By Kyle Daubs

Mahomet coach Jon Adkins believes it’s simple. 

When shuffling through the predicted Apollo Conference rankings, the 2005 Charleston grad defers to last year’s winner. 

“Until the champ is dethroned, it has to be Effingham,” said Adkins, in his third year coaching Mahomet. 

Effingham went 5-0 mark in the conference last season, but the Hearts have massive holes to patch up.

That was evident Friday night when Effingham got pounded by St. Teresa 42-7, falling behind 28-0 after only one quarter.

The Hearts lost seven All-Apollo First Team selections, including running back Chase Woomer, wide receiver Tristan Duncan, offensive lineman Nathan Barnes and Ethan Huss, defensive lineman Austin Herboth, linebacker Jacob Stoneburner, and defensive backer Parker Wolfe. 

Had there been a postseason, the Hearts were projected as a team as an IHSA State Championship-caliber team.

Multiple teams could compete for this year’s Apollo title. Lincoln coach Matt Silkowski sees Mahomet-Seymour and Mt. Zion as contenders for the title. Adkins agrees that is team has a good shot.

“We lost our quarterback and our running back from last year, and those are going to be big shoes to fill,” said Adkins. “I would like to think that our team is in the top half of the conference.”

Mahomet-Seymour lost All-Apollo running back Skylar Yancy, as well as Brian Finch, who combined for 1,100 yards on the ground. The team does bring back All-Apollo second-team receiver Dream Eagle-Morgan, who led the team with 189 yards and two touchdowns. 

Two linemen return as seniors in second-team selections Brayden Smith and Tyler Uken. On the defensive side, four All-Apollo players return, including first-team linebacker Nick Golden.

“Effingham, Mt. Zion, Mahomet, and Taylorville have been top teams for a long time in the Apollo,” said Charleston coach Jerry Payne. “They all look to be in the mix for the conference championship again this year.”

Mt. Zion rolled over a smaller Bartonville Limestone, 44-13, on Friday while Taylorville topped Mount Vernon, 13-0, and Mahomet routed Canton, 40-14.

Mt. Zion, whose only loss last season was 34-21 to the Hearts, returning four of its five starting offensive linemen. First-team selections Ryne Buttz and Josh England, as well as second-team Mylin Mosley, will look to provide protection for sophomore quarterbacks Makobi Adams or Tyson Evans, who will compete to replace first-team quarterback Ashton Summers, lost to graduation. Mt. Zion also features speedy first-team receiver Christian Keyhea, who placed second in 100 meters at the state track meet.

Mathias Adams returns as a two-way second-team selection at both running back and linebacker, but the Braves are in a similar situation as Charleston, having lost several skill players. 

Charleston lost All-Apollo running back Cory Spour, all three of its top receivers, as well as two All-Apollo linemen. However, the team brings a deep team that will be headlined by 15 seniors.

“We hope to be able to compete this year,” said Payne. “The Apollo always has good teams, and we cannot look past anyone in the conference.  As for where we see our team in the conference, we hope to be in the mix but again we need to compete.”

Mattoon, meanwhile, lost its top offensive player in Second-Team running back Jakai Johnson, as well as its top defensive player in first-team linebacker Zach Shick. Returning is second-team linebacker Aiden Spurgeon, as well as his brother, senior quarterback Jackson Spurgeon. 

Taylorville lost both of its two all-conference selections from last year, while Lincoln will look to get back on the winning track after going 0-5 last year. 

Predicted Apollo Conference Rankings (Daubs)

1. Mt. Zion 

2. Mahomet-Seymour

3. Effingham

4. Charleston

5. Mattoon

6. Taylorville

7. Lincoln