FISHER — Fisher head football coach Jake Palmer is especially looking forward to his team’s home opener this season.

The Bunnies open at Villa Grove/Heritage Aug. 28 on the field where Palmer was an all-conference quarterback/defensive back a little more than a decade ago and News-Gazette first team All-Area.

“I’m excited about going back and getting to coach on the field I played on,” said Palmer, a 2009 Villa Grove graduate. “Villa Grove is a perennial playoff team. They have been in the 2A playoffs the last two years.”

Fisher hasn’t been any slouch either, but lost 10 players from a 6-3 team that advanced to the second round of the 1A playoffs the last two seasons.

Jake Palmer July 22

Fisher head football coach Jake Palmer coaches the Bunnies in a game last fall. His team is slated to open at Villa Grove/Heritage, playing on the field where he played as a prep.

“When you look at the size of our program, that’s a pretty sizeable chunk” of players, Palmer said.

That includes the five starting offensive linemen — the position Palmer said is the most complicated in the game.

“Replacing those guys is going to be a challenge,” he said.

In the backfield the Bunnies lose 2,000-yard rusher Tyler Wilson, an All-Stater and a school record-holder. Also gone is two-year quarterback starter Will Delaney, who threw for more than 1,000 yards.

“A lot of option football is timing and working together and having a feel for it,” Palmer said. “Our young guys have big shoes to fill.”

It was at Villa Grove where Palmer learned the nuances of option football. VG was 10-1 his senior season and advanced to the second round of the playoffs under coach Chad Musselman, who turned the program around. Musselman served as an assistant coach at Fisher in Palmer’s second year with the Bunnies.

“He helped us right the ship here,” Palmer said, adding he knows Musselman will be at the season opener.

After graduating from Villa Grove, Palmer went on to play four years at Millikin and earned an elementary education degree.

Palmer said the Bunnies have had a good turnout at summer workouts with “a good group of freshmen.”

He said the roster will be a little smaller this season with about 30 players coming out. He said he has never had more than 35 players.

Palmer said Fisher is one of the smallest 1A schools in the state fielding an 11-man football team.

New basketball coach John Fisher has been helping to run summer workouts with Palmer.

After the opener, Fisher plays what Palmer calls “a bunch of tossup games” with Tremont (the Bunnies’ home opener), and Tri-Valley. They play a Saturday afternoon game Sept. 19 at Madison, near East St. Louis.

“It will be interesting to see how the kids handle the road trip,” Palmer said.

Fisher beat visiting Madison last year in a shootout — a game Palmer said he didn’t think the Bunnies played well.

Then comes the “meat and potatoes” part of the Fisher schedule with always-tough GCMS at home, Heyworth, Deer Creek-Mackinaw, Ridgeview/Lexington and LeRoy, where Palmer said Fisher hasn’t won in about 20 years. (The team has beaten the Panthers two of the last three years at Fisher.)

Palmer isn’t optimistic the season will be played in the fall due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think health and safety are at the forefront of everyone’s mind,” he said. “We’re learning so much every day, ... but there’s still so much we don’t know. From an athletic perspective ... I’m concerned about keeping my guys healthy ... but also understanding these seniors who have worked so hard for four years, the idea of not having a season is just devastating.

“This isn’t just one season for these kids. It’s three workouts a week for 40 weeks out of the school year.”

Fisher 2020 football schedule

Aug. 28 at Villa Grove/Heritage, 7 p.m.

Sept. 4 vs. Tremont, 7 p.m.

Sept. 11 at Tri-Valley, 7 p.m.

Sept. 19 at Madison, 1 p.m.

Sept. 25 vs. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, 7 p.m.

Oct. 2 at Heyworth, 7 p.m.

Oct. 9 vs. Deer Creek-Mackinaw, 7 p.m.

Oct. 16 vs. Ridgeview/Lexington, 7 p.m.

Oct. 23 at LeRoy, 7 p.m.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com