Fourteen of Dixon's 18 upperclassmen are juniors, and Quinton Douglas and Sam James are two of the Dukes' key 11th-graders.
Douglas has gone from a special teams player a year ago to a two-way varsity starter. The running back/safety has 15 touches offensively through two games. He has rushed 11 times for 82 yards and has four receptions, including a touchdown, for 41 yards.
"He's got that ability to know when to cut," Dixon coach Dave Smith said. "He can block. He's got great hands, and he's one of our better defensive backs."
James is also a first-year starter, manning right tackle, even though he's 5-foot-11, 179 pounds.
"I was undersized my whole life, so that's a word I'm not going to use," Smith said. "We'll see Friday night [against Yorkville]. He'll be up against a kid that's 6-foot-4, 270 pounds. He's so coachable. He understands the game. He uses his intelligence."
Douglas has not been happy with his team's play thus far, giving the Dukes a D for an overall grade. He gave the opening 36-14 win over Monmouth-Roseville a C+ and last week's 44-0 loss to Rochelle an F.
The Rochelle game did not sit well with him.
"We came out kind of weak, and after that it weighed down on us," Douglas said. "We kind of just gave up."
James echoed his teammates' sentiments.
"I felt like our team was back and we were beginning to build a nucleus for Dixon again," he said of the season-opening win.
As for Game 2, James said, "We got pushed back, but we're going to come back. We're working harder, and we know not to point fingers or blame anyone. We're much more mentally mature, and we're going to get stronger."
James is a creative type who enjoys drawing, painting, math, science and architecture. He's also got a bit of a mean streak.
"A few times when JD [Dixon quarterback JD Gieson] had to go around the back in the Rochelle game, I blew up the kid that was about to tackle him," James said with a smile. "That feels good, but I knew he shouldn't have been in that position."
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: A.C. Bowers Field, Dixon
Twitter: Follow Matt Mencarini (@MattMencarini) for live updates
Radio: 1460 AM