HERCULANEUM — Tanner Wiese joined the Herculaneum High football team on a bet.
A senior receiver and defensive back for the Blackcats, Wiese had given up chasing gridiron glory after middle school. He wanted to focus on basketball. But after his sophomore year he missed football.
So why not have some fun with it? Wiese made a deal with childhood friend Cody Gibson. A senior offensive and defensive lineman, Gibson agreed that if Wiese came out for football, he would try out for basketball.
“We both got our sides (of the bet),” Wiese said with a smile. “Once I was in, I enjoyed it. He didn’t make the basketball team, but he tried out.”
The 6-foot-4 and 170-pound Wiese has to love the game and his teammates because there wasn’t much to celebrate last fall. Herculaneum went 1-7 and had its season end in the district tournament with a 56-0 loss to Priory. It was the third time in four seasons the Blackcats were shut out in their last game as they were beaten 49-0 by Cardinal Ritter in 2017 and lost 42-0 to Principia in 2018.
It’s been one hard season after another for the once powerful Herky. Since 2010 Herculaneum has finished .500 or better three times. It hasn’t gone winless in that stretch if only because its I-55 Conference schedule includes Grandview and Crystal City, which both have struggled to get their football programs consistently competitive.
While Crystal City and Grandview have had good moments in recent seasons, those schools can’t compare to Herky, which is football royalty in Jefferson County. The Blackcats dominated under longtime coach Stan Helms.
A 1965 Herky graduate, Helms was hired in 1986 to lead a program that had two winning seasons in its previous 20 years. Helms transformed the Blackcats. In his 18 years Herculaneum went 134-58. It finished as the Class 3A runner up in 1991 and 1995 and remains the only Jefferson County team to appear in a state championship game. Helms has the most wins of any Jefferson County coach.
Wiese heard stories of Herky’s glory days before he ever set foot on the field. But that’s what they are — stories of times that are long past.
“We’re trying to get it back how it used to be, that’d be awesome,” junior quarterback Jackson Dearing said.
In an attempt to jump start the Blackcats, Herculaneum hired Blane Boss as its football coach in the offseason. Boss spent the past four years at Perryville, which was 18-21 in his tenure. A 2004 Windsor graduate, Boss was one of the best running backs in the area as a senior. He rushed for a then state-record 508 yards and scored six touchdowns against Hillsboro in a 38-13 win on September 19, 2003. He rushed for 2,325 yards and scored 25 touchdowns that season.
Boss, 36, said one of the reasons he was intrigued by taking the reins at Herky was its glorious history.
“This place is rich in tradition,” Boss said. “They used to win a lot football games here.”
History and tradition are no match for the current reality. Boss said he has 25 players that dress on Friday nights. He started with 35, but injuries and defections have depleted the roster.
Some of it is Boss’s own doing and he’s just fine with it. When he met the team for the first time after he was hired in June, Boss made an immediate impression.
“It was the first day Coach Boss came in the gym and introduced himself, I knew it was going to be serious,” Dearing said. “I like coaches like that because they push you harder. I knew it as soon as he walked in the gym, he was going to get on us.”
Wiese and his teammates knew things were different after the first offseason conditioning practice. It was brutal, it turned their legs to jelly, but if it was the missing ingredient for a successful fall, Wiese was all about it.
“It’s going to work, it’s going to be different,” Wiese said. “We’re going to win some more games this year. That’s what we were all thinking.”
Herculaneum (2-5) did win last Friday. It went to I-55 newcomer Bayless and posted a 60-30 victory. It’s the most points the Blackcats have scored in a game since they beat Miller Career Academy 62-0 in 2004. That season they went 9-2 and lost to MICDS in a Class 3 sectional.
Herky assistant coach Mike Sobol was a junior that season and a two-way standout at quarterback and linebacker. He went on to play at Northern Illinois. After years of watching the Blackcats struggle from afar, he returned to his alma mater this year and joined the staff as it attempts to turn around the program.
“You can talk as much as you want, but until you finally do something about it you’re not going to make any kind of change,” Sobol said. “I wanted to put my money where my mouth is and come on board. We have a great staff here.”
Also on staff is defensive coordinator Cody Hunter, a 2002 graduate who spent the last three years as Herky’s head coach. In the offseason he reached out to several potential candidates for the top job and said he’d step down if they were interested in taking over. Boss was near the top of his wish list when he made those calls.
