The DuPage Valley Conference is in the midst of a major overhaul, but some things never change.
The DVC remains among the state's top football leagues.
Lake Park enters the field as West Chicago departs for the Upstate Eight Conference. For Glenbard East and West Aurora, this is their last football season in the DVC before they also head to the UEC.
With one more "traditional" football season left for the DVC, several teams hope to survive and win the title.
"It's tough as always," said Naperville Central coach Mike Stine. "We have to be a quarterfinal-caliber team just to get to the playoffs."
Perhaps the state's top player -- Glenbard North running back Justin Jackson, who last season rushed for 2,600 yards -- returns to help the Panthers vie for a repeat DVC title. After running the table in the league in 2012, Glenbard North advanced all the way to the Class 8A final.
Their best player still in the fold, the Panthers don't expect a drop-off.
"Yeah, we won it last year, but all our games were tight," said Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens. "I don't see that changing this year."
One of those tight games came against Wheaton North, which looks to step up from its second-place finish behind Northwestern-bound quarterback Clayton Thorson and talented receiver Matt Biegalski.
A heartbreaking 17-15 loss to Glenbard North is all that stood in the way of the Falcons and the DVC title. This year the difference between the teams again appears to be razor thin.
"In this league you've got to hope to finish in the upper half," said Falcons coach Joe Wardynski. "(The Panthers) were the champs last year, so they're still the team to beat. Especially with Jackson back."
For the first time since 2002, Naperville Central and Wheaton Warrenville South both missed the playoffs. Both plan on a quick comeback.
The Redhawks return quarterback Jake Kolbe, who last year threw for 1,600 yards, and his top receiver in Ben Andreas. WW South doesn't boast as much experience as the Redhawks, but they do return third-year varsity quarterback Ryan Graham.
An improved defense led by defensive back Jake Schultz will be key to the Tigers' resurgence.
"This is a group no one's going to know about," said Tigers coach Ron Muhitch. "But I like their competitiveness."
Naperville North's dominant offensive line graduated, but expect the Huskies to continue their running prowess with backs DeSean Brown, Sharad Crosby and Leon Hardy. Glenbard East graduated virtually its entire offense, although the defense appears to have some strength with defensive back Javon York who, like Kolbe, recently committed to Illinois State.
West Aurora quarterback Quintez Jones leads the Blackhawks into their final DVC campaign, while Lake Park enters league play with a premier defensive back in junior Antonio Shenault and an up-and-coming defensive lineman in sophomore Mike Panasiuk.
The Lancers may be the unknown in the DVC, but coach Chris Roll knows exactly what to expect this season.
"I think it's a community-based conference, and that's what I like about it," he said. "I feel like that's where we belong."
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