By Mark Jurgena
For the Times-Tribune
The quest to return to the playoffs for the Collinsville Kahoks begins tomorrow night in Cahokia as they square off with the Comanches.
Collinsville will look to turn the tables on Cahokia after last year’s 54-22 loss. In that game Jake Holten led Collinsville on both sides of the ball with six receptions and 12 tackles.
Cahokia went on to reach the Class 4A quarterfinals where they lost to Country Club Hills (Hillcrest) 27-0. The Comanches were South Seven conference champions last fall.
“Cahokia is tough, Popovich said. “I think coach (John) Clay does a really nice job. I think Cahokia is going to just reload. They were in the quarterfinals (last year), I expect them to be in a similar situation so it’s a great test for us.”
The Kahoks return eight offensive starters from last season’s 3-6 squad.
They bring back leading rusher in junior captain Jayden Nabors who carried the ball 154 times last year for 608 yards and five touchdowns. Also returning is Holten. He will again be a two-way starter for the Kahoks. He led them in 2018 with 34 catches and was second in yards with 331. He added three TD’s. Holten will be the only two-way starter for CHS.
Second year head coach Mike Popovich also has an additional pair of weapons to go with them.
“Kyler Williams is going to tote the rock just as much as anyone else. He’s had a tremendous offseason for us. You combine his speed with the fact that he is incredibly strong and that’s big for us,” said Popovich.
Williams rushed for 393 yards on 99 carries in 2018.
Senior quarterback Chris Chi brings back 1,421 yards passing. He completed 116 of 203 passes last year with 14 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
“QB wise has been our biggest jump. He’s a kid that’s grown more mentally than any other kid I’ve had in the offseason. We kind of go as he goes, he’s the distributor,” Popovich said.
Three seniors will anchor the offensive line for the Kahoks. Cody Smith and Eli Norton return at tackle, while Cole Hellman is back at guard. Popovich noted that, “going into this year we consider them to be a strength of our offense for sure.”
As much experience as the offense has, the defense only has three starters return for the 2019 campaign. However Popovich believes CHS will be improved on the defensive side of the ball.
“I think we’re significantly more athletic than we were last year. Over the offseason we had some athletes really commit to the weight room and separate themselves from the other kids.”
In addition to Holten, another returner is Dante Williams. He is back for his third year on defense.
“He’s a player, he doesn’t know what it means to be lazy. He just gets after it,” said Popovich.