So after some unbearable delays, Week 1 is finally in the books.
"Eyes on Five" looks back at last week's lightning-marred slate of football games, while also looking forward to -- hopefully -- brighter days ahead.
1. Sad week in Addison:
One Twitter post referred to last Friday's deluge as tears from heaven following the death of 2013 Addison Trail graduate and former football player Dylan Domek, who died Aug. 30 from injuries sustained when he was hit by a car on June 9 while crossing Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.
Domek's wake was held on Wednesday and his funeral on Thursday. The Blazers' football players will pay tribute to Domek by wearing a No. 44 decal on their helmets the remainder of the season.
Shaken by the loss, Addison Trail's community found unexpected support down the road at Lake Park. The Lancers' superfans, known as "Lancer Nation," brought about 50 students to Saturday night's Addison Trail-Glenbard South game to express their collective sympathy and cheer on the Blazers.
By joining Addison Trail's "White Out" after cheering on Lake Park's football team earlier in the day, "Lancer Nation" displayed the best kind of school spirit.
2. Worth the wait:
Perhaps no teams were more eager to start the football season than Wheaton Warrenville South and Naperville Central. Last season marked the first time since 2002 that both programs missed the playoffs.
Last Friday's one-day lightning delay disappointed both teams in their quest to make an instant statement, but WW South responded with Saturday's 17-14 win over Glenbard West and the Redhawks downed Waubonsie Valley 23-10.
The common theme? Both teams return senior quarterbacks with a bunch of varsity experience.
Naperville Central brings back Jake Kolbe, who threw for 130 yards and rushed for 59, while third-year Tigers quarterback Ryan Graham threw for 160 yards and ran for 50, including the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"Just seeing the confidence and knowing how much time he's put in, there's no doubt Jake's our leader," said Naperville Central coach Mike Stine. "In 28 years of coaching, there's never been a player who put more time in the offseason than he did."
That dedication to a playoff return burns at WW South as well. As evidenced by Saturday's win over Glenbard West, Graham and the Tigers aim to be back where they feel they belong.
"When you have a season like that, there's always some doubt to overcome," said Tigers coach Ron Muhitch. "I think they've started to do that."
3. Worth the wait, Part 2:
Poor St. Francis ... only don't feel too sorry for the Spartans.
There they were, all set to unveil Kuhn Memorial Stadium last Friday in Wheaton after spending three seasons using College of DuPage as its home facility.
Then Friday struck, literally. Lightning postponed their game against Riverside-Brookfield until Saturday.
Then Saturday morning struck, literally. Again, a lightning show pushed the game back another day.
Finally, St. Francis officially debuted its wonderful facility on Sunday with a 35-9 win over the Bulldogs.
No area team endured more frustration than the Spartans last weekend but, like I said earlier, it's tough to feel sorry for them.
Kuhn Memorial Stadium held up beautifully -- an amazing feat considering the damage that kind of rain might have caused in the past. There was no evidence of the flooding that plagued the field back when it was grass.
Now the artificial surface drains everything thanks to the flood remediation projects.
Enjoy the new digs, St. Francis.
4. How low can they go?:
An informal poll of 18 area coaches proved what they already know. Participation numbers are almost universally down in football.
WW South coach Ron Muhitch said his program's peak was in the early 2000s when the Tigers boasted about 260 players. This year the Tigers are at about 180, including 55 at the freshman level, down from 90 during that peak time.
It isn't much better at Wheaton North. Coach Joe Wardynski's freshman group is at about 60, which is down from the typical 70s. Unfortunately, the future doesn't look bright.
"It's very concerning," Wardynski said. "We can field teams, but we have some position groups at the lower levels where we don't have the numbers."
Many factors contribute to the lower numbers, a trend reflected by nationwide statistics provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
The fear of injury -- concussions, specifically -- is a definite cause. Football's also become an expensive sport. And the year-round threat of emerging sports like lacrosse, and established sports like baseball, pose another problem.
Some area programs, however, remain immune to the trend. Glenbard West boasts high numbers at all levels. Addison Trail, bursting with 76 freshman players, has as many players as it's ever had.
Encouraging, yes, but don't be surprised to see some area schools dropping football levels in the near future.
5. Stat time:
How important is it to win your Week 1 game?
Of the 27 DuPage area football teams, 14 won last year's opener. Eleven of those teams went on to make the playoffs.
Thirteen area teams lost their opener, with 11 missing the playoffs.
One of the first-game defeats, however, was suffered by Glenbard North. The Panthers won their next 12 games to advance to the Class 8A title game.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit
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