The new artificial turf in Wauconda's stadium wasn't quite ready for the first day of practice, but the Bulldogs sure were.
Along with every other high school football team in the state of Illinois, Wauconda eagerly ushered in the first official day of the 2014 season on Monday with an afternoon practice on a grass field just south of its new digs.
The new field, accented in bright yellow and purple, should be ready for Wauconda's first home game of the season on Sept. 5 against Chicago Roosevelt.
The Bulldogs open the season the week before on Aug. 29 at Woodstock North.
"We're really excited," senior running back and safety Alex Payne said of the new field. "It's going to be really nice."
"This has been a long-awaited turf field," senior wide receiver Josh Anderson said.
Likewise, the Bulldogs have been anxiously awaiting the start of the season. They went 4-5 and missed the playoffs last season after starting 3-0. With their highest numbers in years (38 players on varsity last year compared to 54 this year), they have redemption on their minds.
"We have to go 3-0 again and keep that good start and keep it rolling the whole season," Anderson said. "I think after we were 3-0 last year, some people thought it was going to be easy and started taking it light."
Anderson says that this group of Bulldogs is grounded, but also confident in its weapons. The offense returns most of its skill players.
At the top of the list is Anderson and Payne, both of whom will be counted on heavily.
"My expectations are to go into the playoffs, hopefully at least into the second round because the last time we went to the playoffs, we lost in the first game," Payne said. "I think we can get past the first round this year."
To prepare for the season, the Bulldogs spent the usual number of summer camp days together that are allotted by the IHSA. They also participated in a team lock-in at the school.
"We had 92 players at our lock-in," Wauconda coach Dave Mills said. "We've got a lot of kids who want to play football.
"It's nice to be in 'real' football season now. The kids have a lot of energy out there (at practice) and we have a lot of fun things going on this year with the field, and the kids think they're going to be pretty good, which is exciting. We think we're a playoff team."
Mills, entering his sixth season at Wauconda, is now one of the coaching deans of the North Suburban Conference Prairie Division.
There are two new football coaches in the seven-team division after the addition of two new coaches last year.
Former Grayslake Central coach Vito Andriola has taken the reins at Grant while Johnny Johnson is in his first year at North Chicago.
In the North Suburban Conference Lake Division, Warren coach Bryan McNultry enters his first season as does Bob Moynihan at Zion-Benton.
Grayslake Central also has a new coach in Jason Schaal.