“I talked to a lot of different people to come over and help us. It came down to the interview process and whoever won the job, good for them,” Hunter said. “He’s a hardworking guy that brings some experience and some knowledge. I feel like we have a good, quality staff top to bottom. We need to work towards winning and whatever that takes that’s what we’re going to do here.”
Boss already has a checklist of things to accomplish in the offseason. At the top is getting the Blackcats into the weight room in December. Strength is a requirement for any program to be competitive, but it’s absolutely critical for teams with small rosters. The stamina required to be successful in the second half of a game late in the season can’t be created in mere months. It takes years of work and commitment.
“You really need patience and time. You have to have both those things,” Boss said. “Just the complete mental grind of lifting all the time, finishing all your reps and pushing yourself to exhaustion. If you can do that in weight room you have that to fall back on, you can trust yourself to do it in the fourth quarter.”
Sobol never had that problem — his older brother, Jeff, wouldn’t let him. When the Blackcats were rolling in their day, the Sobol boys were a big part of it. Jeff, a 6-foot-3 lineman who went on to play at Illinois and then Eastern Illinois, dragged his brother out of bed at 5 a.m. every day to hit the weight room before school.
Only the weight room wasn’t open that early in the morning. So Jeff gave younger brother a boost. Mike slipped in through a window and opened the door from the inside.
“There were some mornings I didn’t want to wake up, but he was my driving force to get up. He’d pick me up and throw me in the car,” Sobol said with a laugh. “We got there early. That was kind of our thing. Toward the end of the year we had more and more kids come in with us and that’s kind of what it takes.”
Herculaneum’s glory days may have faded, but Boss and the assistant coaches are going to do what they can to restore the Blackcats’ roar. Scoring more points than they have in 17 years is a step in the right direction but it is only one step on the long path back to prominence. The season is nearly over, but the work has only begun.
“It has been very tough. It’s a process when you haven’t won a whole lot of games,” Boss said. “It almost becomes part of the DNA. You can look at it both ways, when a winning program wins all the time it’s expected. It’s almost the same with a losing program. I think we’ve come a far way but we have a long way to go. Right now we’ve got the kids that want to be here and that’s all you can ask for. They’re going to try and give you everything they have.”
Week 8 high school football games to watch (and stream)
SLUH Jr. Bills at De Smet Spartans
When: 6 p.m. Friday.
Records: SLUH 4-2 overall, 2-1 Metro Catholic Conference; De Smet 5-2, 2-1.
Rankings: De Smet, No. 3 large school STLhighschoolsports.com, No. 3 Missouri Media Class 6.
Last week: SLUH 55, Vianney 6; De Smet 28, Rockhurst 14.
On SLUH: Off to best start to a season through six games since it went 5-1 in 2015 and finished 8-3. ... Has won consecutive games twice this season. ... Losses have come against MICDS and CBC. ... Has lost three in a row to De Smet, including 38-22 last season. … Senior quarterback Luke Johnston has completed 69 of 107 passes for 1,199 yards, 14 touchdowns and been intercepted five times. Senior running back Derrick Baker has rushed for 726 yards and 10 touchdowns. Sophomore receiver Ryan Wingo has caught 21 passes for 446 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 116 yards and two more touchdowns. Senior receiver and Yale recruit Chris Brooks Jr. has caught 18 passes for 463 yards and three touchdowns. … Senior linebacker DonTavion Sullivan has made 69 tackles, nine tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception. Senior safety Phillip Bone has made 56 tackles and one interception. Senior cornerback Tommy Etling has made 45 tackles and three interceptions. Jr. Bills lost standout two-way player and Missouri recruit Isaac Thompson to a season-ending knee injury in Week 3.
On De Smet: Has won four in a row after dropping back-to-back games against East St. Louis and CBC. Two of those wins came against Vianney and Roosevelt, which the Spartans outscored 114-0. …Has won three in a row against SLUH. Winner of this game will finish second in the MCC behind CBC. ... Keshawn Ford rushed for three touchdowns in last week's victory against Rockhurst. ... De Smet's complete statistics have not been reported this season to STLhighschoolsports.com.
East St. Louis Flyers at Edwardsville Tigers
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Records: East St. Louis 6-1 overall, 4-0 Southwestern Conference; Edwardsville 5-2, 3-1.
Last week: East St. Louis 68, Alton 0; Edwardsville 45, Belleville East 21.
