By Don Hullett

Daily Light correspondent

ITALY — With all of the restrictions and rules that will need to be followed this season — just to be able to play — the Italy Gladiators made full use of the time that the University Interscholastic League gave them over the summer.

The entire team gave a maximum effort when allowed to practice, and they remained constant in their pursuits with a fearless attitude, especially being surrounded by so many unknowns. According to some of the coaches, many of the student athletes actually came back in better shape than when they left in March.

"We expect to be challenging for the district championship and getting past the area round in the playoffs this season," Italy head coach Craig Horn said. "Anything is possible after that."

Italy will open the 2020-2021 football season against the Chilton Pirates (7-5 last year) at home on Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Italy Football Field.

The Gladiators will enter this contest with 10 starters who will be returning from last year’s squad and nine starters coming back on defense. Leading his team onto the field will be head coach Horn, in his third season at Italy, and he has a combined 12-11 record from the previous two seasons.

On offense, the Gladiators will be under the direction of Jayden Saxon (6’-2", 220 lb junior). This will be his third year as starting quarterback of the Glads. Last year, he had 123 completions for a total of 1,899 yards from scrimmage. Saxon also averaged 7.66 yards per attempt and 158.25 yards per game. His longest pass play of the year was 87 yards. In addition, he had 23 touchdown passes, with only 3 interceptions and he completed the year with a 101 percent passer rating for a 12-game season.

Saxon also carried the ball 143 times for 478 yards and 13 touchdowns. That works out to 3.34 yards per carry and 39.83 yards per game, with a carry of 24 yards being his longest of the year.

Horn expects the Gladiators’ toughest test will come in Week 5 against the Marlin Bulldogs (2-8 overall last season), but he adds, "The entire district looks to be tougher this year, and Italy will not be afforded the luxury of looking past any opponent."