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The three football teams from District 300 have most definitely taken three different paths to the IHSA playoffs, the first time all three schools from the Carpentersville-based district have made the 10th week of the football season in the same year.
Oh, there have been years where two of them made it to the postseason, and one of them owns three state championships, but never until Friday night have Dundee-Crown, Jacobs and Hampshire all been playing football beyond the regular season.
For Jacobs and Hampshire, playoff football is nothing new to their programs. But for Dundee-Crown, well, the last time the Chargers played in Week 10 -- 1994 -- none of their current players had been born and most of their coaches were in high school or college.
So let's start with D-C. When Vito Andriola took over the Chargers' program he knew the mountain was like Everest during a blizzard. Dundee-Crown football was 32-112 since its 6-4 playoff season of 1994 and without a winning season when Andriola came to town in 2011. After going 0-9 and 3-6 his first two years, the former assistant at Grayslake, Larkin, Woodstock and Glenbrook South, finally got a group to buy into what he and his staff are trying to do and this year the Chargers head to Oak Park-River Forest Friday night as a 6-3 Class 8A playoff team.
"We've tried to change the culture," Andriola said earlier this week. "We've had to change the culture of the football program and raise the expectations."
While Charger Country can be excited for making the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, Andriola knows the program isn't anywhere close to where he wants it to be.
"It's been very hard," he said. "We take two steps forward and one step back. The games against Cary-Grove (a 34-0 loss) and Prairie Ridge (42-0 loss) were steps back and we had kids suspended for those games for doing things they weren't supposed to do."
Andriola says it isn't fair to try and compare D-C's football program with that of Jacobs or Hampshire. He's right on one account -- this is just D-C's fourth playoff appearance and the Chargers have never won a postseason game.
"The other schools have some history," he said. "We haven't made the playoffs in 20 years or had a winning record in 20 years. Our facilities aren't ideal. Hampshire and Jacobs have a lot of practice fields. We don't."
Dundee-Crown's administration has been supportive of his approach to rebuilding the program, Andriola says, especially the first two years when the coach ran into some pretty strong resistance when he replaced seniors with sophomores. But the fruit of those sophomore playing varsity and suffering through an 0-9 season in 2011 has been reaped now with the playoff berth.
"There's a way to build a program and we're building it from the top and then from the bottom up," Andriola said. "We kind of sacrificed our sophomore team a little this year, always using them to help out as the scout team."
As Andriola prepares his team to battle playoff veteran OPRF (8-1), knowing the task on Friday is probably more monumental than anything D-C has faced all season, he does admit there's some excitement to it.
"There's a little buzz in school," he said. "It has been fun."
Take the back streets through Carpentersville and Lake-in-the-Hills, cross Randall Road in Algonquin and you might wonder -- if football were the only judge -- if you were in a different school district.
At Jacobs, the culture is just fine. It wasn't always, but those are ancient times now to the Golden Eagles, who have gone 25-14 in the four seasons since Bill Mitz took over the program and are making their fourth straight playoff appearance (ninth in program history). Where Mitz, the former Stevenson coach who is coaching in his 25th straight postseason and 26th overall, would like to see his program take the next step is in winning a playoff game for the first time under him (Jacobs has 3 wins in postseason history).
"Our staff has been together a long time and the kids understand the work ethic now," said Mitz, who coached Stevenson to a Class 8A state runner-up finish in 2002. "It took us a while to get things going this year (0-2 start) but we want to take this to another level this year."
Fox Valley Conference Valley Division champion Jacobs (7-2) can get a start on that Friday night when it hosts Conant (6-3) in a Class 7A opener. A win would likely send the Golden Eagles to Duchon Field in Glen Ellyn to face defending Class 7A champ and No. 2 ranked Glenbard West.
"You have to have good kids who buy into your system," said Mitz of building a program. "Our sophomores, juniors and seniors all practice together and we expect a lot of our kids, on and off the field and in the classroom."
Mitz also sees the buzz that a winning football team can create.
"Our kids who are seniors now just say how amazing it is," he said. "And on Monday morning the only thing all the teachers are talking about is football. A winning football team can really rally a community."
Nowhere in District 300 -- heck, nowhere in the Fox Valley outside of maybe Cary-Grove -- can that be said any louder than in Hampshire. Three state championships -- in 1976, 1979 and 1995 -- a second-place finish in 1978 and now in their 15th trip to the playoffs in program history, the Whip-Purs have clearly cornered the D300 market on football success.
This year, Hampshire (6-3) has the added incentive of trying to send 25th-year and retiring head coach Dan Cavanaugh into the sunset on a winning note. The task won't be easy for Hampshire, either, as the Whips have to travel to 8-1 Kaneland, ranked No. 7 in Class 5A, for a playoff opener.
This is Hampshire's first trip to the postseason since 2008, with the last few years being a bit lean as the school moved into the Fox Valley Conference.
"Things don't happen overnight and when you go to the next level there are some growing pains," said Cavanaugh, who goes into Friday's game with a 121-121 career record. "The kids saw the challenge and we're getting there. I feel good for this group of kids. They've given us a great effort."
Cavanaugh is happy to see all three D300 teams in the postseason this year.
"It's great," he said as we reminisced about his 1995 state championship team and a quarterfinal win at Taylor Ridge Rockridge on the coldest day you could ever imagine for high school football. "My first eight years I was at Dundee-Crown so I always keep an eye on how D-C is doing and I always wish them well. It's great they're back in the playoffs and Vito is doing a great job there. From what I hear the school is really rallying around the football team.
"I don't watch Jacobs as closely but my kids went to school there and it's nice to see them doing well again."
It's nice to see all three D300 teams do well this season. Mitz is absolutely correct when he says a winning football team can really rally a school and a community. Having covered those great Hampshire teams, I can attest to that first hand.
What would be even nicer is to see the Chargers, Golden Eagles and Whip-Purs preparing for a Week 11 game.
Now, that would create some real excitement.