Hoffman Estates' Jimmy Burke had trouble falling asleep Sunday night. So he did what just about any high school senior in his shoes would do.
"I watched videos of Ray Lewis until about midnight," said Burke, a middle linebacker at Hoffman Estates High School, who would like to emulate his idol Lewis, a former NFL star linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens.
Burke finally did fall asleep, but was up early Monday morning. He joined high school football players all over the area for the first official day of football practice.
"I am really excited," Burke said. "We are looking forward to a great season."
Area teams returned to the practice field for three weeks of work in advance of opening up the regular season with games on Friday, Aug. 25.
Burke and his teammates, all 76 of them, were on the field for a 7 a.m. practice. They were looking forward to the new season after a year where they qualified for the state playoffs for the first time in 21 years.
Hawks wide receiver Jayvon Blisset says he and his teammates have high goals set for themselves.
"We felt that last year, we didn't finish the year the way we should have," said Blisset, whose team lost to Benet in the opening round of the playoffs. "Our team could have played better in that game. This year it sort of adds fuel to the fire. We want to be ready for the year."
Quarterback Austin Coalson said he loves the feel of the first day of practice.
"There is a lot of excitement and a lot of energy out here," Coalson said. "I am excited to see how we come out and look this year. I am liking it. There are a lot of people talking about us and we are excited to show everybody what we are made of."
Last season was a great year in Northwest suburban Cook County, with six Mid-Suburban League teams plus St. Viator and Leyden qualifying for the playoffs.
It was also a huge year for coaching turnover, with five schools hiring new head coaches in the off-season.
Miles Osei will take over the reins at Elk Grove. Likewise, it's Brian Hauck at Wheeling, Bryan Stortz at Conant, Corey Olson at Palatine and Tim Heyse at Hoffman Estates.
Heyse, who was an assistant coach at Hoffman for 14 years, said the feeling on the first day of practice as a head coach was not much different that it was when he was an assistant.
"It feels the same, to be honest," Heyse said. "It was the way it was. It is very similar to what we have been doing."
Heyse is looking for that continuity if the Hawks, who return 18 starters, hope to upend MSL West rival Palatine for the conference title. Palatine has won the West title the last three years.
"As long we can stay healthy and keep getting better every day, we are in a good spot," Heyse said. "We talk about Palatine a lot here with our kids. They way they go about things, they way they play, the way present themselves and the way they play on the field. It is remarkable.
"They have done an unbelievable job at Palatine. And we want to do the same thing here."
Over in Arlington Heights, Hersey coach Joe Pardun was beginning his fourth year in charge of the program. Pardun welcomed 54 players to practice at 7 a.m. in Arlington Heights.
"I think everyone is excited to get going here," Pardun said. "Everyone works hard over the summer and now it is time to get going. It is just a week before we start school so everyone is amped up."
Pardun is looking to get his Huskies back to the playoffs after a two-year absence.
"We have a nice mix of some young kids and experienced guys," said Pardun, who returns Owen Goldsberry, a quarterback who has drawn college interest. "We are hoping we can stay healthy. We are definitely excited about this team. It is an awesome group of kids. They seem to jell well together -- we have some good leadership on the team, and that is comforting."
Hersey will be one of two MSL teams that has hired former area head coaches to run their defenses in 2017. Mike Donatucci, who was the head coach at Hoffman Estates, will now be at Hersey. And Brent Pearlman, who was at Wheeling, will now be the defensive coordinator at Fremd.
Participation levels are still quite good for area football teams, although many have eliminated sophomore only football and gone to a Varsity/JV combined squad. Schaumburg reported 55 players, Rolling Meadows 52, Elk Grove 50, Buffalo Grove 65 and Maine West 70 while Prospect and St. Viator each had 41 players, although Viator's numbers were varsity only.