ANDERSON — Homecoming is all about old friends joining back together in a common cause.
So it's fitting the Anderson football team will be at its healthiest point this season when it hosts Marion tonight.
Defensive lineman Kalil Wilson and star running back Jerian Beard — who missed the second half of Saturday's 49-7 demolition of New Castle — are among the players being welcomed back into the fold as the Indians (2-4, 1-2 North Central Conference) attempt to even their league record against the Giants (1-5, 0-3).
"This is probably the first week all year we've had almost everybody back," Anderson coach Randy Albano said.
The timing is good.
The Tribe has won two of its last three games and seems poised for another strong finish. Marion offers a unique challenge with a new head coach in Ryan Vermilion and athletes that might be able to match the Indians' speed.
The chief speed merchant is running back Will Collins, and Albano said Anderson will have to keep an eye on his every move.
"They're kinda young, and they're down in numbers," he said of the Giants overall. "But they have some good athletes."
Anderson has one of the most explosive backfield combinations in the state with Beard and junior speedster Tyler Welch. But the two have rarely been on the field together.
Beard suffered a leg injury after rushing for 99 yards near the end of the first half at New Castle. Welch didn't miss a step on his own in the second half, finishing with 235 yards and five scores.
Lining up both players in the backfield can put a burden on opposing defenses, and Albano is looking forward to trying it again tonight.
"I think we're gonna use 'em both," he said. "And we'll benefit one way or the other."
Anderson seems to be following a script similar to last season when it began the year 0-3 then when four of the next six games before losing a close contest against Fishers in the sectional.
A win tonight would get the Tribe back to within one game of the .500 mark and continue momentum into the final two weeks of the regular season. But Albano said the Indians aren't yet looking at the big picture.
"We've just been playing it game-by-game," he said. "We're not looking around and trying to make a run or anything like that."
What Albano has noticed is an increased level of competition in practice. With the injured players returning, everybody's level of play has risen.
The past two weeks have been the best practices of the season, and that has Anderson excited to see what it can do in front of a big homecoming crowd tonight.
"I want to see us play," Albano said. "We've practiced well. So I want to see how we play."