SAVANNA – If you're just looking at what the West Carroll Thunder lost last year, it doesn't seem like they are coming into the 2018 season with much.
That's not the thought process up North in Savanna, Ill.
"We lose kids every year and every other program does the same thing," West Carroll head coach Matt Leitzen said. "It's not going to be so much as a rebuild as a refill. We have athletes who can take those positions. We're not doing something that every other school has to do every year."
Leitzen heads a program that found itself successful deep into the postseason in 2017, sending many of the graduating seniors into their own collegiate athletic careers.
You can note some big losses on the from lead actors. Kaleb and Kody Plattenberger were two who departed with graduation. Kody served as Thunder's QB, while Kaleb was one of the top rushers and receivers. The two combined for a large percentage of the team's positive yards.
The Thunder also lost big names in defense with Cory Simpson, Dawson Wurster, Kaleb Hartman and Devon Murray. Defense was what carried the Thunder into the postseason last year, where they eventually fell to Gibson City-Melvin Sibley. Players like senior Kody Scheider will be stepping up to take over.
"The defense will be hard to fill the shoes," Scheider said. "These kids are hungry to be better and be the best, so with the speed we have this year it'll be a big plus."
The approach isn't going to change, though. Leitzen still sees defense as the key to their success, just thinks that speed may become more of a factor than strength.
"Defense is definitely still going to be a key part of our game," Leitzen said. "They say defense wins championships, and I definitely believe that's true. Good defense gives us chances on both sides of the ball to do damage."
West Carroll knows that they aren't expected to do anything with the losses on both sides of the ball. That is giving them a little extra motivation.
"We lost a lot of good players but we have a lot of young athletes," Scheider said. "I don't think any of the kids are scared to step up and play and none of them are scared to make plays."
Even the coaches see it.
"I think some of them are kind of taking it as a slap in the face," Leitzen said. "I think they're ready to prove that they have the ability to win, too."
The refilling Leitzen mentioned will happen with a lot of players who saw variety experience as sophomores and juniors. Scheider is joined by seniors Chance Williams, Dominick Neis, Grant Mangler, Miguel Watkins, Keelin Sisler, Saltin Coyer and they are confident is their leadership abilities with so many new faces on in the green and black.
"It always comes to the seniors first," Coach Leitzen said. "They've put in a lot of work and they lead both by experience and by performance at practice."
They aren't believing the doubters, knowing that they have their own strengths to use, even if they're different than last year's. That' more speed and skill.
"I think we're coming along," Scheider said. "We've got a young team that everyone knows about but I think it's going to be a great team with new faces, new players, new traits. I think we can be as good if not better than last year's team."
Leitzen has liked what he has seen in preseason, noting that the team has a determination to be successful.
"The point is improving," Leitzen said. "The roller coaster practices can harm you on game say. It doesn't matter if we're taking baby steps, as long as we're moving forward."