EAST MOLINE — There are some who will give the United Township football team no chance at all to win this season. Those within the program refuse to listen to that kind of talk.
"They refuse to listen to the criticism they hear," UT coach Jim DuPage said. "Our numbers are up, the attitude is the best it has ever been, and the players are fairly optimistic. I wouldn't expect much more considering their past results.
"We are seeing things in practice that we have never seen before. I don't think I am being overly optimistic because the other coaches are seeing the same things."
And when others want to talk about the past, DuPage has reminded his players this is a new beginning.
"I think part of the thing about people not believing in us is because some of our young people haven't seen anything other than UT's recent past," DuPage said. "Our job is to win games, and when that happens, the fans will come and they will believe.
"Our students are the best at supporting UT teams, and I know the Panther Posse will fill the bowl to watch us and they'll be enthusiastic. If people want to talk, I tell them that stuff is outside of this family's bubble."
It is a bubble that contains a large number of Panthers who have seen the lowest of lows in recent seasons. Yet they have stuck with it and are following the lead of their coach.
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"These kids are a great example of perseverance," DuPage said. "They have been through crappy season after crappy season and through coach after coach, yet here they are working their tails off for us to make their senior season special.
"We really rely on that group of kids who have stuck by this program for the last four years. They do a great job of proving to us with their great attitude."
DuPage saw that attitude come through in a recent practice when the Panthers were slogging their way through the workout and the coaches were starting to worry about losing this group.
"I walked over to Neicko (Williams) and told him to fake some energy if he had to," DuPage said. "He did and the rest of the guys fell in line and we wound up having a great practice. They trust us, and they know we are not going to back down or quit on them.
"One of the things we talk a lot about is not quitting on us. We talk about the perseverance on the field and in our study hall to keep at it with the grades."
Winning big this year would be a great first step, but the coaching staff understands it takes small steps first.
"Our first goal as a team is to win our first game," DuPage said. "Then, we want to get our first Big 6 win. Then we want to make it to the playoffs. Then we want to win the Big 6. You can't get to the last goal without reaching the first. This is not a four-year plan. We are saying 'Why not us, right now.' We're doing this as a family."