ELDRIDGE — North Scott wrapped up one of its football workouts this past week with a Slip 'N Slide contest.
Early in the competition, several of the players had trouble making it farther than halfway across the 40- to 50-foot tarp. Once the water and soap suds built up, many were cruising on their bellies from one end to the other.
The same could be said about the Lancers on the field last fall. They dropped four of their first five games, had plenty of newcomers getting acclimated to the varsity level and were sorting out their starting quarterback.
But once the pieces fell into place near the end of September, North Scott ran off four straight wins and made a ninth consecutive trip to the playoffs.
"Early in the season, we were out-physicaled," said coach Kevin Tippet, whose program is coming off back-to-back five-win seasons. "As the season went along, we figured out what we needed to do to play at this level.
"Our inexperienced guys have got to be able to play tougher sooner."
Toughness and tempo are two words that have been used frequently around the Lancer program this offseason and in the opening week of practice.
North Scott returns around a dozen players who saw significant playing time last fall. Nearly half of them are linemen in Zach Petersen, Sam Reyes, Cole Ernst, Grant Hansel and Taylor Hendricksen.
"We weren't as tough as we could have been last year," said Hendricksen, a senior defensive tackle. "We worked really hard this summer and through camp.
"I feel the stronger we get, the tougher we get, the faster we get, we're really going to be good."
That line will attempt to create space for 1,000-yard rusher Jared Rus. The 6-foot-2 and 205-pound senior was near or over 100 yards in each of North Scott's four district victories last fall.
Tippet said Rus also will see more snaps on defense this year at linebacker.
"He's bigger, faster and wants to make an impact for us," Tippet said. "Like all of our seniors, it is learning how to grow into that leadership role and taking guys under your wing."
Junior Nile McLaughlin is the starting quarterback. He competed with Sam Stonskas for the job last season and played in the first two games against Davenport Assumption and Clinton before going back to the sophomore level.
"Everything we're doing now, Nile has been there and done that stage," Tippet said. "The biggest thing for him is getting game reps. His confidence is better, and he worked his tail off in the offseason. He knows what we want to do."
The biggest uncertainty is who McLaughlin will be throwing the ball to on a regular basis. Other than Rus' 11 catches out of the backfield, North Scott doesn't return anybody with more than seven grabs.
Tippet said there is a logjam for playing time. Among those in the mix are juniors Andrew Lundvall, Carson Rollinger and T.J. Yates along with seniors Jackson Schoening, Ben Stutting, Joey Ragona and Mark Beno.
"We're deep there, but it is about figuring out the tempo, pace and physicality of the varsity game," Tippet mentioned. "I'm excited about what we're going to be and those kids, but we've got to figure out our playmakers."
Defensively, Beno returns to lead North Scott's linebackers and Drake Golinghorst anchors the secondary at safety. The Lancers plan to use more of a 3-4 defensive alignment this fall.
"We've got some pretty athletic linebackers that are going to fill holes," Hendricksen said. "We want to control the pace of the game."
With almost 50 players on the roster, North Scott has operated at a high tempo in practice to get additional repetitions for its incoming juniors. That pace could extend to the game field.
"If we keep a high tempo throughout the whole game, it will be harder for our opponents to keep up with it," lineman Carson Kruse said. "We want to push the pace."
Tippet believes the more uncomfortable he can make his players in practice, the better it will prepare them for game nights starting with a Aug. 25 tilt against Davenport Assumption.
"I want to make practice crazy, and I want things to go faster in practice than what happens in the games," he said. "Hopefully when it comes to the games, they'll think this is slow and are thinking easier.
"I like our attitude and I like how these young men take coaching. Now, it is matter of being more consistent with how we work each day."