What's new in high school football?
Plenty -- especially in the Mid-Suburban West.
As players get their first taste of practice today in advance of the season openers scheduled for Friday, Aug. 30, expect a very different look at Palatine and Hoffman Estates.
Former Fremd coach Mike Donatucci runs his first official practice today at Hoffman Estates, where he hopes to right a Hawks program that's struggled in recent seasons.
At Palatine, the resignation of highly successful coach Tyler Donnelly opened the door for Rick Splitt, who takes the lead role in a program that's been a playoff regular in recent seasons and is the defending champ in the MSL West. The Pirates, after dropping their nonconference opener to eventual state champ Montini last year, reeled off 11 straight victories on the way to an 11-2 finish and a spot in the Class 8A state quarterfinals.
After a one-year playoff absence, Fremd last fall returned to the postseason and gave eventual 8A runner-up Glenbard North all it could handle in a 31-24 first-round loss. The Vikings were junior-heavy last season and figure to be a contender for the West championship under coach Lou Sponsel.
Graduation was less kind to Schaumburg, but the Saxons have Sadariss Patterson and a skilled, promising crew back on the heels of a 9-3 season. Likewise, Conant returns quarterback Danny Modelski after the Cougars advanced to the second round of the Class 8A playoffs last season.
Barrington was exceptionally young last season yet still came extremely close to a winning season, with only a Week 9 loss keeping the Broncos from a fifth victory.
Mid-Suburban East champ Rolling Meadows graduated the architect of its high-flying offensive attack in Ball State frosh Jack Milas. East runner-up Prospect also lost key seniors but figures to be in the mix for the divisional title.
Elk Grove finished 5-5 and could be reloading, while Wheeling and Buffalo Grove take aim for the postseason as veteran coaches Brent Pearlman and Mike DiMatteo enter their second years in charge of those programs.
Hersey narrowly missed the playoffs last season, but counted a win over postseason qualifier Elk Grove in overtime and dropped competitive games to playoff qualifiers Prospect and Fremd.
A thrilling overtime victory over Carmel helped St. Viator into the playoffs last season in a 5-5 campaign. The Lions graduated many key players from that group; second-year coach Brandon New will aim to keep the level of achievement high with a new core.
Maine West's highlight of last year came in Week 1, as the Warriors claimed their only win of the season against Urban Prep. That's the same opponent they'll host on opening night this season.
A perfect run through the West Suburban Gold highlighted Leyden's 2012 season, and the Eagles will hope to make a deeper dent in the playoffs after a first-round loss to Bartlett last fall ended a 7-3 season.
Christian Liberty netted the first conference victory in school history in Week 9 of last season and hope to make further gains as the program enters year No. 5.
For openers: You can't go wrong with any of these season debuts on Aug.30:
• Lake Zurich at Fremd
• Leyden at Buffalo Grove
• St. Charles North at Elk Grove
• Palatine at Libertyville
• Schaumburg at New Trier
• Prospect at Glenbrook South