Stream: NFHSnetwork.com, search Edwardsville. Requires a subscription.
On East St. Louis: Won five in a row since falling in California to national powerhouse St. John Bosco. ... Has run roughshod over the Southwestern Conference as it has outscored its first four opponents 240-2. Yielded a safety to O’Fallon in a 48-2 win, its closest margin of victory in the league so far. ... Has won six in a row over Edwardsville including 50-47 in the modified spring season conference title game. … Sophomore quarterback Robert “Pops” Battle has passed for 1,535 yards, 17 touchdowns, been intercepted three times and rushed for four touchdowns. Four players have rushed for four or more touchdowns this season. Senior running back Ali Wells has rushed for 389 yards and five touchdowns. Freshman running back Tyrone Martin has rushed for 323 yards and five touchdowns. Senior receiver Luther Burden III has caught 39 passes for 647 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s scored 17 total touchdowns and averages nearly 52 yards on kickoffs. … Sophomore linebacker Dominic Dixon has made 64 tackles. Junior Keyshawn Hadyen has made 59 tackles and four sacks. Senior defensive lineman Frank Wilson has made 63 tackles and three sacks. Senior cornerback and Clemson recruit has made 47 tackles and three interceptions. Senior linebacker Jalen Byrd has made 49 tackles and three sacks.
On Edwardsville: Has won three in a row and scored 42 or more points in all three of those victories. Has lost six in a row to East St. Louis. Last win on the field came in a 57-32 win in 2014. Was granted a forfeit win in 2015 due to the East St. Louis District 189 teacher’s strike. … Sophomore quarterback Jake Curry has passed for 934 yards, nine touchdowns and been intercepted five times while rushing for 293 yards and three touchdowns. Junior running back Jordan Bush has rushed for 417 yards and seven touchdowns. Da’Shawn Larson has rushed for 330 yards and five touchdowns. Sophomore receiver Kellen Brnfre has caught 21 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns. ... Sophomore outside linebacker Dalton Brown has made 49 tackles, six tackles for loss and an interception. Senior defensive end Colton Carstens has made 44 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks. Senior defensive lineman Nasim Cairo has made 42 tackles, nine tackles for loss and five sacks. Junior cornerback Johnnie Robinson has made 12 tackles and three interceptions.
Duchesne Pioneers at Winfield Warriors
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Records: Duchesne 5-2; Winfield 5-2.
Rankings: Duchesne, No. 9 small school STLhighschoolsports.com, No. 8 Class 2 Missouri Media.
Last week: Duchesne 50, DuBourg 6; Winfield 43, Warrenton 28.
On Duchesne: Has won three in a row since losing successive games to Lutheran St. Charles and Quincy Notre Dame. Its past three wins have come against St. Charles, Borgia and DuBourg, which are a combined 1-18. ... Has won two in a row and three of its last four against Winfield. … Junior quarterback Josh Baker-Mays has passed for 820 yards, 11 touchdowns and been intercepted twice. Sophomore Taron Peete has passed for 373 yards, four touchdowns and been intercepted twice. Junior running back Jamond Mathis has rushed for 358 yards and eight touchdowns. Junior running back Terrell Peete has rushed for 435 yards and one touchdown. He’s also caught 13 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Rob Jones has caught 20 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns. Junior receiver Cameron Lee has 12 receptions for 190 and four touchdowns. Junior receiver Amorion Oliphant has six receptions for 104 yards and three touchdowns. … Senior linebacker Nathan DeGuentz has made 62 tackles and an interception. Senior linebacker Trevor Saguto has made 48 tackles and two interceptions. Terrell Peete and Jones have a combined six interceptions.
On Winfield: Last week’s win over Warrenton clinched the first GAC North title in school history. ... Last week was the first time this season it scored fewer than 50 points in a victory. ... Has won consecutive games since it was defeated by Orchard Farm. ... Formed a co-op with Elsberry this season for the first time in football. … Senior quarterback Wade Ellison has passed for 1,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and been intercepted six times while rushing for 263 yards and four touchdowns. Junior running back Draven Ham has rushed for 537 yards and eight touchdowns Senior receiver Austin Carson has caught 24 passes for 497 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for 118 yards and three touchdowns. Junior receiver Austin Bray has 26 catches for 282 yards and four touchdowns. … Senior linebacker Hunter Dunn has made 45 tackles and five tackles for loss. Senior Cole Sams has made 43 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and six sacks. Defense has made eight interceptions.
