Head Coach: Clint Schwartz (11th Season)
Career Record: 51-44
Conference: Illinois 8-Man Football Association
Last Playoff: I8FA Quarterfinals, 2021
Best Playoff: I8FA State Champions, 2018
2021 Record: 7-4
8/25 Flanagan-Cornell-Woodland 6 p.m.
9/03 @Martinsville 1 p.m.
9/09 @Blue Ridge-Deland-Weldon 7 p.m.
9/16 @Amboy 7 p.m.
9/23 @Alden-Hebron 7 p.m.
10/01 Pawnee-Lincolnwood 2 p.m.
10/07 St. Thomas More 7 p.m.
10/15 Schlarman 2 p.m.
10/21 @Decatur Lutheran 7 p.m.
As Milford-Cissna Park, a charter member and the inaugural champion of the Illinois 8-Man Football Association, prepares for the fifth fall of I8FA action, Bearcats head coach Clint Schwartz can't help but admire the growth he's seen the league take from its seven-team maiden voyage in 2018 to the 29-team frenzy its become by 2022.
"Just from being a part of that M-CP team that got in that first year, the game has changed our communities and the way we do things," Schwartz said. "Being one of the original guys in that I8FA meeting room with seven teams and now almost 30 teams, it’s cool to see where it’s at now and how much positive impact it’s had on teams throughout the state."
As the number of teams have increased, so has the amount of competition. But with a deep class of 11 seniors, including all eight starters on offense, the Bearcats are embracing that challenge in their quest to win their first crown since the first year of the league.
Leading that senior pack is quarterback Sawyer Laffoon, the program's first returning starter at the position since their move to I8FA, with the senior gunslinger looking to build off last fall, when he threw for the area's second-most yards (1,453).
"There’s a lot of times when they go work on passing, I just go with the offensive linemen. We have another coach there but Sawyer basically runs that varsity group and there’s just something nice about having a quarterback coming back," Schwartz said. "He knows what to do, teaches the younger kids what to do and that connection he has with Justin Tillman … and the same could be said with Carter Borgers and I’m excited for those guys to see what they can do their senior year."
In addition to his top two targets, classmate Mason Blanck will lead the backfield while returning starters Max Cook, Ryan King and Luke Trumann are all back to man the offensive line, joined by tight end Noah Phelan with support from fullback Chase Clutteur.
"Our senior class, through junior high and high school we’ve had a big class with athletic numbers," Laffoon said. "The more we play, the closer we get and more fun we have, which leads to more success."
Several of those same pieces will man spots along a defense Schwartz has built with hybrid-style positions to accommodate the variety of offensive attacks 8-man teams offer.
If the returning experience from last year's 7-4 squad that reached the I8FA quarterfinals can continue picking up where they left off, Laffoon said their goal is to not just appear in the program's third-ever I8FA title game, but win it.
"Go big or go home," he said.
That's something Schwartz hopes his squad can accomplish as well, but whatever happens this fall, he knows it will happen with a memorable group.
"We're so fortunate to be in the position we're in," Schwartz said. "Whether that leads to wins or losses, we'll see, but they're a fun group to work with."
Quick Hits: Chase Clutteur, LB/TE/FB
Best cafeteria food: Nacho Day goes crazy
Superstition: Wearing dad's old football undershirt
If I wasn't at football I would be: On the baseball field
Biggest role model: My parents
Funniest teammate: Ryan "Beans" King