There's excitement around the Boonville football program as they head into the 2018 campaign.
The Pioneers, who finished with a 5-5 record last season, return most of its key components from last year's team including a healthy Jackson Phillips at quarterback.
As a sophomore, Phillips was supposed to be the one primarily taking the snaps from the center last season. A first game injury game injury changed all that.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the game already in hand against the Washington Hatchets, Phillips injured his knee effectively ending his season.
"I had adrenaline in me on that play and as soon as I was injured I knew something was wrong," Phillips said. "It was tough to watch the team from the sidelines but was fun watching the team improve without me."
"It took us a few games to adjust with a new quarterback," added Pioneers coach Darin Ward.
After the opening game win against Washington, the Pioneers lost three straight then won four consecutive to back Ward's claim.
After Phillips' injury, the Pioneers relied heavily on their running game which meant it was Luke Conner's turn to shine.
Conner had a breakout season last year for the Pioneers rushing for 1,505 yards with 18 touchdowns.
"After Jackson's injury, Luke was going to need to be the guy to step up," Ward said. "He really shouldered the load after the injury."
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With a healthy Phillips and Conner returning along with a strong surrounding nucleus, the Pioneers are expecting to be competitive with the traditional powerhouses of the Big 8 Conference including Jasper, Vincennes Lincoln, and Mt. Carmel.
"We don't expect to lose a lot of games this year," Conner said.
In his four seasons at the helm, Ward has said this is the best off-season he's seen in terms of conditioning.
"We feel we can compete and win most Friday nights," Ward said. "This is the first season I've felt this way."