The Fox Valley Conference's new look is actually retro.
For the first time since 2005, the FVC is one league, no divisions.
Gone are Woodstock and Woodstock North. Both joined the new Kishwaukee River Conference.
Likewise, Grayslake Central and Grayslake North scrammed. Both left for the newly formed Northern Lake County Conference, thereby minimizing travel times.
Those departures leave the FVC with nine schools -- Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South, Dundee-Crown, Hampshire, Huntley, Jacobs, McHenry and Prairie Ridge -- its lowest membership since it was a 10-team league in 2005. The FVC counted eight members from 1991-1996.
Enrollment at some schools has changed dramatically since the FVC split into divisions based on size in the fall of 2006. Huntley has experienced explosive growth, increasing from 1,300 students to 2,866, according to last year's enrollment total reported to the IHSA, making it by far the largest school in the FVC. Dundee-Crown is the next largest with 2,460 students, followed by McHenry (2,277) and Jacobs (2,191).
Meanwhile, schools like Crystal Lake South, Crystal Lake Central and Cary-Grove have seen student populations diminish slightly in recent years. Thus, Huntley has well over 1,000 more students for coaches to choose from than five FVC members: Cary-Grove (1,787), Crystal Lake South (1,696), Crystal Lake Central (1,540) Hampshire (1,491) and Prairie Ridge (1,480).
Therefore, Huntley, which won the large-school FVC Valley Division title last season with a 5-0 record, will be tough to dislodge from the top spot even though the Red Raiders graduated a veteran quarterback, most linebackers and the entire secondary.
"We have 147 players if you include 62 sophomores," said first-year Huntley head coach Matt Zimolzak, who was former coach John Hart's defensive coordinator the last four years. "The great thing about those numbers is we have really good players stepping up in places like our defensive backfield."
Huntley returns standouts on either side of the ball in senior defensive end Olalere Oladipo (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) and junior quarterback Eric Mooney (6-1, 188).
Oladipo enjoyed a big junior season, racking up 29 solo tackles and 10 assists, including 4 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Oladipo will announce his college choice at the high school on Thursday at 6 p.m. He recently narrowed 22 Division-I offers to six finalists: California, Duke, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State and Penn State.
Mooney has the kind of 4.4 speed to make the read-option offense hum. Last year as a running back and receiver he rushed for 876 yards and 16 touchdowns on 76 carries and caught 26 passes for 597 yards and 3 more touchdowns.
Cary-Grove finished second in the Valley Division to Huntley last season with a 4-1 record. While the Red Raiders were upset in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs, Cary-Grove won 3 Class 7A playoff games before succumbing to eventual champion Glenbard West in a state semifinal played in a snowstorm.
The Trojans return a large majority of their lineup, including four all-conference players: two-time all-state fullback/linebacker Tyler Pennington, linebacker Kevin Pedersen, safety David Daigle and running back Ryan Magel.
Pennington enters his fourth varsity season as the school's all-time leading rusher. Last year he rushed for 1,433 yards and 24 touchdowns in 279 attempts. Magel, who has 4.4 speed, rushed for 792 yards and 9 touchdowns on 77 carries. Daigle had 41.5 tackles and 3 interceptions.
Last year, Huntley won the head-to-head matchup against Cary-Grove 29-8 in Huntley, though the game remained close until late in the third quarter. The Red Raiders must travel to Cary in Week 5.
Prairie Ridge was the undefeated champion of the FVC Fox Division last year and won 3 playoff games to reach the Class 6A semifinals. Coach Chris Shremp's Wolves are a veteran bunch, led by quarterback Samson Evans, whose 40-yard dash time is 4.44 seconds. Directing the triple-option offense last season, the talented junior operated behind Division-I prospect Jeff Jenkins (6-4, 260), one of several Wolves with two seasons of varsity experience. Evans rushed for 1,966 yards and 29 touchdowns and threw for over 700 yards and 9 scores.
Prairie Ridge opens the season at Cary-Grove on Friday. Last year, the Trojans won the season opener between the District 155 rivals 21-14.
Jacobs finished third in the FVC Valley last year (3-2), though the Golden Eagles gave champion Huntley its closest shave during the regular season before falling 22-19. They reached the playoffs for the fifth time in six years and finished 7-3.
Jacobs returns quarterback Chris Katrenick (Bowling Green) and third-year offensive lineman Jimmy Wormsley, a 6-foot-3, 280-pound junior. Last year Katrenick threw for 1,791 yards and 18 touchdowns on 127-of-233 passing.
Hampshire graduated most of the starters from a 5-5 playoff team, but returns a pair of key performers in quarterback Jake Vincent and wide receiver Jared Hornbeck. Last season they connected 52 times, resulting in 1,054 yards and 13 touchdowns.
"We went 22-6 as a program at all levels last year, which means kids are doing things the right way," third-year Hampshire coach Mike Brasile said. "Hopefully, that means a few extra wins for us in the FVC. There are some new coaches and new coordinators in the league this year, It's going to be a brutal fight to the end every single week."
Coach John McLaughlin is back for his second stint at Crystal Lake Central, where he coached from 2004-09 to a 29-29 record. The Tigers are expected to field a new-look offense with the off-season hiring of former Marian Central and St. Viator offensive coordinator Dirk Stanger. He helped develop four Division-I quarterbacks at Marian Central.
The third new coach in the nine-team FVC is McHenry's Nat Zunkel. He went 65-16 in seven seasons at Mercer County in Aledo, highlighted by a Class 2A state title in 2012. His job is to return the Warriors to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. McHenry made the playoffs every year between 1988-2007.
Crystal Lake South's hopes for a second straight playoff appearance are rooted in the return of some all-FVC Valley picks on offense: senior quarterback Luke Nolan (6-4, 185) and junior fullback Kyle Leva (6-2, 185). Sophomore Division-I prospect Trevor Keegan (6-6, 290) also returns to anchor the offensive line. He has an offer from Northwestern. That trio helped the Gators finish 5-5 overall an fourth in the FVC Valley with a 2-3 record.
Nolan last season threw for 1,169 yards and 10 touchdowns on 93-of-167 passing. Leva led the Gators in rushing as a sophomore with 569 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Dundee-Crown went 2-7 overall last year, 1-4 in league play with its only win coming by forfeit against McHenry due to a teacher's strike in Week 7.
However, the Chargers could be a team on the uptick with 20 seniors returning, including offensive linemen Oscar Nava (5-10, 252) and Gage Efken (6-0, 275), a pair of third-year starters. Senior quarterback Connor Ryan returns healthy. He was injured in Week 4 last year and missed the rest of the season.
"This league is going to be a very exciting football league from week to week," Jacobs coach Bill Mitz said. "There are some good quarterbacks in this league. Our guy (Katrenick) is back for his third year, the guy at Huntley (Mooney) will do a good job, Evans at PR is really good, the Hampshire kid (Vincent) can throw it and Nolan at Crystal Lake South isn't chicken liver. And we know Cary will be good. We're excited to get going."