Longtime assistant coach Mike Hill knew last summer that rebuilding the Madison High School football program from scratch would be a tall task.
Some of the obstacles in rebooting a program that’s been dormant for more than 25 years, are still evident.
But on a sunny, warm October afternoon, 18 Madison High School football players gathered at one end of their refurbished home field for a midweek practice. There are no blocking sleds or blocking dummies in sight — the hearty handful absorb some light blows during Hill’s limited-contact drills.
“We’re a little banged up with four or five guys with injuries,’’ Hill said. “We don’t do a lot of contact at practice and when we do it’s limited. The field isn’t in the best shape and we can’t afford to have any more injuries.”
Despite the lack of equipment, slim numbers, injuries and an inexperienced roster, Hill and the Trojans continue to win.
Madison will play host to Pawnee Co-op at 2 p.m. Saturday.
With 333 students, Pawnee is twice the size of Madison. But with a win, the Trojans will move to 6-1 on the season and clinch their second straight Class 1A playoff berth.
“Am I surprised that we’ve had the kind of success that we’ve had? Yes and no,’’ Hill said. “On the one hand we lost a lot of seniors from a year ago. But we’ve had some talented freshmen come in and we’ve had some transfers come in who have filled some spots for us. Plus the guys who were here last year have been great leaders.”
Hill also says success is a reflection of his coaching staff, which includes former NFL player Johnny Poe and his brother, Terry Hill, one of the best high school running backs ever to come out of East St. Louis. Jeff Howard, Robert Brown and David Jackson round out his staff.
“All of this guys on this staff are great coaches and they’ve truly bought in to what we’re building here,” Hill said. “I am truly blessed.’’
Madison eased back into football by combining with Metro East Lutheran High School in Edwardsville to field a team in 2016. The district then invested $23,000 in uniforms, equipment and maintenance of the new field. Mostly, the Trojans came back to life behind state grants, corporate donations and countless hours of volunteer assistance, District 12 Superintendent Warletta Brookins said last year.
A cheerleading squad was assembled by the middle of the 2017 season.
Madison finished 6-4 in its first year on the field since the 1992 season. The Trojans lost to Carrollton 36-34 in overtime in a Class 1A first round playoff game.
This year, behind a sizable line, freshman quarterback Anthony Sillas has connected with wide receiver Malcom Conway for more than 500 yards in the air. The Trojans’ defense has allowed just 38 total points, barely a touchdown per game.
The Trojans have picked up where they left off a year ago.
“”I just wish were had better numbers. It’s tough on the kids but they have made do and continued to work hard each and every day,’’ Hill said. “I’m hoping that with our success that we’ll get a few more kids in the future and maybe a transfer or two.
“But these kids have also bought into our system. We just need to stay on the right path and continue towards reaching our goals.’’
The Trojans success is impressive when considering the numbers. Madison, which has 169 students, is playing a schedule which includes mostly class 2A and 3A schools. Their wins include triumphs over Wood River (566 students), Bunker Hill (304) and Nokomis (323).
Neither Wood River or Miller Career Academy have lost since falling to Madison.
The Trojans’ dream of an undefeated season ended last week when they traveled 300 miles north to be shutout, 10-0, by Pecatonica High School (enrollment 428).
“Teams like Miller Academy, Nokomis, Pecatonica, these are good Class 3A programs which we feel will make us a better football team and get ready for the playoffs,’’ Hill said. “There just aren’t that many Class 1A programs around down here.
“We didn’t play as well as we had been against Pecatonica. I’m hoping that it was a wake-up call for us.”
In the meantime, both Hill and Athletic Director Phillip Gilbert say each home game and every victory brings Madison football a little closer to their ultimate goals.
“We’re getting more and more fans to come out and support these young men and our school and football team,’’ Hill said “How far can we go in the playoffs? I’m not putting any limits on these kids. We’re looking at one game at a time. When we get win No. 6 that will clinch the playoffs and we’ll start looking ahead then.
“I’m thinking we can win at least two rounds That would get us in the quarterfinals and we’d take that. The playoffs are the fun part of the season.”