URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Outside the classroom, Friday night lights brings the community together while giving student athletes a chance to compete at a higher level.

But the Urbana Tigers varsity football team has played just one game in the last three seasons, and on Wednesday, the district announced the varsity team will not play in 2022. There aren’t enough players to field a varsity team and the district will only offer a junior varsity schedule.

Players said the news was gut-wrenching.

“I know last year, we were able to have some of our varsity players play at the JV level,” said school principal Taren Nance said. “We’re praying and hoping that that’s going to be the case this year too.”

But there are other developments heading into the 2022 season, like new coach Curtis Blanden.

“Football has been the love in my heart and these students here that I have, we’re here to stay and we’re here to just grow the program,” Blanden said.

Junior Aveon Vann said Blanden inspires him and his teammates to perform their best.

“New coach, he drills discipline,” Vann said. “If you even look at the warmups right now, we didn’t do this before, like everything he’s doing is new and I feel like it’s incorporating us to do better.”

The players aren’t the only ones buying into the new coach. Administrators are also looking to help the program.

“We still got to make sure that on Monday night, it feels similar to Friday night, because if we do that, more players will come out, more fans will come out, more community support,” Nance said. “And then we’ll be able to have the numbers next year to make sure we have a varsity team for Friday night lights.”

Blanden hopes the team will grow as a family heading into the season. Wednesday was the third day of practice and Blanden said nearly 20 players showed up the first couple of days. There were a few more than 30 on Wednesday.

Blanden said he is confident there are better days ahead because this isn’t permanent. He hopes more players will come out next year.