5 things to watch for in Week 1 of prep football season
Whether you play, coach, watch -- or even write about -- prep football, there's no avoiding those butterflies rolling through the stomach. And whether it's your first season opener or, in my case, 24th, the anticipation never changes.
Eyes on Five returns this school year, starting with a quick look at what makes this particular Week 1 special.
Saturday marks the final regular-season meeting between Class 7A powers and traditional rivals Glenbard West and Wheaton Warrenville South. At least it's the last meeting for the foreseeable future.
The end of an era fittingly takes place at Duchon Field on the banks of Lake Ellyn.
Other than a four-year span between 2007 and 2010 when the series was suspended, the Week 1 showdown between two of DuPage County's history-rich programs was a fixture on the schedule. The rivalry reached a pinnacle in 2009 when, after not meeting in the regular season, they played in an epic 7A title game that WW South won 31-24 in double overtime.
You can blame the end of the series on all that conference craziness.
When Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley join the DuPage Valley Conference next year, the league grows to nine schools. That means WW South and the other DVC football teams will play an entire season of conference games except for one bye week outside the league.
WW South's bye won't be in the first two weeks of next season, which means the Tigers are booked with DVC games Week 1 and 2. They'll cross over against an Upstate Eight Conference team, West Chicago, for their bye week.
It's a shame, but just another casualty of the frenetic movement that's occurred the last few years.
If the DVC expands further and forms two divisions, it's possible the opening-game slot will open again for a Glenbard West-WW South reunion.
At least that's my hope.
Speaking of hope...
Like many young athletes in good shape, Wheaton Warrenville South's Pat Doherty had a low heart rate.
No big deal. At least that's what Doherty and his family initially thought when the issue was discovered during a routine physical before last football season.
The doctor allowed Doherty to compete but, to be safe, he wanted Doherty to consult a cardiologist. After further tests it was discovered that Doherty had a coronary artery anomaly, a condition that's been linked to sudden cardiac deaths among young athletes.
Stunned at the discovery -- and feeling blessed for the doctor's recommendation that he see a cardiologist -- Doherty underwent successful open-heart surgery in December. Six months of doctor-mandated inactivity followed before the senior tight end was cleared to compete in early June.
Doherty takes the field with his Tigers teammates Saturday at Glenbard West, and he'll take with him a new perspective on pretty much everything.
Football players gearing up this weekend need to appreciate the moment. Soak in every minute of an opportunity that can be taken away in an instant.
It's exactly what Pat Doherty will be doing Saturday.
Glenbard North looked locally. It looked statewide. It looked at the bordering states.
Nothing. The Panthers couldn't find one suitable Week 1 opponent after shifting its Batavia game to Week 2 and losing Carmel from the schedule.
Facing limited choices, the Panthers decided to play Centerville, Ohio, as part of the two-game Backyard Blitz in Dayton. Glenbard North plays the second game at 8 p.m. Saturday, and then will make the 300-mile drive back home that night.
As much as the Panthers are looking forward to starting the season, this will be the definition of grueling. They'll arrive back in Carol Stream sometime in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and then immediately shift the focus to Week 2.
They'll lose a full day of preparation -- and rest -- for a showdown with Batavia, the defending Class 6A champion that handed Glenbard North its lone regular-season loss last season.
If there's a silver lining to the grind, it's that this is a one-year glitch. When the DuPage Valley Conference expands to nine schools next year, Glenbard North's bye week will be spent playing Glenbard East, which is now in the Upstate Eight Conference.
Home sweet home
Wheaton Academy hasn't played a football game on its West Chicago campus in 25 years.
So, yeah, it's going to be quite the scene on Friday when the Warriors play host to Walther Christian at newly built, artificially turfed Performance Trust Field.
It'll be a huge night for a program that was revived in 2007 after being discontinued in 1989. The Warriors spent the last several years playing "home" games at Wheaton College and West Chicago High School, which made it difficult for the program to forge an identity for itself.
With a place to call home, that all changes.
"I'm thrilled about the field for the football program because it will give the school community an opportunity to rally around and support the football program in a way that hasn't happened before," said Warriors coach Brad Thornton.
The facility upgrades won't only benefit the football program. Soccer and lacrosse will compete on the field, the baseball field is being turfed, a six-lane track was installed and new tennis courts have been added at the campus.
Friday, though, it's all about showing off the new digs for the football team.
Needless to say, the Warriors will need no motivation to open the stadium with a win.
Well ... maybe this isn't a stat but a schedule change needs to be noted.
Eyes on Five, normally in Friday's Daily Herald, will appear each Wednesday this season.
What does that mean? Football coverage every day of the week except Monday from now until the playoffs.
So now that we're officially settled in, what do you say we get this thing started?
Follow Kevin Schmit on Twitter @kevin_schmit