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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25th ranked Panthers continue to prepare for first conference game against UT Martin

Ashanti Thomas
Running back MJ Flowers, runs down the field after catching the ball during practice on Wednesday afternoon.

With a 19-10 win over Northwestern State, Eastern looks to keep it rolling at home this week vs. University Tennessee-Martin this Saturday at O’Brien Stadium.

Panthers’ Head Coach Chris Wilkerson shares how being in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Top 25 ranked teams impacted the team’s mindset and preparation.

“It’s an opportunity to try to earn some respect,” Wilkerson said. “It’s not given to you; you have to earn it every single week. We’re just going to continue to focus on what we have all year. And that’s, you know, our attitude, our approach and our response to every single day…It’s all about each week of our preparation, you know, started on Sunday, and they had a chance to relax a little bit on Monday and then went back to work yesterday. We’re back to work today, Thursday, Friday, Saturday up until 2:02.”

Redshirt freshman running back MJ Flowers says the team is coming in with a focused mindset for Saturday’s game.

“Going into conference play 4-1 is big to us,” Flowers said. “We’re going in with momentum and the right mindset to get the win.”

Junior defensive back Nick Coates thinks being ranked has its ups and downs.

Defensive back Nick Coates catches the ball at practice on Wednesday afternoon. (Ashanti Thomas)

“We’re not overthinking it,” Coates said. “We believe we should be in the Top 25.”

Wilkerson also shared what it is going to take for his team to win on Saturday against a ranked UT Martin Skyhawks team.

“So, we’ve got to continue to do what we have focused on all year offensively, we got to limit the number of balls on the ground, meaning we can’t turn the football over,” Wilkerson said. “You know, and then we got to make some plays…Ball plays come down with the football to be productive offensively, defensively, same thing that we talked about all year going to limit the explosive plays. That’s going to be a challenge. They’ve got the best running back in all of FCS. They’ve got some great receivers. They’ve got a very good transfer quarterback from the University of Mississippi. But we’ve got to tackle and then take the football away. So [being] opportunistic on defense but make them work their way down the field, tackle and be opportunistic, and then our special teams must continue to be special.”

Senior defensive lineman Braylon Willis is excited about the homecoming game on Saturday.

“I can’t wait for homecoming this weekend,” Willis said. “It’s a chance for the whole school to see the new and improved Eastern team.”

Defensive lineman Braylon Willis practices on the field with defensive line assistant coach Fred Wyatt on Wednesday afternoon. (Ashanti Thomas)

Graduate wide receiver Justin Thomas has seen the team improving on their starting pace during practices.

“We started out slow in multiple games this year, and we know that,” Thomas said. “We’re fixing it and working at it and getting better.”

Defensive lineman Alton Jefferson runs drills with his defensive line assistant coach Fred Wyatt Wednesday afternoon. (Ashanti Thomas)

Junior defensive lineman Alton Jefferson wants “all three sides to win” against the Skyhawks.

“We want to get the dub at the end of the day,” Jefferson said.

Lastly, Wilkerson sent a Homecoming message to the fans, friends and families for this week’s game.

“We are super excited about being able to play at home,” Wilkerson said. “That’s a great environment for us. We’re hoping that we can get as many people out to the game on Saturday as possible. You know, the environment has been great for our two home games. They’ve been wild football games, and you know, we’ve been able to come out on the positive side of the score, but I hope that anybody that’s around can make their way out to O’Brien Stadium at two o’clock this Saturday. The support means so much to our guys. The energy is contagious.”

“I don’t know if everyone understands how important the crowd can be in crucial games like this,” Thomas said. “Being loud on third and fourth down when [UT Martin] has the ball is important.”

Wide receiver Justin Thomas attempts to block defensive back Diego Oliver during a practice. (Ashanti Thomas)

Wilkerson believes the atmosphere from the crowd can be contagious to the players on Saturday.

“Enthusiasm is contagious, and we want to create just the greatest environment we possibly can where two nationally ranked teams are going to play on a beautiful fall day in Charleston at homecoming,” Wilkerson said.

UT Martin will be traveling to Charleston to play against Eastern at a 2 p.m. kickoff time at O’Brien Stadium.

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.
Ashanti Thomas, Photo Editor
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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