Momence/Peotone basketball

Peotone's Austin Marganski looks to pass the ball off while Momence's Lamarius Lillard guards in a Class 2A regional at Watseka High School this past winter. The Blue Devils will be coached by Eric Peppmuller this coming year.

PEOTONE — For the past 11 years, Eric Peppmuller’s name has been synonymous with Peotone and its sports programs.

He’s been the head basketball coach at the JV and middle-school levels, including a seventh-grade fourth-place finish at state in 2017.

He’s served as the cross country coach in the past and is the high school golf coach.

He can add another title to his name now.

Peppmuller was hired as the varsity head coach of the Peotone boys basketball program, replacing Bryce Shafer after a two-year stint at the helm of the program.

“Our players are very important to me, so the decision to apply was an easy one,” Peppmuller said. “I’ve known most of the players since they started playing basketball, and being a third-grade teacher for the past 10 years, I taught several of them in the classroom. They are some of the finest kids you could ever hope to coach, and I’m looking forward to it.”

The high expectations that surrounded Peotone before the 2017-18 season ended with underwhelming results.

The Blue Devils were competitive and owned leads but couldn’t finish strong and ended their season with a 9-18 record, their lowest win total since 2005-06 (5-20).

Five seniors, including standout Jack Halverson and Jack O’Boyle, graduated, leaving a canyon-sized hole to fill. But Peppmuller accepts the challenge.

“We are building a culture and working hard to represent Peotone the best way possible,” Peppmuller said. “However, it starts with reaching a player’s heart before getting to their mind. Xs and Os are a sometimes-only thing, but the way you treat someone truly shows a winner. And by working hard and genuinely caring about others, I believe winning basketball games will follow.”

Peotone hasn’t won a regional title nor 20 games in a season since 2016, but there’s reason for optimism. Six players return to the team this year, including Caleb Hunter, Jared Hunter and Seth White.

Peppmuller knows his work is cut out for him and his team, especially playing inside the Interstate Eight, but isn’t setting goals when it comes to wins and losses.

Instead, for right now, it’s simply about getting the community back together and packing the gymnasium game after game with Blue Devil fans and pride.

“I want to make high school basketball enjoyable for our guys,” Peppmuller said. “We want the community to come out and support us with pride and relentless spirit.”

However, don’t think winning isn’t on his mind. In fact, that very first win is something he can’t wait to experience.

“I can’t wait to storm the locker room after our first win,” Peppmuller said. “I am a proud Peotone Blue Devil, and I want to provide our players with a special and positive high school basketball experience.”

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