The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

Panthers to play Sycamores in football season opener Thursday

Panthers to face-off against second most played opponent in program history
Chris Wilkerson, head coach for Eastern Illinois Football team has players perform a series of drills for practice at O’Brien Field on Eastern Illinois University Campus Monday Evening (Dayne Taylor)

The Panther’s season opener is Thursday, and they will be traveling to Terre Haute, IN to face the Indiana State University Sycamores.

After ending the last season with a 2-9 record, this season’s team is looking forward to exceeding their expectations.

“The team’s preparation has been very good,” Head Coach Chris Wilkerson said. “We push the guys very hard from the end of last season, you know, from the last game in November, all through winter, spring, summer and preseason.”

Wilkerson also said he is pleased with the progress that they have made and is happy with the way the team has responded.

“You know it’s that time of the year, I think the guys are ready to play against somebody else,” Wilkerson said. “You go through spring and have 15 practices and you play against each other. You go through fall and there are 29 practices leading up to the first game, so we’ve had about 26 practices where 20-24 of those we played against each other. So, you know they’ve gone after each other for about 40 practices in a row and were focusing certainly on an opponent and they’re ready to play.”

Wilkerson talked about what style of play fans can see from his team this season.

“We are an advantage bass spread offense and we are a four two as a base or a four three as a base teaching standpoint, but the most important thing is that we want to be improved,” Wilkerson said. “I want our guys to be I know that we’re going to be more physical. I know that we’re going to play harder for each other. And I’m just looking forward to watching them continue to develop as we move forward.”

Wilkerson also addressed specific areas of focus during training to help the team’s weaknesses from last season.

“For us philosophically, we knew we needed to do a better job taking care of the football,” Wilkerson said. “So offensively, the whole theme for the entire spring and preseason has been no balls on the ground, meaning that we want to limit the turnovers. That’s something where we just turned it over too many times last year, and we know that it’s something that we can control, so we want to limit those turnovers defensively. It’s about limiting the gain or limiting the explosive plays.”

Wilkerson also explained what the game plan is for Indiana State and how the Panthers will execute on Thursday.

“You know for us, we want to make sure that we win the turnover battle,” Wilkerson said. “We want to make sure that we do a very good job limiting their explosive plays and creating more explosive plays. We want to win the battle with the explosives. We want to be penalty-free. If we can, we want to avoid the procedural stuff that happens in week number one, and most importantly, we just got to go out and trust our training.”

Mark Aitken, a redshirt junior marketing major, performs defensive back drills for practice at O’Brien Field on Eastern Illinois University Campus Monday Evening (Dayne Taylor)

Senior offensive lineman Chad Strickland feels the offense is ready to play against Indiana State.

“I think our biggest strength is running the ball,” Strickland said. “I think the offensive line is ready to carry the offense this season.”

Fifth-year running back Juwon Farri said that the biggest improvement he saw during training camp was the communication among his teammates.

“Everybody just picked up the slack that we were lacking last year,” Farri said. “The whole team has a chip on their shoulder and they’re ready to show what we can do as EIU.”

Junior linebacker Elijawah Tolbert feels confident heading into Thursday’s game in Terre Haute.

“We prepared ourselves all summer, and now we’re just ready to show all that we prepared for,” Tolbert said.

Redshirt junior defensive back Mark Aitken said that the biggest improvement he saw during training camp was the chemistry between him and his teammates.

“We all know each other pretty well, and we play well with each other,” Aitken said.

Coach Wilkerson left a message for the fans and supporters before the Panther’s first game of the season:

“We’re really excited again; our players have worked really hard. Our coaching staff has worked really hard. Our administration and support people have worked very hard. The atmosphere of O’Brien will be very different than what it’s been in the past.”

The Sports Staff can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Zaria Flippin, Sports Editor
Zaria Flippin is a junior sports media relations major. This is her first year at The News.
Duane Carter, Sports Reporter
Duane Carter is a junior sports media relations major. This is his first year at The News.

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