‘I know we’re a better football team than we were at this point in time last year,’ Wilkerson says ahead of annual Spring Game


Han Byer

The Eastern football team stretches during practice on O’Brien Field Thursday evening.

Kate Stevens, Assistant Sports Editor

​After a series of weekly practices, Eastern’s football team will be having an open scrimmage on Sat., April 22, at 11 a.m. where they will showcase the fundamentals and things they worked on throughout the weekly practices.

​The practice at O’Brien Field was originally supposed to be part of Jimmy Garoppolo’s homecoming where his jersey was to be retired.

Due to circumstances behind EIU athletics control, Garoppolo is unable to attend. The events were then canceled, but the scrimmage is to go on.

Coach Chris Wilkerson said as the team has worked on different drills and fundamentals, the team has gelled together with the new players and have made progress all around.

“The whole goal is certainly to try to improve ourselves,” Wilkerson said. “And the guys have worked really, really hard in the offseason in the strength and conditioning area. We’re bigger, stronger, faster, a little more rugged right now and they have competed and improved from practice to one to practice 12.”

The team added a few new players at the beginning of the spring season and Wilkerson said they are getting to know each other and have acclimated well to their new atmosphere at EIU.

“They’ve really done a good job,” Wilkerson said. “Learning the system and they’ve done a good job building some relationships in the locker room. They’ve done a great job of adjusting to what the program is about here. So there’s still things that they’re learning, but we’ve been thrilled with their effort and their communication and their enthusiasm.”

With the progress that Wilkerson has seen during these practices, he is certain and hopeful that the success in practice will translate into wins this upcoming season.

“The goal is that it translates into more W’s, but we’re gonna focus on the preparation, we’re gonna focus on the process and we know that if we do those things, the W’s will take care of themselves,” Wilkerson said. “I know we’re a better football team than we were at this point in time last year.”

Wilkerson said he is looking forward to seeing the team compete against each other Saturday and to see those fundamentals come to life in the scrimmage.

“I think the biggest thing for the game is just watching them in the environment,” Wilkerson said. “And, the 22-person operation and watching them use the techniques and the muscle memory that we’ve tried to create through practice,” Wilkerson said. “And if they continue to focus on the fundamentals and focus on the process and not worry about the result. That’s what we’re looking to see. And I think sometimes when they get worried about what the actual result is, they lose track of the actual focus on the process.”

The game is set to kickoff at 11 a.m. at O’Brien Field. The scrimmage is open and free admission to all who wish to attend.

This will be a chance for fans and the community to catch a glimpse of the team they will be watching this upcoming fall season.

In the summer, Wilkerson said there will be 13 first-year players joining the team, so there will be more opportunity for the team to connect, improve, and work with the new players.

“Super excited about adding them to the family,” Wilkerson said. “They all bring some unique skills to the table, but we’re really excited about those guys. They come from all sorts of different places and different backgrounds with championship programs. [They are] great athletes and certainly excited about getting them here and getting them acclimated and get them as part of the family.”

The Spring Game is an annual occurrence for the football team as they use it to showcase their skills learned in the spring practices.

The team is preparing for the upcoming fall season where Wilkerson enters his second season as EIU’s head coach. The team ended the 2022 season with a 2-9 record.

EIU will play its first official game of the season against Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Ind. on Aug. 31.


Kate Stevens can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]