Asa Cooper

Daily Journal/Nicholas Holstein

Coal City High School’s Asa Cooper carries the ball on a play as Wheaton St. Francis High School’s Ben Bettag looks for the tackle during last season’s Class 4A quarterfinal in Coal City.

Mason Schweizer

2021 Outlook

Head Coach: Dan Hutchings (4th season)

Career Record: 28-7

Conference: Illinois Central Eight

Last Playoff: Class 4A Semifinalist, 2019

Best Playoff: Class 2A State Champions, 1993

2019 Record: 12-1

2021 Schedule

3/19 7 p.m. Streator

3/26 7 p.m. @Manteno

4/1 7 p.m. Lisle

4/9 7 p.m. @Wilmington

4/16 7 p.m. @Reed-Custer

The class that graduated from Coal City last year is certainly one that will be remembered for decades to come, particularly after last year’s perfect regular season and playoff trip that ended in the IHSA Class 4A Semifinals. But for programs like the Coalers, who were no stranger to success before their most recent run, tradition lingers around just as long as the memories of the players who have since moved on.

“The one thing we hang our hats on and are most proud of is the stability of our program,” coach Dan Hutchings, only the third Coal City coach over the past 35 years, said. “When you have an exceptional class come through you have to take advantage of that and we did, but we expect to be in the playoffs and we expect winning seasons. The kids expect that and the community expects that.

“And the kids buy in and work hard in the weight room ... kids graduate but the tradition stays.”

One notable two-way returner is junior running back and defensive jack-of-all-trades Ashton Harvey, who burst onto the scene with an impressive postseason last year. He will be in the mix at running back to replace all-state and Daily Journal Player of the Year running back Daniel Jezik and will move from safety to linebacker on defense.

“He reaped the rewards of playing with some talented kids last year, bought in and made himself a very good football player,” Hutchings said of Harvey. “I go back to our quarterfinal game against St. Francis, a game we won 24-7 and he was arguably the best player on the field that day.”

Asa Cooper will also see plenty of carries and see plenty of action all over the field after all-conference play as a receiver last season.

Three-year starting quarterback Payton Hutchings is now hurling heaters for the University of Illinois and some of his weapons are gone as well, including all-state tight end and linebacker Austin Pullara. Dan Hutchings hasn’t confirmed a starter but all signs point to junior Keegan Crater early on.

“Keegan is a junior who’s taking a lot of snaps and got a lot of experience on JV last year,” Dan Hutchings said. “He’s got that experience and we just try and make him better every day and we’re happy with the progress.”

The Coalers had the area’s most dominant defense a year ago, allowing an area-best 7.8 points per game and pitching five shutouts in the process. In addition to Harvey, Cooper is back, moving from cornerback to safety, Nick Seplak returns on the interior of the defensive line and Kyle Burch is back on the edge. Brady Best will take over linebacker duties after spending last season on the defensive line.

“We really hang our hats on playing good defense and being aggressive tacklers,” Dan Hutchings said. “[Defensive coordinator Francis] Loughran does a great job at making these guys gel and it’s fun to see them get better every day, which makes our offense better as well.”

The Coalers will look to repeat as conference champions once again, but coach Hutchings said the team already accomplished their primary goal when they took the field for the first practice of the spring.

“We’re getting [our goal] just by being with the kids outside and practicing every single day,” Dan Hutchings said. “Just being out with them, seeing the camaraderie and seeing them develop ... just seeing them happy as heck, those are the things we need to get back to.”

Mason Schweizer is an award-winning reporter who has been with the Daily Journal since 2017 and sports editor since 2019. Save for time at the University of Illinois and Wayne State College, Mason is a lifelong area resident.