For the Coal City football team, this season was a character builder. It was not necessarily the kind of season the Coalers were hoping for, but one that could be considered a success when all the chips are counted.
“We had our ups and downs this season,” Coal City senior Kasey Kaiser said. “We had to overcome and deal with a lot of injuries. Everyone counted us out, but we proved them wrong and made [the playoffs].”
The injury bug started biting the Coalers at the onset of the season when junior Jack Dibble went down. It then carried right on through the 33-14 loss to Quincy Notre Dame when junior Parker Czaja was unable to answer the bell for the playoff game.
“We lost Jack Dibble early and that was something we had to overcome. We thought we were going to be relying a lot on him this year,” Coal City coach Lenny Onsen said. “After that, we had to make some changes. One was D.J. Budde. He didn’t really come in expecting to be a running back and he ended up running the ball pretty well for us. Again, it was a battle all year long and the kids had to fight through it. We just didn’t have enough of the pieces and depth this year.
“Without Parker Czaja, we were very limited there. With him out there we may have been able to take away some of that running stuff. We would have at least been stronger with it. But again, we ask the kids to step up and they did. I mean, Matt Norton stepped up. He’s a sophomore who has not taken any reps with us [the varsity]. He’s had a broken hand and been unable to go, but he helped us out. He’s not the only one. We had kids making plays.”
Kids like sophomore Brad Littleton.
“He’s a sophomore who has just gotten better and better every week,” Onsen said. “He’s our punter and our kick returned and our punt returner; he’s played free safety, he’s played corner and now he’s been getting more involved on offense. He’s been quite an addition for us this year.”
In the face of continually turning to the “next kid up”, Coal City then teetered on the playoff balance beam before officially getting in after a Week 9 victory.
“After week seven, after we lost the game we knew the best we could be was 5-4 and nobody knew. But the kids worked hard and it got us into this situation right here,” Onsen said. “A situation where we got a playoff game, even though it was a tough playoff game. It’s always tough to end like this. It’s an emotional game. It’s going to be emotional if you win the state championship game. It’s especially emotional for the seniors and that’s because of the time and the effort and the work that goes in.”
Coal City began the season with 17 seniors on its roster, but considering the emergence of some of the younger players, Onsen is optimistic that next year will be an improvement.
“That’s the best part about this. We are 5-5 but I have a whole lot of kids back. This team got a lot of great experience,” Onsen said. “Going on the road and playing a tough football team. A team we came down and battled. Those kids were a part of it and they got to see how it is. Got to see the emotions of it all. This is great and it will only make us a better team next year. And we will be better next year. That’s how I look at it. That’s how I look at it. I looked at them being 5-4 last year and we’re going to try and grow the exact same way they did this year.”
Which will come only after another playoff cycle and lasting memories.
“I’ll always remember all the life’s lessons you learn and growing up with these guys has been awesome,” Kaiser said.
“It’s the brotherhood we have as players,” senior Nick Peters said. “Coming out with the coaches every day, there’s really nothing like it. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”