Breese Central Cougars at Columbia Eagles
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Records: Breese Central 6-1 overall, 4-0 Cahokia Mississippi; Columbia 4-3, 3-1.
Last week: Breese Central 42, Roxana 35; Columbia 46, Salem 7.
Stream: NFHSnetwork.com, search Columbia.
On Central: Won five in a row. Only loss this season came to crosstown rival Mater Dei, 21-7. ... Beat Columbia 18-12 in the spring season and has won two of the last three. ... Three wins this season have come by a touchdown or less. A win over Columbia would secure the Cahokia Mississippi conference title. … Senior quarterback Landon Geragosian has passed for 826 yards, eight touchdowns and been intercepted six times. He’s rushed for 391 yards and five touchdowns. Senior running back Miguel Velazquez has rushed for 391 yards and seven touchdowns. Senior running back Marcus Price has rushed for 391 yards and five touchdowns. Senior receiver Mason Hamon has eight receptions for 157 yards and four touchdowns. Junior receiver Braden Revermann has 14 receptions for 245 yards and one touchdown. Six players have at least one touchdown reception. … At linebacker Velazquez has 60 tackles, six tackles for loss and two sacks. Senior linebacker Justin Walsh has made 57 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and an interception. Senior defensive end Zach Malcomb has made 48 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and five sacks. At defensive back Geragosian has made three of the Cougars 11 interceptions.
On Columbia: Won back-to-back games to stay eligible for the playoffs. ... Lost the spring season game with Central 18-12 but has won eight of the last 10 meetings. … Junior quarterback Dominic Voegele has passed for 705 yards, seven touchdowns and been intercepted five times. He’s rushed for 390 yards and six touchdowns. Senior running back Kyle McConachie has rushed for 595 yards and eight touchdowns. Six receivers have at least one touchdown reception. … At defensive back Voegele has made 51 tackles, two tackles for loss and one interception. Senior defensive lineman Owen Brewer has made 49 tackles, two tackles for loss and two sacks. Junior defensive end Carter Hicks has made 22 tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks.
Lindbergh Flyers at Hazelwood Central Hawks
When: Noon Saturday.
Records: Lindbergh 6-1; Hazelwood Central 7-0.
Rankings: Hazelwood Central, No. 5 large school STLhighschoolsports.com, No. 7 Class 6 Missouri Media,
Last week: Lindbergh 44, Ritenour 27; Hazelwood Central 60, Riverview Gardens 0.
Stream: YouTube.com, search Hazelwood Central.
Lindbergh: Won four in a row after losing to Ladue 19-13 in overtime Sept. 10. ... Won its last meeting with Hazelwood Central 43-26 in 2017. … Junior running back Jake Hnilo has taken over as the primary ball carrier since senior running back Adam Dupont was injured against Ladue. Hnilo has rushed for 861 yards and 13 touchdowns. Has caught 11 passes for 157 yards. Dupont has racked up 525 yards and nine touchdowns through the first three games. Sophomore quarterback Owen Norman has passed for 471 yards and been intercepted three times. Has rushed for four touchdowns. … Senior Brock Barger has made 51 tackles, five tackles for loss and two interceptions. Senior defensive lineman Ben Stelken has made 37 tackles and six tackles for loss. Junior defensive back Javeion Tiller has made 17 tackles and three interceptions.
Hazelwood Central: Has won nine consecutive games for the longest active streak by any area team in Missouri. ... Is unbeaten through the first seven weeks of the season for the first time since 2016. Outscored its last two opponents 95-0. ... Allowed a season-high 28 points to Kirkwood on Sept. 24. …Senior quarterback Bryson Brown has passed for 981 yards, 11 touchdowns and been intercepted three times. Senior running back Jamarion Price has rushed for 806 yards and 14 touchdowns. Senior running back Lionel Banks has rushed for 782 yards and seven touchdowns. Senior receiver Armarni Turner Jr. has 22 receptions for 327 yards and four touchdowns. Senior receiver ClayShaun Davis has 20 receptions for 396 yards and six touchdowns. … Junior linebacker Jayden Trotter has made 54 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks and one interception. Senior defensive lineman Calvin Geans has made 34 tackles and four tackles for loss. Senior defensive back Eric Brown has made 18 tackles and five interceptions. Senior defensive back Kourtland Harris has made 18 tackles and three interceptions.