PLEASANT HILL, Ill. -- Mike Giles can't accurately predict how much a difference having eight seniors will mean for the Pleasant Hill football team.
It could be substantial, like enough to transform the Wolves from a 1-8 team last fall to a playoff contender in Class 1A this season.
"If you've got a good group of seniors, you have a better team," said Giles, now in his 14th season coaching at the Pike County school. "Their maturity level and their physicality level are higher. They make it easier because they've been through it."
Still, the impact of this group can't be measured by age alone.
It's their size, speed, tenacity and toughness that gives Giles hope. The addition of a senior transfer at quarterback, the healthy return of a plowhorse fullback and emergence of additional playmakers adds to the anticipation.
"At times, we play at a really high level," Giles said. "We made a lot of progress during the summertime and we are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were a year ago. That's where the experience matters."
Start in the backfield where the return of senior fullback Kodiak Rogers, a 5-foot-10, 220-pound power runner, and sophomore Connor Heatherly, a 6-1, 200-pound running back, offer a thunder-and-lightning appeal. Rogers rushed for 696 yards on 103 carries last season before getting injured, while Heatherly saw limited touches but has the athleticism to be a feature back.
Two Western products -- Elijah Berg, an all-area baseball player, and Carson Dell, a speedy 6-2 wideout -- add to the Wolves' playmaking abilities. They should benefit from the addition of Kelly Hamm, a senior transfer at quarterback.
"It's like he's played with these guys all along," Giles said. "It suits him well."
Defensively, the Wolves need to make up the most ground.
They allowed 45 points per game last season, and the improvement starts up front where the Wolves should be bigger, stronger and faster. Tristan Cox (6-1, 280) and Gavin Anderson (6-3, 290) are the anchors along both lines, while Ryan Tungate and Coltyn Pruner offer more size.
It should allow Rogers and Heatherly to flow to the ball.
"We will be way more physical," Giles said. "They've got that year of experience that matters so much. The kids are really responding and putting in incredible effort."
With a slate of games that begins with three stout opponents -- at Brown County, at home against Unity-Payson and at Winchester West Central -- it's going to take more than effort to start strong. It's going to take the kind of resolve you only get from experience.
INSIDE THE HUDDLE
Who: Pleasant Hill Wolves
2018 record: 1-8 (1-4 Western Illinois Valley Conference South).
Coach: Mike Giles (45-74 at Pleasant Hill, 14th season).
Players to watch: FB/LB Kodiak Rogers, 5-10, 220, Sr.; RB/LB Connor Heatherly, 6-1, 200, Soph.; OL/DL Tristan Cox, 6-0, 280, Sr.; OL/DL Gavin Anderson, 6-3, 290, Sr.; WR/DB Elijah Berg,
Schedule: Aug. 30 at Brown County; Sept. 6 vs. Unity-Payson; Sept. 13 at Winchester West Central; Sept. 20 at North Greene; Sept. 27 vs. Hardin Calhoun; Oct. 4 at Greenfield-Northwestern; Oct. 11 vs. Carrollton; Oct. 18 at Jacksonville Routt; Oct. 25 vs. Central.