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The State Journal- Register (Springfield, IL)
With season openers less than two weeks away, coaches are facing depth issues even before factoring in the injuries that come over nine weeks. There could be some uphill sledding this season.
Beardstown, which has reached the playoffs four straight years, had 25 players - including freshmen - practicing as of Monday, according to coach Tyler Buhlig.
Havana coach Chad Heffren, whose team made the 2A playoffs two years ago and went 4-5 last year, said the Ducks' total numbers have slipped below the 40 mark for the first time in his memory.
Aaron Duff, coach at Class 3A Hillsboro, has a total of 52 in the Hiltoppers' program. But 22 are freshmen.
Duff, who coached at Greenville before returning to his alma mater six years ago, said Hillsboro is battling several factors.
"Our enrollment was about 610 when I came back (in 2008), and now we're at 518," Duff said. "Plus, we offer four fall sports, including soccer. It's tough for schools our size to spread everyone out over that many sports.
"I think a lot of it is just that football is hard work, and there aren't as many kids willing to do it."
At Beardstown, Buhlig said the number of players slipped significantly this year. In addition to offering four fall sports, Beardstown has a unique situation tied to soccer.
"We're a school of about 400 kids, so you're looking at 200 boys and four fall sports," he said. "We have a pretty substantial Hispanic enrollment, and some of them are looking to play soccer.
"It's frustrating because we've made the playoffs four years in a row. I still think we can make the playoffs if we can avoid major injuries."
Craig Anderson, Illinois High School Association assistant executive director in charge of football, said concussion awareness is another factor leading to the decrease in players. Based on data gathered by the IHSA, Anderson said there are approximately 4,500 fewer student-athletes playing football statewide than there were in 2007.
"It's a national trend, not just Illinois," Anderson said. "We can't put a finger on the exact reason. But there's concussion safety, and there's also specialization of athletes. Sometimes football is a second or third choice."
The decrease in players isn't limited to small-public school programs. Several private (non-boundaried) schools in and near The State Journal-Register area are dealing with drops that have made practices - let alone games - more of a challenge.
Second-year Jacksonville Routt coach Heath Wilson said the Rockets finished with 21 players a year ago. The situation has improved marginally with 29 participating in the preseason.
Edwardsville Metro-East Lutheran, a Class 1A member of the Prairie State Conference, already faces a precarious situation. Matt Tschudy, the Knights' head coach this year after serving as an assistant the last four seasons, said he has just 18 players on his roster.
"It's varied from the low 20s up to 30 or so the last few years," Tschudy said. "Our enrollment is down, and we also have soccer, golf and cross country in the fall.
"It's a challenge in practice, absolutely. You can't go 11-on-11. But I'm pleased with the 18 we have out. They work incredibly hard. With our low numbers, conditioning's a priority."
Illinois School for the Deaf, a non-boundaried school, made a significant change in response to a decrease in players.
ISD, which has had a football team since 1885, will play just two 11-man games this season. One will be against Indiana Deaf in ISD's homecoming game on Oct. 4. The Tigers will play five eight-man contests against other deaf schools.
Contact Dave Kane: 788-1544, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/DaveKaneSJR