Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

August 29, 2013

Effingham dedicated to turn around from rough 2012

Daily News

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In 2002, the Effingham Flaming Hearts were coming off a playoff season and stumbled to a 2-7 record.

They responded by making the playoffs for the next nine years running.

Hearts fans around the area are hoping for a similar turnaround in 2013, coming off their worst season in 10 years and an identical 2-7 mark.

Effingham coach Mike McDonald recognizes how difficult last season was, but also understands how different things could have been.

"You add a Centralia, they've won the South 7 the last two years," McDonald said. "Paxton was a really good team, they ended up not making the playoffs because they had a lot of injuries. But we played them week two.

"We lose Paris and Robinson, we bring in Mattoon. It's probably the toughest schedule we've played in 15 years."

McDonald said the team could have gone 5-4 with a number of close games being reversed, and a 5-4 record would have meant a playoff trip with the schedule the Hearts played.

Effingham lost 30-22 to a 4-5 Paxton team, fell 44-36 to 9-1 Centralia, fell 16-7 at 5-5 Mattoon and lost 17-14 in overtime against 6-4 Mahomet-Seymour at home.

But the root causes of the unexpectedly rough season are much simpler than a difficult schedule.

"We just didn't have the dedication, the work ethic we needed by the entire set of kids," McDonald said. "We just weren't good enough athletically to overcome not being as strong or as fast as we could have been."

The Hearts showed off their roster Saturday night at the Buck Bowl, with both the offensive and defensive units having their moments in the sun in a 21-0, three 10-minute period scrimmage.

McDonald has liked what he's seen from Effingham since the end of the 2012 campaign.

"We've put in the work this year. our kids started in November," he said. "A number of them dedicated themselves to getting into the weight room, and getting in shape."

We've seen great strides in our strength and our speed. Hopefully that's going to carry over."

Effingham plays the same schedule this season as it did last year, but start this year with three home games against Breese Mater Dei, Paxton and Centralia. They also have five home games, compared to last year's four, with Salem and Mattoon rounding out the home schedule in 2013.

"That's a huge advantage," McDonald said. "We have to take advantage. We're a little bit more experienced this year."

That experience should carry over to less mistakes, which also cost Effingham in 2012.

Eliminating those, along with the dedication McDonald's seen, should help turn the tables this year.

"We're going to have to stay away from turnovers," he said. "Interceptions, I consider things like bad punts turnovers."

Effingham's turnaround effort begins Friday at home, when they host Breese Mater Dei at 7 p.m. at Klosterman Field. Breese downed Effingham 49-7 in last year's opener in Breese.