EUREKA, Ill. – The largest roster in the nine-year tenure of Eureka College football head coach Kurt Barth reported to campus Friday to take the first step in its quest for its first Upper Midwest Athletic Conference title. Ninety student-athletes hit the practice field for fitness testing before the Red Devils' first full team workout at 4:30 p.m.
Eureka will go through three weeks of practice, meetings, team meals and walkthroughs prior to the Sept. 2 opener against Knox on the new artificial surface at McKinzie Field. Fall semester classes begin on Wednesday, Aug. 23.
Offensively, the Red Devils return their top two passers, top two rushers and five of their top seven pass-catchers from last season's team that put up 350.6 yards per game. Senior Colton Johnson (Lewistown, Ill./Lewistown H.S.) and sophomore Drew Barth (Minonk, Ill./Fieldcrest H.S.) both return after combining to complete 129 passes for 1,599 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2016.
LeAnthony Reasnover (Momence, Ill./Momence H.S.) is back in the EC backfield after delivering Eureka's first 1,000-yard rushing season since 1999 and needs only 26 yards to become Eureka's fifth 2,000-yard rusher since 1978. The junior's 24 career rushing touchdowns are second-most by a Red Devil since EC joined NCAA Division III nearly four decades ago.
Third-year wideout Josh Kuse (Heyworth, Ill./Heyworth H.S.) is Eureka's top returning receiver after making 13 grabs for 192 yards last season. Junior Brett Charlton (Eureka, Ill./Eureka H.S.) and Reasnover give the Red Devils a variety of experienced options to catch passes.
Junior Ryan Barth (Minonk, Ill./Fieldcrest H.S.) and senior Michael Slingsby (Granville, Ill./St. Bede) return from All-UMAC campaigns last fall to anchor an offensive line with loads of experience. The group paved the way for the Red Devils to rush for 1,886 yards last season, their highest total since 2008.
Three All-UMAC players are back from an EC defensive unit that ranked 17th nationally in total defense last season. The Red Devils limited their opponents to two touchdowns or less seven times and held opponents to just 17.4 points per game in 2016, the lowest average by EC opponents since 1991.
Senior defensive end Trever Zeibert (Monee, Ill./Peotone H.S.) headlines the group. Zeibert is the first returning letterwinner to earn All-Region honors from D3football.com in program history and owns 20.0 career sacks, most by a Red Devil since 2000. Senior defensive end Ray Vogel (Bartonville, Ill./Limestone H.S.) joins Zeibert to give the Red Devils a formative defensive front. Vogel, who also received all-conference honors in baseball last year, has made 30.5 tackles for loss in his first three seasons.
Senior Chris Friend (Washington, Ill./Washington H.S./St. Xavier) anchors the Eureka linebacker unit after making 48 stops in 2016. Sophomore defensive back Trevon Moore (Aurora, Ill./Waubonsie Valley H.S.) is also back for EC after becoming the first Eureka freshman to receive All-UMAC First Team honors since 2013. Macae Skaggs (Farmington, Ill./Farmington H.S.), Ross Royal (Gibson City, Ill./Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley H.S.), Colton Fauver (Catlin, Ill./Salt Fork H.S.) and Collin Brown (Henderson, Nev./Silverado H.S.) also return to bolster an EC defense that will likely rank among the UMAC's best for the second consecutive season.
More than 40 newcomers will join the program in 2017, 39 of which will have freshman eligibility.
Eureka opens the season on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 6 p.m. against Knox at McKinzie Field in the sixth annual Abraham Lincoln Bowl. The contest is Eureka's first at home under the lights in program history. The Red Devils have won four of the first five Lincoln Bowls over the Prairie Fire and have won five of the last six contests over KC since Barth became head coach in 2009.