FAIRBURY -- Chase Mowery was a freshman during Prairie Central High School's run to the Class 4A football semifinals. He was a year away from getting on the field as a varsity starter, yet felt a real connection to that 12-1 team.
His brother, Brent Mowery, was a standout senior linebacker for the Hawks, so naturally, Chase said, "I hung out with those guys a lot."
"It's a cool feeling to be in the playoffs and to be winning," the younger Mowery said. "The last two years, it's been a real downer for everybody ... the community, the school. Football is a big thing around here. Everybody wants to see us back in the playoffs."
Mowery and his teammates can make that happen Friday when the Hawks (4-4) play host to University High (1-7). While a playoff berth would not erase the pain of going 0-9 in 2007 and 3-6 last year, it would help restore pride and respect in the program.
"It was pretty depressing to have those quick seasons," said senior quarterback Jeremy Peters, the Pantagraph area passing leader with 1,196 yards. "We used to be the team to go pretty far (in the playoffs) all the time.
"That's all we've talked about, to get in the playoffs so everybody will remember how it used to be, remember Prairie Central in the good days."
Peters and Mowery, a running back/linebacker, are among 16 seniors on a team that nearly upset No. 8 state-ranked Breese Mater Dei on the road last week, losing 35-34.
Head coach Brian Hassett said 11 are "major contributors," helping the Hawks to the brink of an eighth playoff bid in his 11-year tenure.
"We have a lot of seniors and a lot of those kids were on an 8-1 team when they were freshmen," Hassett said. "They've really worked hard in the weight room. That's the big thing. It transferred from the weight room to the field."
Hassett and his staff "tweaked" the offseason program to promote diligence in the weight room. Those attending a certain percentage of weightlifting sessions earned stripes for the helmets and/or Hawk head helmet decals.
The school also has a new fitness physical education class taught by assistant coach Kirk Brandenburg. Hassett said the coed class will benefit Prairie Central in all sports.
"Weightlifting isn't everything, but it's a mental toughness thing," he said. "If you want to compete in this conference (the Corn Belt), in any sport, you have to be able to physically play with people."
The football team is 4-3 in the Corn Belt, losing to state-ranked Rochester (No. 1), Mahomet-Seymour (7) and Central Catholic (9).
The Hawks average 27.1 points per game, with junior Trent Bounds (529 yards rushing), Mowery (296) and Peters (251) complementing a spread passing attack in which Peters has thrown for 10 touchdowns with four interceptions.
His favorite receivers have been Josh Fields (23 catches, 416 yards), Cody Followell (18, 223), Bounds (14, 219) and Jeff Sipe (14, 193).
The defense has been paced by leading tacklers Caleb Painter (71), Andy Hoselton (59) and Mowery (43).
Atop page 1 of the Hawks' game plan this week are the words, "Win you get in."
"Losing is not an option," Hassett said. "At this point, with these guys, a win is huge for our program.
"We know we would have to go on the road (in the playoffs), but we'd also have an opportunity to show some people that we're back."
A look at the Pantagraph area's 4-4 football teams that need victories tonight to position themselves for at-large playoff berths:
Deer Creek-Mackinaw: The Chiefs will qualify for the second straight year if they can beat rival Tremont (1-7) at Mackinaw.
Dwight: After enduring consecutive 1-8 seasons, the Trojans can get back in the playoffs by downing Reed-Custer (5-3) at Braidwood.
Olympia: The Spartans, seeking their first playoff bid since 2002, must upset Class 4A top-ranked Rochester (8-0) on the road.