The Belleville West Maroons enter the football season with an active streak of six straight IHSA playoff appearances.
While the streak itself is impressive, the Maroons have struggled come playoff time. West has won just one of seven postseason games, including a first-round Class 7A loss to Buffalo Grove last fall.
With 11 starters returning from a team which finished 6-4 and placed third in the Southwestern Conference, West should be in the playoff hunt again in 2018. Coach Cameron Pettus hopes his team can catch the wave of success generated by the Class 4A state basketball title won in March.
“We’ve been able to establish a winning program, now we’ve got to take that next step of making a run in the playoffs. That’s the bottom line,’’ Pettus said. “I was talking to some of our kids who also play basketball and telling them that we want to follow that lead. We want to make a postseason run and have fun doing it.
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“Class 7A is very tough and it goes through Chicago. We tell our kids that up front. That’s our mindset now and when we get into the playoffs now, that’s where it happens. That’s where you have to win.’’
West returns six starters on offense including quarterback Jack McCloskey (6-1, 175) and senior Will Lanxon. A gifted offensive player, Lanxon caught 49 passes for 601 yards and six touchdowns last season. Possessing good speed, Lanxon may also see playing time in the Maroons backfield.
The offensive line will be headed by three returning starters including senior center Dwight Oregon (6-1, 240) and Austin Mauser (6-1, 208) and Jalen Rogers. (5-10, 240). Chase Blanquart also saw a lot of playing time at tight end a year ago.
McCloskey, who completed 65-of-121 attempts for 734 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago, along with Lanxon, will be two of the Maroons top offensive threats to start the season.
“Will can play running back, wide receiver and quarterback, but right now we’ve got him in the slot. He can play a lot of different positions for us,’’ Pettus said. “Jack has really progressed nicely over the summer. He’s really worked hard and improved with his reads, plus he just has a cannon for an arm.’’
Senior DeUndrey Johnson (5-10, 175) should be the Maroons top running back. Johnson ran for 367 yards, scored five touchdowns and averaged nearly nine yards per carry a year ago while backing up all-state back Kriston Davis.
Jordan Bruce, Will Shumpert, a transfer from CBC in St. Louis and Joey Kossina, will also see playing time at wide receiver for the Maroons.
The Maroons defense will be led by a pair of two-sport standouts in seniors Keith Randolph and Marcellus Romious.
Recruited by several Big Ten schools, the 6-5, 250-pound Randolph will be one of the top defensive ends in the region. Randolph, a starter on the Maroons state championship basketball team, will be joined by Anthony Graham (6-foot, 290) and Ka’lon Carraway (6-3, 240) on the defensive front.
Romious (6-3, 220) will anchor the Maroons linebacker group along with senior Henry Walker. Clarence Davis (6-1, 190) returns to lead the Maroons defensive backfield.
Sophomore Logan Seibert is a highly-touted punter-placekicker for the Maroons who open their season on Aug. 24 when they host Riverview Gardens, Mo.
Pettus said as usual the road to the SWC title goes through East St. Louis and Edwardsville.
“Edwardsville, I know has a great quarterback and excellent coaching staff and East St. Louis Coach (Darren) Sunkett and his staff do a good job of coaching their team up. But there are other good football teams in the SWC,’’ Pettus said. “East St. Louis and Edwardsville are the teams to beat in this conference. We enjoy playing them because if we beat them it means that we’ve got a good football team and playing good teams helps get you ready for the playoffs.’’