By Dave Morrison

COAL CITY – Strength will be in the strength of this year’s Independence team and nobody knows that better than Patriots coach John H. Lilly.

If you know Lilly’s weight room slant, you understand this.

Lilly likes developing players in the weight room.

This year, he has three seniors on the offensive and defensive lines, and those three have added the strength through Lilly’s workout regimen.

When you throw in the intangibles, it all adds up to Independence’s line play being a key on this year’s team.

The three seniors, Marcell Guy, Hayden Miller and Logan Isom will lead Independence as far as the team goes, and some are predicting playoffs for the Patriots, who won three of its last five games in 2018.

“The biggest thing is they are big, they are strong and they are agile,” Lilly said of the trio.

“We have a new defensive coordinator (Joe Dean, the former Midland Trail head coach) who will use them correctly. We’ve brought Kevin Grogg (a state championship coach at Wyoming East) over here to coach our offensive and defensive lines, so they are being coached up pretty good. We are hoping that will be our strong suit.”

Guy and Miler alone offer a package of size and speed, and because of that speed they are disruptive enough at the line of scrimmage to take up two linemen when they are on either line. Add in a third senior, Logan Isom, and you have a veteran group leading the way.

“It’s our quickness off the ball and the maneuvers that we use that kind of ties up two guys to block us and gives our guys pretty open spaces to run through,” Guy said of the offensive side. (On defense) our linebackers are pretty quick and if they see a gap they are going to shoot it and they have made some good tackles (in scrimmages) because of it.”

“Taking up two guys allows the linebackers to make tackles in the backfield,” Miller said. “That’s what we like, tackles for a loss and sacks.”

The Patriots open the season on Friday against Midland Trail in the annual Patriot Bowl in Hico.

The game has, at least in the recent past, set up the winner with the momentum to make a postseason run.

Lilly said the leadership offered by the guys on the front line has been huge.

“They have done everything we have asked,” Lilly said. “(Guy and Miller) are two or three sports guys. They not only lead here, they lead inside the school. They all have 3.7 GPAs. They are smart kids. They are exactly what you want as a football coach on your football team.”

As leaders they want to leave the team better than they found it, Guy said.

“If we don’t make them better by the time we leave then there won’t be anything here, and we haven’t done our job,” Guy said. “It’s our job to get them stronger and faster and to get their knowledge of football up. That would mean that we will have a good team for years to come.”

He recalled being a freshman and going against bigger, stronger upperclassmen like Noah Adams (an All-American wrestler), Logan Kelly and Logan Muncy and B.J. Stiefer.

“It helped me get stronger and get they fear of going up against somebody bigger out of me,” Guy said. “I couldn’t hide from it, it was every day..”

The linemen said that year two under head coach John Lilly has gone smooth. The drop had three different coaches in their first three seasons.

“It’s very different,” Miller said. “We have a settlement of what we are doing. We know what to expect. And we trust coach Lilly. He knows what he is doing and we trust it and we can execute it.”

The game against Midland Trail, a Class A semifinalist in 2018, kicks off at 7:30 p.m.