As Forreston went through summer football camp, the goal remained the same: win a state title. With a resume of three championships since 2014, why not dream big?
The Cardinals have been in the fight every year since 2010, with nemesis Lena-Winslow usually standing in the way. Four times since then, Le-Win has knocked Forreston out of the playoffs – and the Panthers will be the team to beat in 1A again.
“The best thing we can do is leave that conversation to others,” Forreston coach Keynon Janicke said. “We’re fortunate to be that one team that has been able to beat them.”
Both in 2016 and a memorable 2018 upset, Forreston indeed knocked Le-Win out of the playoffs. In Janicke’s first year as coach, the Cardinals had a memorable fourth-quarter drive to win the 2021 regular-season clash between the two.
Both Forreston and Le-Win had to breathe a sigh of relief when the IHSA announced they would be going to a 1-32 seeding for all classes, thus possibly avoiding early knockouts among NUIC powers. Unfortunately, that decision was reversed when gas prices began to rise.
“It was just pulled out from under us,” Janicke said. “We can’t control it, but it would have been cool to go 1-32.”
Fans will have to wait until Oct. 21 to see what is usually the most anticipated regular-season game of the year in 1A. Forreston will be the host school, but if past results are any indication, there is no such thing as home-field advantage in the rivalry.
The conference again will have nine teams, as West Carroll returns after a one-year absence and East Dubuque departs for a co-op in Wisconsin, the third school district in the conference to do so.
West Carroll did not have enough juniors and seniors to play varsity last year and will rely heavily on freshmen, sophomores and a handful of juniors this fall.
With many small schools struggling with numbers, Forreston comes in with a summer roster of 13 seniors, 10 juniors, 12 sophomores and 15 freshmen.
“I’m excited for the team. The energy is through the roof, and the kids haven’t missed a beat,” said Janicke, a former Cardinal himself. “They cooperate well, ask good questions and love the weight room.”
This year’s group doesn’t have the star players that some of the teams in the past had, but there remains enough skill and depth to run a no-huddle offense with a rotating stable of running backs.
“We lost some ball carriers and are asking role players to step up,” Janicke said.
Among those will be juniors Kaleb Sanders, Micah Nelson and Owen Mulder, and seniors McKeon Crase and Quinten Frederick. The quarterback will be senior Broc Smith, who returns from a back injury.
“Our line leaders will be Drew Dieterman, Casey DeVries and Kyler Gantz,” Janicke said. “Casey is the last DeVries coming through. It’s been awhile, about 11 years, since we haven’t had one.”
The defense should come together quicker than the offense, with more returners on that side of the ball.
“We can fine-tune and be aggressive,” Janicke said. “There is a lot of guys at different positions we can move in and out.”
In a tradition started several years ago, summer camp has a 7-on-7 competition against alumni players.
“Townspeople and families come out to watch,” Janicke said. “We usually have two or three alumni teams, a varsity skills group and a fresh-soph team. We even let the linemen have a team. They are more funny than good, but try their best.”
This year, the older alumni took it to the varsity, with Robert DeVries and AJ Christensen leading the way.
“Robert can still fling it, and AJ can outrun everyone,” Janicke said. “We put two guys on him and couldn’t stop him. Next year, we might have to triple-team him.”
Janicke is assisted by a large number of coaches in what has always been a home-grown product, one that symbolizes a true community-driven football program.