CHARLESTON (WCIA) — Year two of the Chris Wilkerson era begins Thursday night when Eastern Illinois football opens its season at Indiana State. The Panthers finished 2-9 in Wilkerson’s first season back in Charleston, with the alum saying the foundation has been set for the future.

“We’re a lot farther along,” Wilkerson said. “Year two in the program we’ve certainly gotten to build relationships with a ton of guys in the program. The coaches are very connected to our players and they are certainly a lot further along.”

Eastern is looking for its first winning season since 2017, the Panthers have only won eight games combined in the last five years, including three-straight one win campaigns under Adam Cushing.

“You know this year we’ve added a lot of good talent,” Eastern Illinois junior defensive end Joel Barrows said. “A lot of the guys are buying into the culture of this team. Really gritty and just trying to have fun out here honestly.”

Eastern Illinois and Indiana State kickoff Thursday night at 5 p.m. CT in Terre Haute, Indiana.