EAST PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — Organized football has made its return to central Illinois. The Peoria Punishers of the Mid American 8-Man Football League are two games into their 2020 season that usually starts in March. With player safety and social distancing checks, the Punishers have been chomping at the bit to get back to the gridiron.
“They’ve been ready. They were just as frustrated as all of us that we couldn’t play football,” Peoria Punishers co-owner Justin Miller said. “This is the one thing we like to do in the spring to help give them something positive in their lives. They’re itching to get back to it.”
The Punishers are excited to bring football back to central Illinois during the COVID-19 pandemic. They say every Sunday they bring a little bit of normalcy back to their lives.
“It’s a blessing, we can give the fans what they want,” Peoria Punishers player Darrelynn Dunn said. “We give fans the opportunity to social distance and watch live sports. Everyone has been choming at the bits and itching with no NBA, no MLB. So a physical sport, our fans are happy to see this.”
“It is nice to have some sort of normalcy because there aren’t really any other sports being played right now,” Miller said. “I think the league did a good thing saying we’re going to play. Let’s give the people some football, everybody likes to watch football on a nice day.”
With just three lineman and a shorter field, 8-man football is a fast paced game. With a roster of central Illinois products, the Punishers are off to a 2-and-0 start and have high hopes for the season.
“I think about it through the whole week,” Peoria Punishers player Antoine Smith said. “Come Thursday, Friday, alright, is it Sunday yet? Then Saturday comes and then you are nervous, you’re ready. Then when you get out here, it’s time. It’s a big thing, everybody is happy ready to ball.”
“It’s probably the best feeling in the world, it just gives you a breath of fresh air to get out here, play with some brothers and go out there and compete at a high level,” Dunn added.