Nobody in the Pekin football camp was happy about last season.

The Dragons finished 4-5 and missed the state playoffs for only the second time in seven years. Their 3-4 record in the tough Mid-Illini Conference landed them in a tie for fifth place.

Last season is in the rearview mirror. It’s a new year and the Dragons have gotten some praise from Mid-Illini coaches, who have called them a dark horse contender for the conference title.

A new twist in Pekin’s intra-squad game last week at Memorial Stadium added some substance to the contender label.

For the first time in Doug Nutter’s 10 seasons as Pekin coach, the teams in the intra-squad game were selected by the coaching staff.

It wasn’t the first-team offense and first-team defense competing against scout teams.

“You need to have enough athletes to pick two competitive teams for an intra-squad game,” Nutter said. “We have enough athletes.”

Nutter said he saw a competitive intra-squad game last week with great effort by both teams.

“What we mainly look for in our intra-squad game are the kids who make plays under the lights and seeing if everyone is at the conditioning level to do what they need to do, “ he said. “Plus, we want to make sure the guys have our game night routine down.”

There were three turnovers in last week’s game. That was a plus for the defenses, but not something Nutter wanted to see from the offenses.

Pekin’s lines are expected to be the Dragons’ strengths, mainly because that’s where there are most returnees.

“But our skill players are underrated,” Nutter said. 

Among the skill guys are quarterback Nathan Righi, a threat to run and pass, outside receiver Sebastian Hill and inside receivers Devin Tovrea and Conner Rush.

Tovrea also plays safety and Rush is a cornerback on defense. They are Pekin’s only two-way players.

Righi also is an outstanding placekicker and punter who has earned all-conference honors at specialist the last two years.

“Nathan’s kicking and punting give us an unbelievable weapon,” Nutter said.

Speaking of unbelievable ... Pekin has an unbelievable schedule in its first three games.

The Dragons will open their season at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Oak Forest, which missed the state playoffs last season after qualifying 17 straight times.

Next on Pekin’s schedule are the Dragons’ home opener Aug. 31 vs. Sterling and Mid-Illini opener Sept. 7 at Dunlap.

Sterling made it to the state semifinals last season. Dunlap lost in a state championship game.

HALEY’S ASSISTS: Pekin’s Haley Peterson dished out 21 assists, but the Illinois Central College volleyball team lost its season opener Wednesday to visiting Iowa Central in a battle of ranked teams.

No. 9 Iowa Central beat the No. 16 Cougars 25-15, 20-25, 25-12, 25-10.

Mary O’Brien had 17 kills and 15 digs for ICC and Maddie McCunn had 17 assists and 11 digs.

The ICC men’s soccer team beat Iowa Central 3-2 Wednesday on a goal by Layee Kromah at 69:00 to win its season opener.

YOU: Have some news or photos for the Notebook? Please send them to stevestein21@yahoo.com.

Steve Stein can be reached at stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.