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updated: 11/29/2013 5:26 PM

Will fans pack stands in DeKalb?

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  • Tri-Valley running back Caleb Wilson *45) is congratulated by tight end Derek Wegman (9) and running back Braden Herman after scoring against Lena-Winslow during the first half of the IHSA Class 1A championship high school football game Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Ill.

    Tri-Valley running back Caleb Wilson *45) is congratulated by tight end Derek Wegman (9) and running back Braden Herman after scoring against Lena-Winslow during the first half of the IHSA Class 1A championship high school football game Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Ill.


Quick favor to ask ... could someone please remind me to drive to DeKalb instead of Champaign on Saturday?

It's again time for eight football champions to be crowned, but for the first time in 30 years the games take place well within driving distance of eight million people.

How many will show up this weekend? Eyes on Five takes a look at that and some other tidbits as we say goodbye to football season for another year.

1. Showing up:

For years local football fans clamored for the IHSA to move the finals closer to the enormous population base in and around Chicago.

They got their wish, for the most part, when Big Ten Conference football scheduling forced the move of the title games out of Champaign in odd-numbered years. After a statewide bidding process, Northern Illinois University in DeKalb beat out Illinois State University in Normal and Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

This weekend it's time for the area to put up or ... well, you know.

The eight games last year in Champaign drew a total of 33,000 fans. The vast majority of those fans were directly tied to the competing teams and communities. The average everyday football fan became a rarity over the years, mainly because of the hassle of driving to Champaign on a holiday weekend when you could watch the games on television from the comfort of your own couch.

The every-other-year shift to DeKalb could be a game-changer. If the average football fan from northeastern Illinois takes the much-shorter jaunt out west, it'll send a clear message to the IHSA.

It'll be time to permanently move the games to Chicagoland. As Daily Herald colleague Jerry Fitzpatrick noted in an article earlier this week, 11 of this weekend's 16 competing schools are within a 90-minute drive of DeKalb. Seven are within an hour.

If ticket sales soar, the IHSA's powers-that-be will take notice.

So what's it going to be? Do you really want the state title games closer to home?

It's time to prove it by showing up in droves.

2. One more thing:

Have to throw in an update on the conference jumping that reached another level with last week's announcement that the three District 204 schools -- Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley -- asked the school board to approve a move from the Upstate Eight Conference to the DuPage Valley Conference.

The shift is starting to spread outside the two leagues that have been at the core of most of the moves.

This week the folks at The Senior Reports reported that Hoffman Estates from the Mid-Suburban League might be interested in leaving the MSL for the UEC. That news comes in tandem with word that the MSL may expand from the 12 schools now split in East and West divisions.

Will the MSC head north to the North Suburban Conference or east to the Central Suburban League? Will the search lead to the heart of the DVC-UEC fray?

As always, stay tuned.

3. Coaching 'em up:

Listening to Pete Kramer's raspy voice at the end of a long day, you get a sense of how much energy he pours into coaching Naperville Central's basketball team.

Now double it.

Since the start of basketball practice on Nov. 11, Kramer's endured a whirlwind of serving as the receivers coach of the Redhawks' football team while trying to get a basketball team with high expectations off the ground.

It hasn't been easy -- and Kramer knows he'll pay a tiring toll down the road. But the effort is well worth it considering the Redhawks' football team is playing Loyola in the Class 8A title game on Saturday and the basketball team faces Benet in the Hoops for Healing title game on Friday.

"It hasn't been that bad," said Kramer, who's held basketball practice from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. after football practice finished. "We have a lot of kids back from last year, so basketball practice has been a lot easier."

After assisting Redhawks football coach Mike Stine for 12 years at the sophomore level, Kramer took five years off to focus on basketball and spend time with his growing sons. Now that his sons are older -- Nick was quarterback on the freshman team -- he felt it was time to return to football.

His timing couldn't have been better.

"I always planned on coming back," Kramer said. "It's been a great experience."

4. Generation gap:

Stine shed some tears with his father on the field after Saturday's 27-21 emotional semifinal win over Marist. While Stine's coached in state title games as an assistant, this is his first time leading a program as the head coach.

His father, a state champion and hall of fame coach with Byron, served as a mentor as his son's coaching experience expanded through the years.

"I'd be lying if I said this wasn't something I've dreamed about since I was a kid," Mike Stine said. "It's been an extremely special experience for both of us."

Everett Stine is right there on the sideline supporting his son at games, something that's become easier during his retirement. Among their many shared memories is the 1999 season when Byron won the Class 3A title and Naperville Central, with Mike as the offensive coordinator, won the 6A title the next day.

"He's a hall of fame coach, but my mom also should be in there," Mike Stine said of his mother, Donna. "My dad was a coach for 37 years and she never missed a game."

Everett Stine is the No. 1 mentor in his son's life, but Mike is quick to note the number of legendary coaches he's worked with in the last three decades.

"I've worked with Joe Bunge, Larry McKeon, Bill Barz and my dad," Stine said. "All four of those guys are hall of fame coaches, so I've truly been blessed."

5. Stat time:

As Montini tries to complete its drive for five straight state titles Saturday against Sacred Heart-Griffin, here's a brief look at some numbers.

• Montini's making its 26th playoff appearance and 21st straight. Including the Broncos' first playoff berth in 1981, Chris Andriano's been at the helm the entire time.

• Montini, which has lost 10 games the last five years, is vying for its first unbeaten season. That's the product of a consistently brutal schedule, which makes this playoff run perhaps the Broncos' most impressive.

• While the focus is fixed on Montini's streak of four straight titles, it took a special team to break through. Credit for that goes to the 2004 team that won the program's first championship.

• In each of the last four years Montini had to win a playoff game by a final margin of 7 points or fewer. This year Montini survived a 22-21 second-round decision over Joliet Catholic.

• Sacred Heart-Griffin is the fifth opponent Montini's faced in a title game. The Broncos twice played Joliet Catholic.

• The most important stat? Montini's 5-0 in championship games.

Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit

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