University of St. Francis football coach Joe Curry runs the Saints’ annual 7-on-7 passing jamboree at ATI Field at Memorial Stadium.
He usually can be found at the 50-yard line, observing, learning as much about local high school teams and players as he can.
When he watched Joliet Central, he was impressed. If a turnaround in fortunes is to begin at the downtown school that has gone 0-27 in three seasons since Joliet Township returned to separate programs at Central and West, Curry will not be shocked.
“These guys look good,” he said. “Their offense is better, it’s running smoother and is more disciplined than the other years they came here.”
Senior captain Jake Plevell plays on the defensive side of the ball, at safety. Yet, he said, “Some people are surprised at how we played out here. It’s a good feeling. Our offense proved true. Our offense is going to be as good as our defense this year.”
Coach Brett Boyter, entering his second season at the helm, echoed the positive sentiments.
“We absolutely have reason to feel good,” he said. “The biggest thing is leadership. We are holding each other accountable. We don’t ever want to be satisfied.”
Senior wide receiver Ben Donahue said there is a new attitude, a better attitude.
“We have seen in the past what happens when a couple of knuckleheads don’t take practice seriously,” he said. “Now we have guys who will get on them and tell them to straighten up.”
Those are the leaders Boyter cherishes having on the roster. He cited quarterback Landriel Hart, tailback Sylvester Bellamy, wings Austin Adams and Tre Neal, safety/linebacker Bo Phillips, middle linebacker Diontay Brown and outside linebacker Othello French among the players to watch.
“Some of these guys are like coaches on the field now,” Boyter said. “We don’t have to push them. They want to do it.
“Our unity council meets weekly and most of those guys are on it. They address problems and talk about what it means to be leaders. Whatever steps forward we take in our record this season, it will be due to guys like that, and the others following suit.”
Hart and Bellamy have experience in the offense and are primed for big seasons.
“We’re really teaching our young guys the offense,” Boyter said. “We’re throwing a lot at them this summer, and they’re handling it pretty well.”
Donahue typifies what is happening. Not only is he working as hard as he can running routes and catching the ball, he said he feels he needs to be a leader in showing younger receivers how to run their routes.
“I definitely have a good feeling about this team,” Donahue said. “Nobody is here for themselves.”
Of course, the offense will go nowhere fast if the line play is not there. Even that has Boyter encouraged.
“The line is a big concern for all coaches, but we’re very encouraged so far,” he said. “We have competition in the offensive and defensive lines. They’re our most improved positions.
“No doubt we still have a ways to go, and size is an issue. But our kids have heart, and we have that competition.”
Boyter said there is another good sign.
“These guys enjoy having our coaches ride them,” he said. “They understand the coaches are helping them out, making them better.”
Boyter said the fruits of this group’s labor may show to some degree this season, but also beyond.
“Maybe years from now, we will look back and say this was the group, these are the guys, who got the turnaround started at Joliet Central,” he said.