By GREG MENGELT
It’s impossible to deny that it was a rough 2012 football season in Pekin.
Following back-to-back 5-5 seasons for the young Eastern program under coach John Dablow, the Musketeers got just one win a year ago — a much-needed 35-0 triumph over Crawford County in Week 8 — and they were winless in the Mid-Southern Conference.
Record-wise, it was the worst season in four years under Dablow and the Musketeers’ record matched their initial campaign in 2007.
Dablow said his Musketeers have been working hard this summer to be sure opponents don’t run over them again in 2013.
“Honestly, this may be my most enjoyable summer that I’ve had, as far as kids showing up on a consistent basis and the work that they’re doing,” Dablow said. “This group doesn’t want to be 1-9 again and they’re really working toward [more wins].
“This has been a good, fun group to be around. I look forward to summer workouts. I don’t know what the record’s going to be like, but it’s a fun group to be around and that’s something to be said right there.”
Dablow said he’s had an average of about 48 players show up at summer practices.
“We’re hoping when school starts, we’ll get some more freshmen,” he said. “We’d like to be over 50, but we’ve been at 48 consistently this summer.”
Despite losing star running back Kaleb Nicholson, Eastern already appears to be well ahead of last season’s group at this point in the offseason.
A year ago, the Musketeers went to 7-on-7 tournaments at Center Grove and West Washington and came home without a single victory. This year, they went to the same two tournaments and earned several wins.
“This year, we were very, very competitive in every game,” Dablow said. “We won several games at Center Grove and were .500 at West Washington [last week]. We were able to score a little bit more [than last year]. I don’t know what that translation will be — you just never know — but we feel like we’re in a much better place than where we were last year.”
After a rough year at quarterback as a sophomore, Dablow said junior quarterback Austin Roberts is showing great improvement this summer.
“We’ve installed some new things and it gets our quarterback a chance to throw it around a little bit,” Dablow said.
Dablow said several seniors have shown great leadership ability this summer. Senior linebackers Scot Ames and Brayton Brading have been the most influential on the 2013 offseason paying dividends.
“Those two come to mind when I think of senior leaders this summer,” Dablow said. “They’ve pushed each other and the rest of the kids. They’ve really done a nice job this summer. All the kids have really done a nice job this summer.”
• Departures: FB/LB Kaleb Nicholson, LB Jordan Huntley, FB/LB Luke Perry.
• Key returning players: FB/LB Brian Arnold (Sr.), RB/LB Scot Ames (Sr.), TE/LB Brayton Brading (Sr.), OL/DL Jacob Timmons (Sr.), QB Austin Roberts (Jr.), RB/DB Jordan Eberle (So.), RB/DB Mike Hall (Jr.).
• Key varsity newcomer: FS Cody Estes (So.).
• 2012 recap: The 2012 season didn’t go as expected in Pekin, particularly after consecutive five-win seasons in 2010 and 2011. Not only did the Musketeers only get the one victory, but their closest Mid-Southern Conference loss was a 28-7 defeat to North Harrison. Eastern also became the first team to lose to Silver Creek — 44-18 in Week 4 — since the Dragons reassembled a varsity program two years earlier. The season ended with a 32-0 defeat at the hands of Clarksville in Class 2A Sectional 31.
• 2013 expectations: Replacing the bruising Nicholson could be tough, but Dablow likes what he has returning. The development of Roberts — after a full season under center a year ago — could be the key. Eastern should win more than one game in 2013. Getting back to five wins would still seem to be a difficult goal to attain.