It's transition time in the DuPage Valley Conference.
With Glenbard East and West Aurora departed to the Upstate Eight Conference -- and with Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley still a year away from joining -- the DVC's down to a group of six schools.
The biggest impact will be felt this football season.
"I guess you could say it's more camaraderie this year," said Lake Park coach Chris Roll, whose school joined the DVC last year. "We know it's going to be a strange year. We're all in the same boat, and we all know it's going to be tough."
The toughest aspect is also the strangest. Each team will play another team twice, once in a Week 4 nonconference matchup and the second "DVC" meeting in Week 9.
It's certainly not an ideal situation, but for one year they'll have to deal with it.
"There's nothing we can do but make the best of it," said Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski. "The big thing is you'd better stay healthy or you're not even going to give yourself a chance."
There may not be as much strength in numbers, but this season's DVC field remains immensely strong.
Consider this: Naperville Central won last season's Class 8A title but didn't win the DVC. For the second straight year that honor went to Glenbard North, which rides a 15-game conference winning streak.
The Panthers might have graduated record-breaking running back Justin Jackson, now at Northwestern, but they remain potent on the ground with a backfield tandem of Vittorio Tricase and Devion Hodges and an experienced quarterback in Brett Gasiorowski. Returning linebackers Luke Greenberg, Brad Metoyer and Jimique Davis keep Glenbard North a DVC favorite.
Looming right with the Panthers -- again -- is Naperville Central. The Redhawks retain key elements of last year's explosive offense, including receivers Michael Kolzow and Emmanuel Rugamba, who combined for 84 receptions, and running back Kevin Clifford, who rushed for 776 yards.
With Iowa State-bound linebacker Bobby McMillen also back for a third varsity season, Naperville Central is a threat in the DVC and beyond.
"We'll have the title of defending state champs every time we walk on the field," said Redhawks coach Mike Stine. "But in our conference you always have to be ready no matter what your title says."
Wheaton Warrenville South is a contender with college-bound talent on both sides of the ball. The Tigers will challenge for the title with linebacker Tommy Vitale, committed to Northwestern, and Western Michigan recruit Keishawn Watson at receiver.
Wheaton North is extremely young in spots, but there's no doubting the Falcons' talent with elements of last year's freshman and sophomore teams that went a combined 17-1. Sophomore quarterback Luke Anthony, stepping in for graduated all-DVC signal caller Clayton Thorson, is among the inexperienced players being counted on to step up.
With two of the league's elite players, Lake Park aims to improve upon last year's 2-win DVC campaign. Defensive back Antonio Shenault, one of the state's top uncommitted seniors, and junior defensive lineman Mike Panasiuk will help the Lancers match up with anyone in the conference.
If it's true you win football games in the trenches, then Naperville North is in good shape. Jake Bashaw, Joe Gissler and Jake Prucha return to the offensive line while Tyler Bushman and Chris Zhang are back on the defensive line.
With perhaps the most physical personnel in the DVC, Naperville North won't be a team anyone wants to play.
Let alone play the Huskies twice.
"It becomes a bear this season," said Huskies coach Sean Drendel. "I think every one of the six of us can vie for the top spot."
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