Sam Schuette was honored for both his offensive and defensive efforts last season.

By Kyle Daubs

The future of high school football in Illinois may be up in the air, but Sam Schuette and the rest of Charleston’s gridirons are making the best of it.

Hope has been a popular theme for CHS.

Hope is what keeps their desire of playing alive. Hope is also motivating the CHS team to post its first winning record since 2012.

In 2019, Charleston finished the season 3-6, matching its total wins from 2015-2018. Two of last season’s wins featured second-half comebacks. For the first time in years, there’s a buzz about the team in town.

“It’s in the back of our heads,” said Schuette a second team all-Apollo Conference selection on both offense and defense. “As a team, we are going to strive to just go out there and do our best and see what happens. A couple buddies and I have been out throwing the ball around. We’re hopeful the team has a good year.”

Schuette caught 29 passes for 471 yards and two scores at wide receiver in 2019 and recorded 57.5 tackles and four interceptions at safety, including a 35-yarder he returned for a touchdown against Effingham.

The road back towards winning football is never easy, especially when a team has gone just 8-55 over the course its last seven seasons.

Throw in a pandemic, and it’s truly a mountain of a climb.

IHSA allowed teams to start conditioning in June. Over the Fourth of July weekend, IHSA and Illinois Department of Health approved a plan to allow teams to put helmets back on.

“We have been conditioning and hitting the weights since mid-June,” said Schuette. “Putting the helmets on and being with the team was great, opposed to just eight people and coaches.”

The mandate lasted less than a week. Football 7-on-7s were soon cancelled; all contact drills were prohibited. In the interim, several college conferences have cancelled fall sports. The Ivy League has stopped all fall sports while the Big Ten Conference eliminated all non-conference competitions. The Ohio Valley Conference, which includes Eastern Illinois University, has canceled some sports and delayed others.

According to Schuette, the players have been grouped together based on position and grade level. Head coach Jerry Payne and his staff have navigated what they can control.

“I think all of the coaches have a good idea on what they can control and they do what they can when it comes to ISBE and the IHSA,” Schuette said. “They’ve been on us about maximizing the effort we can put into this.”

These uncertainties have not affected the squad’s mentality, Schuette says.

“Everyone is hopeful we have a season,” said Schuette. “Times like this, it’s better to be positive than negative. It’s better to prepare for a season and think we are going to play into October. We have to just expect it. If you expect it, we will be prepared. If we aren’t prepare, it’s going to show if the season happens.”

If a season does take place, the schedule will feature a former Apollo Conference foe, Robinson, in the Week 1 opener. Robinson, 3-6 last season, replaces Macomb, which CHS defeated 35-25 last season. The rest of the schedule will include Apollo Conference foes, plus Salem and Highland.

There’s a chance the Coles County Clash, which has regularly attracted more than 5,000 to EIU’s O’Brien Stadium, could be played before bleachers since the IHSA currently caps at 50, including players.

“As a community, that would make a huge difference,” Schuette said. “I want to say there were nearly 9,500 people last year. That’s a big chunk of the community. I was talking to a couple buddies about how devastating it would be without that game. It’s one of the highlights from the fall from a football aspect. It would be a big bugger for the whole community if we had that game without fans. All in all, I just hope we have it.”

At this point, though, that’s all we can do.

Hope.

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