By Race Archibald

Five-hundred and eleven.

That’s how many days it will have been since the Charleston Trojans last played a football game when they kick-off against the Lincoln Railsplitters on Friday night at Trojan Hill.

There was serious concern that a season would not take place related to the pandemic and after the IHSA postponed the football season last fall.

But after a challenging winter and spring around the corner, football will be making its return to Coles County.

“They realize how fortunate they are,” said second-year Charleston coach Jerry Payne. “They knew how close they were to not playing at all.”

The biggest story about this season is that it is taking place in the spring. Payne cited minor differences about this season, such as the sun setting later, and temperatures rising throughout the season, but insists these changes won’t have an impact on the field.

“Football is football,” Payne said. “The kids are ready to go. They want to play.”

The IHSA allowed teams to begin practicing March 3, but Payne said they were able to do some contact drills in the fall through October, as well as earlier this year, which presented some problems.

“We were inside all the time,” Payne said. “It was hard to do because we’re in a gym, and you don’t have the space you have on the practice field. We used the best resources that we could get.”

Additional COVID-19 protocols have been a part of practices. This includes purchasing facemasks that go on each helmet, sidelines being more spread out, and daily symptom checks. Payne says he and the other coaches have been more mindful in terms of socially-distancing themselves from others.

Having practices outdoors also helps to diminish the spread of COVID-19. Apart from the extra measures to ensure the players remain healthy and available, it’s business as usual for the Trojans.

Practices have increased in intensity as of late, Payne said, as Charleston looks to build upon their 2019 season, which was their best season in three years.

“When I took this job, I told them ‘Let’s win one game,’” Payne said. “It’s where we’ve refocused again. It didn’t matter what game. We just needed to win one game.”

Charleston went 3-6 in 2019, including their first home and conference win since 2016, but it hasn’t stopped Payne from wanting more out of his team.

“I told them after the season: ‘We won three games, but we haven’t accomplished anything,” Payne said. “A lot of teams start off winning three games, then go winless. Winning three games was nice. It helped set the stage, but we’re back at ‘we need to win one game.’”

The Trojans will have to replace quarterback Nick Cheney and defensive end/running back Brayden Doyle. Doyle was an all-Apollo conference selection at both positions in 2019, making the first team for defensive end, and the second team at running back.

Junior Jack Nelson is expected to take over under center.

Defensive back/wide receiver Sam Schuette and running back Cory Spour headline the returning players for Charleston. Schuette, an all-Apollo conference second team selection at both positions, recently committed to play football for NCAA Division III University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

Wide receiver Brayden Rennels is another returning player to note, giving the Trojans a solid 1-2 punch in the passing game.

Charleston will play six games this spring, with the finale being a home game against Mattoon in the annual Coles County Clash on April 23. There will be no postseason this season in the IHSA.

Despite the challenges and differences during the build-up to the season, Payne expects his team to be ready to compete right away.

“They’ve been getting themselves ready,” Payne said. “At our first full contact practice, they were popping pretty good because they’re hungry. They miss it.”

Friday’s game against Lincoln will be one of three home games for the Trojans. In addition to hosting Mattoon, they will play St Joseph-Ogden on April 1. Charleston’s three road games will be at Effingham on March 26, Mahomet-Seymour on April 9, and Taylorville on April 16.

Click below for varsity and JV rosters