MENDON, IL. (WGEM) -- A switch in sideline leadership and a dozen seniors have departed. It's all the motivation this year's Unity/Payson football program needs to prove the cupboard is far from bare.
"It's all motivation. We're feeding off that energy," senior Dakota Ehrhardt said.
"People are doubting us and we want that. We want them to have low expectations and we'll exceed them."
According to senior Todd Kelly, "You always come out here with a chip on your shoulder, especially when you lose that number of guys, and two All-State (players). Everybody is looking to come after (us) this year but you got to come out and compete."
It's new head coach Connor McLaughlin's responsibility to keep the train rolling in the right direction.
"We talk about not only about being competitive in our conference but being recognized state-wide for our offense and defense, and for the way we do things," McLaughlin noted.
Widely known as one of the bright, young defensive minds in the area, McLaughlin inherits a group led by defensive end and tackle machine Dakota Ehrhardt.
"It's great to have somebody like Dakota," McLaughlin said.
"But what's even better is having guys that can compliment him and allow him to get one-on-one situations, or allow him to take on some double teams, and leave it open for our linebackers, and some of those other (defensive) lineman to make their chance."
The offense is backed by senior signal caller Taylor Klusmeyer who's patiently waited for his turn and follows in the footsteps of All-State quarterback Brodie Dunker.
"I've been getting ready since I was a freshman," Klusmeyer said.
"Every single down I've been working as hard as I can, relying on the other guys to make me better, and trying to make them better too."
McLaughlin added: "Taylor's everything that you want in a quarterback. He's athletic, he's smart, and he's got a good arm. He's not selfish at all. He's always going to make the right decision."
Klusmeyer won't have to carry the offense all by his lonesome. Among his targets will be wide receiver Todd Kelly who's as quick as they come in West Central Illinois.
"Speed for me is a big key. Whenever I can use that it can be dangerous," Kelly said. "I'm just glad the quarterbacks can see that and I'm able to make plays when I can."
McLaughlin says they will be creative when it comes to getting Kelly touches.
"You're not going to find anyone that's going to match-up man-to-man on him," McLaughlin indicated.
"We're going to do a lot with him at out of that slot position both in the run game and pass game."