It didn't take long for Naperville Central to begin focusing on defending its Class 8A title.
"The Monday after the state title game we had 42 kids in the weight room at six in the morning," said Redhawks coach Mike Stine. "It's a new team, but they're ready to work."
Look no further than the DuPage Valley Conference to again find the area's top Class 8A teams.
That's not to say DuPage-area teams such as Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley won't contend, but statewide eyes remain fixed on reloaded defending 8A champion Naperville Central. Iowa-State bound linebacker Bobby McMillen returns to lead the defense, while the Redhawks welcome back a top-notch receiving combo with Illinois State recruit Michael Kolzow and junior Emmanuel Rugamba, who holds an offer from Illinois.
With junior Connor Joyce and senior David Wesolowski competing at quarterback, Naperville Central will find out right away if it's ready to play at an elite level. The Redhawks' first two games are against Waubonsie Valley's extremely experienced defense and Neuqua Valley's potent offense headed by quarterback Broc Rutter, committed to Indiana State.
"We played nine straight playoff teams at the end of last year, and we start this season with seven straight," Stine said. "We know it's going to be tough."
Keep in mind, though, that Naperville Central didn't even win its own conference last year. Glenbard North is the two-time defending DVC champion.
The Panthers graduated record-breaking running back Justin Jackson, but they'll still move the ball on the ground with sophomore Vittorio Tricase, junior Devion Hodges and returning fullback Dillon Warnecke. Dual-threat quarterback Brett Gasiorowski also returns.
As for the overall view of Class 8A, keep an eye on Loyola, last year's runner-up, and its dynamite defense. Stevenson, a semifinalist last year, returns a bunch of talent including Northwestern-bound receiver Cameron Green. Homewood-Flossmoor, Bolingbrook and Maine South also bring back strong groups.
In terms of Class 7A, DuPage County remains a major factor with Glenbard West, Wheaton Warrenville South and Wheaton North.
The Hilltoppers, champions of the Red Grange Classic 7-on-7 summer tournament, will have one of their better offensive groups with quarterback Kyle Kramer, receiver Aidan Gould and a horde of running backs including Sam Brodner and Donahvon Vaughn.
"We can be balanced offensively," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet. "We haven't always been that way, but I think we can be this year."
WW South brings back star power on both sides of the ball with receiver Keishawn Watson, committed to Western Michigan, and Northwestern-bound linebacker Tommy Vitale.
Wheaton North doesn't return much experience, but last year's sophomores went 8-1 and coach Joe Wardynski is promoting three sophomores from last year's unbeaten freshman team.
From a wider view, Class 7A still features the state's toughest competition with defending champion Mt. Carmel, runner-up Lake Zurich, Lincoln-Way East and others ready to challenge for the title.
DuPage County's football power continues in other classes as well. Montini, in particular, looks to bounce back after having its streak of four straight Class 5A titles snapped in last season's final by Sacred Heart-Griffin.
Does it seem like there isn't much talk about DuPage County's individual football talent?
At least one standout member of the Class of 2015 believes so.
"I think we're pretty underrated right now," said Lake Park senior defensive back-receiver Antonio Shenault. "There's a lot of talent out there. We're out to prove ourselves."
While most top senior players have committed to colleges, Shenault is still weighing his options. His offers include Minnesota, Iowa State and Northern Illinois with others ready to offer if he starts strong this season.
He'd prefer to commit before Lake Park's season opener against Conant, but Shenault's ready to let the situation play itself out.
"Ideally I'd like to commit before the season," he said. "But I also want to make sure it's the right decision."
DuPage County, with Shenault checking in at No. 23, is well-represented on the Rivals.com list of the top senior recruits in Illinois.
Montini receiver Leon Thornton, committed to Indiana, is ranked 11th, with Wisconsin-bound Downers Grove North quarterback David Edwards right behind at No. 12. Wheaton Warrenville South linebacker Tommy Vitale, poised to join older brother Dan at Northwestern, and Iowa State-bound Naperville Central linebacker Bobby McMillen round out the DuPage representatives in the state's top 30.
East St. Louis features two of Rivals' top three senior recruits in uncommitted defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. and running back Natereace Strong, a Missouri recruit. Providence receiver Miles Boykin, committed to Notre Dame, is Chicagoland's top-rated senior recruit.
As for the Class of 2016, it already looks like a good year for DuPage County. Hinsdale South junior defensive lineman Josh King's offers include virtually the entire Big Ten, Florida, Notre Dame and Oregon. Downers Grove South offensive lineman Erik Swenson already has committed to Michigan, while Rugamba holds that offer from Illinois.
