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


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Panthers prepare for home opener against Redbirds

This is the 111th time the Panthers and Redbirds compete for the Mid-American Classic
Ashanti Thomas
Quarterback Pierce Holley looks for an open player to throw the ball to during football practice at O’Brien Field Wednesday afternoon.

Eastern will face Illinois State University at O’Brien Field on Saturday at 2 p.m.

This game will be the Panthers’ home opener.

With a 38-15 loss against Bowling Green, the Panthers are looking to bounce back with a win against the Redbirds.

Panthers’ Head Coach Chris Wilkerson shared what preparations and strategies can help ensure a win for his team for their upcoming opponent this Saturday.

“You know, that’s something that’s going to be very consistent throughout the entire season and we know we have to tackle better,” Wilkerson said. “Bowling Green, credit to them, had three very good tailbacks and a very, very good tight end and a couple of skill guys on the perimeter. Our opponent this week has three very good tailbacks, a very good tight end and some guys on the perimeter. Their quarterbacks have been very efficient this week.”

Wide Receiver DeAirious Smith catches the ball in the endzone during a football practice at O’Brien Field Wednesday afternoon. (Ashanti Thomas)

“We know we’re gonna must step our game up on defense,” Wilkerson said. “Offensively, we’ve got to again, be able to keep our quarterback upright and run the football well enough to establish that to maintain some sort of balance, and then we’ve got to make the explosive plays in the passing game.”

Coach Wilkerson also shared the team’s goals and expectations for their first game of the season at O’Brien Field.

“Our goal is to win every time you know that we take the field, but we still can just continue to really focus on the process,” Wilkerson said. “This is the first week that we’ve had a chance to move our practices to the afternoon. During preseason, they’re a little bit earlier. Once the guys started school, we had so much heat the first couple of weeks that we ended up in the morning. We’ve been settling into our routine as an in-season routine, and it’s our first opportunity to really play at home so that part of it is really exciting. I think the guys are looking forward to it. It’s the 111th Mid-American Classic, the 111th time that Eastern Illinois and Illinois State University have played each other in football for the trophy. The guys understand what’s on the line.”

Junior wide receiver DeAirious Smith said that he feels great going into Saturday’s home opener.

“I think it’s going to be a great experience for everybody to come out and support us,” Smith said. “I think it should be a great game between both teams.”

Fifth-year defensive back Russell Dandy feels optimistic about Saturday’s game.

“Despite the loss we took last week, I still feel like we have the confidence and we’re coming and attacking hard to prepare for this game,” Dandy said.

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Phoenix Porter feels excited to play at O’Brien Field against the Redbirds.

Linebacker Phoenix Porter practices by using the tackle wheel at O’Brien Field Wednesday afternoon. (Ashanti Thomas)

“It’s going to be a great opportunity for us to come out and play in front of our fans for the first opportunity in 2023,” Porter said. “This is a signature win for Coach Wilk, so we’re going to go ahead and get this done and bring that trophy back on our side.”

Wilkerson addressed how team practices have helped prepare the Panthers for Saturday’s game.

“The biggest thing is that we want to improve,” Wilkerson said. “We want to take another step forward, and there were some areas that we did, but there were some other areas that we regressed last week. The guys were very spirited on the first day of practice yesterday. I’m expecting the same today at practice and expecting them to be ready to go when we kick off.”

Redshirt junior quarterback Pierce Holley thinks the team has been improving one practice at a time.

“I think we’ve been improving a lot of the little things,” Holley said. “Cleaning up the little stuff, like protections, guys being in the right spot, and just cleaning stuff up all together.”

Dandy has seen improvements throughout practices, and the biggest one he’s seen is the effort that the Panthers have.

“I’m seeing a lot of effort in practice,” Dandy said. “We’re doing good at executing on the details.”

Smith wants Panther fans to come to the game, have fun and support Eastern football.

“I want a dub and everybody to come out and support and see how we are and see how this year is going to be,” Smith said.

Coach Wilkerson gave one last message to the fans and supporters for this Saturday’s game:

“The home crowd is very important to us,” Wilkerson said. “It’s home-field advantage, and it’s our first opportunity to put the 2023 EIU Panthers on the field in front of our home crowd. There are some people behind the scenes that have done a ton of work to make the game day atmosphere much more enjoyable and exciting. There are some things that’ll be announced in the next 48 hours, and I think if people come out to O’Brien Stadium, not only are they going to have a great show, with some of the other stuff going on the peripheral, but they’re also going to have a chance to watch a football team that’s going to play tough, be very physical and play fast and exciting to watch.”

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

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About the Contributors
Zaria Flippin
Zaria Flippin, Sports Editor
Zaria Flippin is a junior sports media relations major. This is her first year at The News.
Duane Carter
Duane Carter, Sports Reporter
Duane Carter is a junior sports media relations major. This is his first year at The News.
Ashanti Thomas
Ashanti Thomas, Photographer
Ashanti Thomas is a senior digital media major. She previously served as photo editor and assistant photo editor at The News.

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