After a loss in week seven of the 2016 season the Illini West Chargers were just a loss away from being eliminated from playoff contention.
Winning their final two games and earning a playoff spot, however, has this year's Chargers buzzing about their potential.
"At the beginning of the season when we played Mercer County, they were men and we were still boys. By the end of the season we were playing more like men," said head coach Lyle Klein.
"We showed people and we showed ourselves. I think the guys finally started believing in themselves hat we're back there and we can compete with the best," said senior receiver and lineman Kennedy Gooding.
Only eight starters return for the Chargers this season, however those are two way starters which create a group key to the success of the program in 2017.
"Having varsity experience might be the biggest thing," said senior quarterback Jackson Porter.
"It's not necessarily age. We only have three seniors but we have a ton of juniors who have some varsity playing time."
"To be able to bring them back after their experience as sophomore helps us quite a bit," said Klein.
Returning to take the snaps is senior quarterback Jackson Porter who, after throwing for about 1,000 yards last season, is back to repeat those stats with a deep arsenal to choose from.
"We have three very, very fast backs so every play we run could be a potential breakout play," says Porter.
"That's really good to know because we also have really big lineman up front."
Speaking of lineman, one of Porter's best offensive weapons, Kennedy Gooding, also anchors a five-man defensive front which the Chargers expect big things out of this year.
"I think we can get stops, three and outs, and stop the run game," said Gooding.
"That's the goal. We can get off the field quickly to get the offense on. I have high expectations for these guys."
Those expectations will be put to the test on August 25 when the Chargers welcome Monmouth United to begin the season.