As the IHSA prepares for a second state hearing in September designed to delve into the inner workings of the state's governing prep sports organization, it's a good time to review recent moves made by the IHSA.
This off-season marked the debut of an IHSA policy eliminating full-pad football activity in the summer. The shift aims to reduce the risk of athlete injury, but most teams were unaffected because they traditionally didn't participate in full-contact summer drills.
Another key announcement came in June when the IHSA said it'd be delaying the implementation of changes to Policy 17. Approved in February, the changes to the non-boundaried school multiplier and the creation of a "success factor" will go into effect in 2015-16 instead of this school year.
Beginning next school year, private schools will receive an enrollment multiplier waiver only if they meet the criteria of a point system based on recent success. Non-boundaried schools also will become subject to a "success factor", meaning that if private school athletic programs attain a certain number of state trophies during a specific time frame, those programs will be bumped up into enrollment classes with larger schools for state series competition.
Because the IHSA board of directors felt more time was needed for "education and feedback", the changes won't go into effect for another year.
What's on the horizon for the IHSA? Quite a bit, but one of the more interesting items is a looming proposal from the West Suburban Conference to separate the state's public and private schools for postseason competition.
Addison Trail Principal Adam Cibulka, via email, said there's nothing new to report on the proposal but expect to hear about the topic in the future.
One final important item of interest: The rotation of state football sites continues this season.
After spending 2013 in DeKalb because of Big Ten title game commitments, the IHSA's eight state title football games return to Champaign this Thanksgiving weekend.
Change is good
From tweaks to implosion, six of the seven conferences hosting DuPage County programs have undergone change since last season.
In the DuPage Valley Conference what began with last year's departure of West Chicago to the Upstate Eight and the arrival of Lake Park from the same, continues with Glenbard East and West Aurora shifting to the Upstate Eight, specifically the Valley Division. West Chicago, a UEC Valley affiliate in 2013, heads to the UEC River for a balance of eight teams on each side.
That balance will be disrupted when Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley are slated to join the DuPage Valley in 2015-16, boosting that league to nine teams and no doubt creating further change in the Upstate Eight.
As of Monday Glenbard East coach John Walters was simply preparing the Rams to be the best they can be. He said "not once" during the summer had players, coaches or first-year athletic director Romelle Taylor mentioned the move.
Walters said the difference will be learning new coaches and their tactics, but with film exchanges and the spread of online film sites, "it's not like there's a ton of secrets," he said. "How they adjust -- that'll be the challenge."
The West Suburban Conference stood pat, while the East Suburban Catholic and the Interstate Eight underwent minor adjustment. Marian Central joined the ESCC out of the Suburban Christian Conference. Streator moved into the IEC Large Division, bumping Herscher to the Small Division where it joined Lisle and Westmont and replaced outgoing Dwight.
There was nothing minor about how the Suburban Christian Conference was gutted. A massive change inspired mainly by some members' football-based dissatisfaction, as of the 2015-16 school year the storied league will dissolve.
This fall the football and boys soccer programs of Montini, St. Francis, Marmion and Aurora Christian will play in the Chicago Catholic League, the first three in the CCL Green for football with Aurora Christian in the White. Seven former SCC schools, including Wheaton Academy and IC Catholic have joined the Metro Suburban, enlarging a group of five to East and West divisions of six teams apiece.
"I feel like we have some good-quality schools that are entering the program and hungry to join the conference," said Glenbard South coach Jeremy Cordell, favored in a Metro Suburban West that, for football, offers Fenton, Wheaton Academy, IC Catholic, Aurora Central Catholic and Riverside-Brookfield.
"I'm just excited that it's a solid conference, a 12-team conference now, with separate divisions and people on our side we can play and develop rivalries with," he said.
Montini, St. Francis and Marmion successfully petitioned the CCL to accept all its boys teams starting in 2015-16, with Montini, St. Francis and Rosary girls programs entering the ESCC. Except for football, Aurora Christian will join the Northeastern Athletic Conference in 2015-16.
One fan's opinion during Montini's Class 5A semifinal victory over Sycamore last year was the Broncos would be up against it in the CCL. Starting with nonconference foes Maine South and East St. Louis followed by a CCL crossover against St. Rita and a Green game at DeLaSalle, he may be right. Broncos coach Chris Andriano has never shirked a challenge.
"If we can hang in there the first half of season we should be all right," the Hall of Famer said.
