Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley lost just one regular-season game in 2019, outscoring its nine opponents by a combined score of 259-46.
The Falcons made the postseason for the 15th time in the past 16 years, winning a Class 2A playoff contest, 48-0, for their 14th playoff win over the past five years.
And the Falcons finished runner-up in the Heart of Illinois' Large Division — a loaded conference which claimed the IHSA's Class 2A state championship for four consecutive seasons until its last 2019 survivor, Fieldcrest, was edged 21-7 in last year's state semifinals by eventual state champ Sterling Newman, the team which knocked out GCMS in the second round in another close ballgame, 21-6.
For most football programs around the state, that would go down as a banner year.
Not for GCMS and head coach Mike Allen.
Allen enters his 20th season guiding the Falcons with a career mark of 138-65, and there's reason to suspect that when the 2020-21 school year football season gets played, the 2017 and 2018 Class 2A state champions will be back in the state-title hunt featuring Division I-bound running back Aidan Laughery and a rock-solid, time-tested winning program.
"I would say [the cornerstones of GCMS's success] are being involved in and having a solid our youth program," Allen told Friday Night Drive. "I think you have to put in the time there as a head coach. If they hate youth football, they're not coming out for high school. ...
"We emphasize the weight room, consistency with fundamentals, how we treat our players, and last and most importantly, having fun.
"I want the kids running out to the practice field excited to get there after school."
Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley is known around the state for its powerful, double-wing running game and hard-nosed, shutdown defense. Those attributes will not change in the season to come.
The triggerman of that offense, however, is a question mark.
"I think our depth at several positions and our running game and defense will be solid," Allen said. "We will be bringing in two quarterbacks for a competition, neither with varsity experience, so that's something we'll have to get figured out. ...
"That's the key for us right now. Finding that on-the-field leader at that position."
The aforementioned pair of QBs competing for that role are junior Kellen Deschepper, a big-armed, field-savvy quarterback, and sophomore Ty Harden, a standout athlete with track-team speed and quickness.
Players to watch
No matter who is behind center, there is no question who the bellcow of Coach Allen's double-wing, run-first [and usually second, third and if need be fourth] offense will be.
Laughery enters his junior season with offers from big-time college programs such as Washington State, Illinois and most recently Rutgers. Last season, the 5-11, 183-pound human highlight reel churned up 1,279 rushing yards with 22 touchdowns.
"To have that type of player in our backfield, that opens up the playbook quite a bit," Allen said of Laughery. "Along with his size, he has great speed.
"He's strong, he has speed, and he is a very good leader who leads by example and pushes his teammates. He's gifted with a work ethic. He's worked his butt off for everything."
Laughery isn't the only highly-productive returner to the Falcons roster.
Five seniors — fullback/defensive end Isaiah Chatman [6-3, 200], linemen Gavin Workman [5-10, 260] and Trey Reynolds [6-0, 260], wingback/cornerback/emergency QB Nathan Kallal [5-10, 170] and linebacker/special teams standout Dallas Whelchel [5-11, 210] — also are expected back to lead GCMS.
Juniors such as C/DL Markus Miguel [6-0, 265], SE/DB/P Awstace Grauer [5-11, 170], OL/TE/DE Braylen Kean [5-10, 170] and G/LB/K Brandon Mueller [5-11, 200] will also be on the short list of key contributors to the Falcons' success, with Allen noticeably excited about Mueller, saying "he is so much bigger and stronger from last year. It's going to be fun to see him develop the next two years."
Newcomers you need to know
While there are a number of players stepping into new or increased roles, Allen is keeping a close eye on his quarterback competition.
"They're two different athletes," Allen said of Deschepper and Harden, "and we're talking about the possibility of running two different guys out there with two different offenses. ... They really do have completely different skill sets."
As of this writing, GCMS's revised spring schedule starting March 6 will be entirely against HOIC competition, including an especially tough opening three weeks against 2019 playoff qualifiers at Eureka, home against Fieldcrest — which snapped GCMS's 31-game winning streak last fall — and at Fisher.
Gone, unfortunately, is the Falcons' last scheduled showdown with longtime rival Paxton-Buckley-Loda.
"We would've loved to have played them one last time," said Allen.
What Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley does isn't always fancy — but it is almost always successful.
Expect more of the same this coming season, whenever that may be.
"We have been blessed with very good running backs, so we tend to like to run the ball a lot," Allen said. "We will run the ball 90% of the time and average maybe six, seven, eight passes a game, but it's also an offense that takes what the defense gives us.
"We have simplified our offense — and our defense too — to allow our players to just be athletes and play football."