele, a sophomore safety, and Dawson Sukup, a senior defensive linemen, also return.
Columbia head coach Scott Horner said senior Colin McLaren will split snaps at quarterback this year with Voegele.
Junior Kyle McConachie will serve as running back behind an offensive line anchored by senior Mason Kohlenberger.
Wide receivers for the Eagles in addition to Little are seniors Adam Wibbenmeyer, Andrew Maulding, Aaron Teutrine and Bryce Hildebrand. Others that will see time are senior Oliver Schrader and Peyton Westfall as well as junior Jay Mistler
On defense, Sukup and Kohlenberger will anchor the defensive line with senior Garret Pulcher playing some linebacker and defensive end, with Wibbenmeyer and Schrader playing linebacker as well.
“We are young and few have varsity experience but they are all great athletes and knowledgeable players,” Horner said. “I expect them to play fast and to put tons of pressure on defenses to defend us all over the field.”
Dupo, which opens at Carlyle on Friday, returns plenty of experience in 2021.
“We have a great group of seniors who have been leading a talented group of sophomores and freshmen over the last 17 months,” Dupo head coach Joe Day said. “It is pretty inspiring to see how the group has stayed together through the uncertainty of COVID and we are all extremely excited to see our kids compete.”
Key players include Noah Chism and Mathew Kimbel on the offensive and defensive lines, CJ Robinson at quarterback, Cam Biggs at safety, Hunter Stephens at linebacker, Jacob Taylor at wide receiver and Kyle Yancy at safety and wide receiver. All are seniors.
Expected to make big contributions for the Tigers are senior lineman Cody Sager, and sophomores Logan Stevens (LB/WR), Freddy McMahon (WR/CB) and Connor Smitt (OL/DL).