Hello ... again
Five men will coach new teams this fall, experienced though they may be.
With a dozen Illinois-based Monkens coaching football around the country it had to happen eventually -- two of them simultaneously serving as head coaches of DuPage County teams.
Matt Monken is the new hire at York and his cousin, Ted, takes over at West Chicago. Ted Monken led St. Charles East to four straight playoff berths between 2005-08, then founded the Metea Valley program.
The last local hire was cinched in May when Hinsdale Central named Dan Hartman, out of Evergreen Park, as its new coach.
Succeeding retired St. Francis coach Greg Purnell, who emerged from Iowa to win the 2008 Class 5A title, Mike Fitzgerald takes over the Spartans. In six seasons as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Marist, Fitzgerald helped produce a 50-19 record and 2009 Class 8A title berth.
St. Francis' basketball team scored a coup several years ago by hiring retired teacher Bob Ward. The Lisle football team, which saw Dan Sanko resign as varsity coach after last season, could reap a similar bounty with the hiring of longtime Addison Trail coach, energetic Paul Parpet.
Asked Monday how it felt to again direct a football team, Parpet said: "Love it. Unbelievable."
To his credit Parpet retained each member of Lisle's staff -- John Davis, Ron Jaegle, Mark LaScala and Sanko, now heading the frosh-soph level. Another familiar face graced Lisle's weight room after Monday's practice -- the venerable Lee Maciejewski.
"We had a conversation and he's going to join my staff too," Parpet said. "So I'm really happy with how the staff is. They're buying in, they're giving me advice, they know the conference and it's been very good. That's a big plus."
Wheaton Warrenville South avoided a big minus. Ron Muhitch, whose first appearance in the program was a one-year stint with the freshmen in 1976 as a student-teacher, retired as head of the physical education department last spring.
Muhitch could have stuck with his bustling real estate business. He could have taken the job at Elmhurst College after interviewing there in the spring.
He instead remained loyal to a Tigers program he'd helped to four state titles as John Thorne's defensive coordinator and three more since Muhitch became head coach in 2002. His return came with the full support of athletic director Mike Healy and principal Dave Claypool.
"It's kind of open-ended," Muhitch said. "It's not a one-year thing. Mike and Dave have been very good about trying to extend that opportunity to me as long as I wanted."
Speaking of open-ended, remember when every year seemed to be it for Montini's Chris Andriano? A couple years ago this season was supposed to be his last. Not so fast.
"It's year by year, we'll see how things go," Andriano said. "Till we start losing, then they'll probably have my head."
Following are some intriguing games for Weeks 1-9. All games on Friday unless indicated.
Week 1, Aug. 29-30: Downers Grove South at Benet; Montini at Maine South; Naperville Central at Waubonsie Valley; Neuqua Valley at Naperville North; Wheaton Warrenville South at Glenbard West (Saturday).
Week 2, Sept. 5-6:
Batavia at Glenbard North; East St. Louis at Montini; Joliet Catholic at Wheaton North; Maine South at WW South; Naperville Central at Neuqua Valley.
Week 3, Sept. 12-13: Addison Trail at Downers South; Downers Grove North at Glenbard West (Saturday); Marmion at St. Francis; Montini at St. Rita; Wilmington at Lisle.
Week 4, Sept. 19-20: Benet at St. Patrick (Saturday); Brother Rice at St. Francis; Lisle at Westmont; Waubonsie Valley at Bartlett; Willowbrook at York.
Week 5, Sept. 26-27: Glenbard North at Naperville Central; Glenbard South at Fenton; Glenbard West at Hinsdale Central; Naperville North at Lake Park; WW South at Wheaton North.
Week 6, Oct. 3-4: Downers South at Downers North; Glenbard East at Bartlett; Metea Valley at Waubonsie Valley; Nazareth at Benet; Wheaton North at Glenbard North.
Week 7, Oct. 10-11: Hinsdale South at Hinsdale Central (Saturday); Lake Park at Glenbard North; Montini at St. Francis; Wheaton North at Naperville Central; WW South at Naperville North.
Week 8: Oct. 17-18: Benet at Joliet Catholic; Glenbard North at WW South; IC Catholic at Glenbard South; Naperville North at Wheaton North; Waubonsie Valley at Neuqua Valley.
Week 9, Oct. 24-25: Hinsdale Central at Downers North; Marmion at Montini; Neuqua Valley at Metea Valley; WW South at Naperville Central; Willowbrook at Addison Trail.