With roughly 550 Illinois high schools fielding football teams this fall, the start of practice is a big deal in this state, and that's true in the suburbs as well.
Wednesday marked the first day of practices for local teams, and the season kicks off with games on Aug. 27 and Aug. 28. Several suburban teams will be out to defend state titles they won last November in Champaign: Montini (5A), Cary-Grove (6A), Wheaton Warrenville South (7A), and Maine South (8A).
So, what's new and different this season? Here are some timely facts to get you into the spirit for the big season ahead.
Big jump up: Metea Valley in Aurora makes its varsity debut when it hosts Plainfield East on Aug. 27. The team finished 6-3 at the sophomore level last year in its first year of football and is coached by Ted Monken, who was a head coach at St. Charles East and is the son of Illinois Football Coaches Assocation Hall of Famer Bob Monken.
Big changes in Upstate Eight: The addition of three teams means two seven-team divisions in the league. Rivals Batavia and Geneva came over after the breakup of the Western Sun and will face off with St. Charles East and St. Charles North in the River Division. Metea Valley is in the Valley Division.
Big transitions: Bill McNamara takes over at Stevenson for Bill Mitz, who led the program to 21 straight playoff appearances. Mitz retired from Stevenson, but not coaching as he tries to start similar success at Jacobs, which has only five playoff appearances in its history.
• Sean Drendel also has a tough act to follow at Naperville North in Larry McKeon, who retired with two state titles on his resume. Drendel does have two solid players in Minnesota-bound QB Matt LaCosse and Boston College-bound linebacker Nick Lifka.
• Longtime Crystal Lake South assistant Chuck Ahsmann takes over a program that has made nine straight playoff trips under Jim Stuglis, who resigned in June.
• Benet literally has a new leader in Pat New, who takes over after Gary Goforth retired. Other new coaches include Matt Gehrig (Huntley), Mike Scianna (Larkin), Dragan Teonic (Hersey), Mark Kos (Fenton), Jeremy Cordell (Glenbard South) and Brian Casey (Aurora Central Catholic).
Big farewells: Prospect coach Brent Pearlman will be departing after this season after leading a once-downtrodden program to three state titles since 2001. Lake Park's Andy Livingston will be retiring after this year and his teams made the playoffs 11 times.
Big-time rematch: Joliet Catholic didn't have to wait long for another shot at Montini, which won their 5A state championship battle 29-28. They'll meet in the season opener Aug. 27 at Joliet Memorial Stadium. Montini looks for its 18th straight playoff trip under coach Chris Andriano.
Big bounce-back: One program that had success shortly after starting up is Bartlett. Last year saw an uncharacteristic dip to a 3-6 record that ended a nine-year run of playoff trips.
Big road trip: Rolling Meadows, one of the most consistent programs in the Mid-Suburban League with seven straight playoff trips, has a long way to go in its start to extend the streak. The Mustangs will head to Fort Wayne, Ind., to play Wayne High School on Aug. 28.