Mason believes Elgin can be a playoff team
Its 18-game losing streak in the rearview mirror, Elgin begins the climb back to football respectability.
Breaking into the win column last season by upsetting rival Larkin 26-20 in overtime in Week 9 was like a cool drink on a 110-degree day for the Maroons, who now hope to string together a winning streak and climb out of the second tier of the Upstate Eight Conference's River Division.
It's a possibility considering they open the season with a home game against East Aurora and travel to West Chicago in Week 2. All three Upstate Eight Conference teams went 1-8 last year. Streamwood (3-6), Geneva (3-6) and Larkin (4-5) are also scheduled.
Though third-year Elgin coach Anthony Mason made it clear he was disappointed in what he called an inadequate off-season commitment from a few players, he nevertheless said of the 2017 team: "I truly believe if we live up to our potential, we can be a playoff team. We have some competitive games this year that we're looking forward to. Then we need to pull an upset on one of the bigwigs."
One upset-minded returnee is senior Roy Panthier, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound outside linebacker with interest from North Dakota and Wyoming. A team captain, Panthier will be given the freedom to make more plays on defense this season based on reads.
"We're talking more sacks, we're talking more strips, we're talking interceptions," Mason said of his goals for Panthier. "When you're at the point where colleges are looking at you, we expect a little more."
Panthier will again use his height and strength at wide receiver. He caught 9 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown as a junior. He and returning senior receiver Tre Morris form a dangerous tandem. Morris last year had 17 receptions for 213 yards and a touchdown.
Senior slot receiver Andrew Staine and receiver Raymone Bridges have impressed in practice, Mason said. Bridges was limited last season to 2 catches for 56 yards and a touchdown.
The offensive line returns three senior starters: center Marco Otero (5-9, 170), R.J. Bartlett (5-11, 250) and Mark Sharks (6-1, 210).
Two sophomores Mason expects to have impacts are Brandon Bridges and Xavier Bonds. Both are challenging for starting roles. Similar athletes, each can play wide receiver, running back, defensive back and contribute on special teams
Dae'Vion Arthur returns at running back. A power rusher, last year he carried 84 times for 280 yards (3.3 avg.) and 3 touchdowns. His job is to get 3 yards and take care of the ball, his coach said.
Senior Kristan Flowers returns at quarterback. He split time at the position last year and completed 17 of 47 attempts for 229 yards. Flowers sits in with coaches on offensive strategy meetings and "knows what to expect" in his second year, according to Mason.
Several players will double as full-time defenders: Panthier and Arthur at linebacker, safeties Morris and Raymone Bridges and Sharks on the defensive line. Also returning on the line is junior Eric Guo (6-1, 250). Returning senior cornerback Evin Jorgensen brings veteran leadership to the secondary.
Elgin -- which begins the season with approximately 65 junior varsity and varsity players and 40 freshmen -- hopes to be competing for a playoff spot when it faces Larkin in the regular-season finale at Memorial Field on Oct. 20.
"I hope we understand now after beating Larkin that it takes hard work from Saturday into that Friday game," Mason said. "A handful understand. If we get more on board, there will be more success to come."