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Experienced Steamers eyeing playoffs

Total recall

Caption
(Ryan Gaines/Special to SVM)
Fulton's (left to right) Austin Regenwether, Jake Willging and Ethan Jones are part of an experienced crew that hopes to lead the Steamers to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

During Fulton's summer camp, the coaches were testing their veteran team.

They called a play the team hadn't run since Week 6 of last season, just to see if they remembered it. They ran the play to perfection.

That's just one example of how experience has Fulton ahead of the game as the season approaches. The Steamers boast 14 seniors on their 23-player varsity roster.

It's the most seniors in the program since 2007, the last time Fulton was in the playoffs.

"With the veteran group we have, we know what we're doing more than last year," said Steamers senior fullback/linebacker Austin Regenwether, who carried a Sauk Valley area-high 193 times for 792 yards last season.

Regenwether says he won't mind if he doesn't lead the area in carries again.

"Whatever works for the team. I'm not a selfish player," he said.

Regenwether is one of six returning offensive starters and seven returning defensive starters. He's also one of five returning two-way starters, as are the team's other captains, Ethan Jones and Jake Willging.

Jones enters his third year as starting quarterback and outside linebacker. He passed for 452 yards and ran for 388 last season.

"We should have a good year," Jones said. "We lost a few people, but we have more seniors on the team than we did last year. And, we have a big line. We're bigger than we normally are. That will help out a lot."

Willging, a two-way lineman at right guard and defensive end, has one thing on his mind entering the season after last year's 4-5 campaign in which the Steamers missed the playoffs for the fifth straight time.

"That hurt a lot. That's a feeling I don't want to go through again," he said. "We're excited, and hopefully at the end of the year, we'll be playing in Week 10 [the first week of the playoffs]."

The once Three Rivers Conference, then Big Rivers, is back to the Three Rivers, but with two divisions. No matter the name, the conference is widely known as one of the best around.

"It's hard-hitting. It's flying to the football. It's smash-mouth," said Willging, who is after much more than conference contention.

"My goal is state," he said. "That should be the goal every time you start a new season. Your goal should be to get as far as you possibly can."

Seventh-year head coach Patrick Lower loves the makeup of his senior-dominated squad.

"We've got a lot of guys who have been through it before," Lower said. "Nothing really surprises them anymore. They're ready for everything. We don't have to install as slowly as we have in the past. It makes this group easier to coach, because we don't have to review as much."

Near misses

• The Steamers are after their first trip to the playoffs since 2007. They have finished 4-5 in three of the past five seasons, missing being playoff eligible by one win in each case. Three of Fulton's five losses a year ago were by two touchdowns or less.

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