Plenty of talent, changes in Fox Valley area

 
 
Updated 8/6/2018 7:10 PM
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  • Batavia head coach Dennis Piron throws passes to his players during the first day of football practice at Batavia High School Monday. The Bulldogs are defending state champions.

      Batavia head coach Dennis Piron throws passes to his players during the first day of football practice at Batavia High School Monday. The Bulldogs are defending state champions. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Senior Michael McFarland hauls in a pass during the first day of football practice at Batavia High School Monday.

      Senior Michael McFarland hauls in a pass during the first day of football practice at Batavia High School Monday. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Running back Art Taylor cuts to the outside during the first day of football practice at Batavia High School Monday.

      Running back Art Taylor cuts to the outside during the first day of football practice at Batavia High School Monday. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Senior McKinley Neville and the defending state champion Batavia Bulldogs football team took the field Monday for the first day of football practice at Batavia High School.

      Senior McKinley Neville and the defending state champion Batavia Bulldogs football team took the field Monday for the first day of football practice at Batavia High School. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Quarterback Jack Meyers works with coach Dennis Piron during the first day of football practice at Batavia High School Monday.

      Quarterback Jack Meyers works with coach Dennis Piron during the first day of football practice at Batavia High School Monday. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • The defending state champion Batavia Bulldogs football team took the field Monday for the first day of football practice at Batavia High School.

      The defending state champion Batavia Bulldogs football team took the field Monday for the first day of football practice at Batavia High School. Rick West | Staff Photographer

The countdown to kickoff got real Monday as IHSA football practices began statewide.

High school football teams have 16 practice days to finalize position battles and polish the playbook ahead of opening weekend, Aug 24-25.

Here are some things Fox Valley area fans can look forward to this season.

Big-time players

There is talent up and down the Fox Valley coverage area, bookended by top-tier Division-I linemen.

No Illinois prospect is more sought after than Crystal Lake South lineman Trevor Keegan. The uncommitted four-year starter is the state's top-ranked player, according to Rivals.com. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound senior in June narrowed dozens of offers to Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Michigan.

Meanwhile, West Aurora junior defensive lineman Denver Warren made a splash in early July when he committed to Michigan. Impossible to move at 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, Warren benches 325 and possesses deceptive speed for his size.

Other committed returnees include a pair of senior linebackers who helped Batavia win the Class 7A state championship last November. Michael Jansey (6-2, 210) chose Northwestern over West Virginia, Iowa State, Missouri and Purdue, among others. Teammate Luke Weerts (6-2, 230) opted for North Dakota State, passing on offers from Northern Illinois, Cincinnati, Air Force and Kansas State.

Other notable committed players include St. Charles North multisport athlete Tyler Nubin, a 6-foot-2, 183-pound receiver/defensive back who will play for Minnesota.

Cary-Grove senior Addison West is a 6-foot-4, 265-pound offensive lineman headed to Western Michigan.

The area boasts other offensive linemen destined to play high-level college football. Jacobs senior Joacheim Price (6-8, 315) has offers from Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue, Iowa State and West Virginia. The choices for talented St. Charles East junior Dylan Barrett (6-5, 285) already include Wisconsin, Iowa, Boston College, Duke and Cincinnati. Crystal Lake South junior Dom Collado (6-4, 300) has offers from two Mid-American Conference schools.

Conference Changes

The conference landscape has shifted. Again.

The much-discussed DuKane Conference begins play with eight schools: former Upstate Eight Conference members Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North and former DuPage Valley Conference members Glenbard North, Lake Park, Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South.

The Upstate Eight was a 13-team, two-division league for the last three seasons. The UEC moves forward with 10 schools, including newcomer Glenbard South. The Raiders leave the Metro Suburban Conference to compete against the likes of Elgin, Larkin, South Elgin, Streamwood, Bartlett, West Aurora, East Aurora, West Chicago and Glenbard East.

A revamped UEC with no divisions means the five U-46 high schools will all play each other. Many of those rivalries fell dormant after the UEC moved to two divisions in 2010.

St. Edward and Aurora Central Catholic remain in the Metro Suburban, but that conference has a different complexion in 2018-19. The Green Wave will compete in the MSC Red Division along with Fenton, Ridgewood, Guerin, Elmwood Park and Chicago Christian.

Aurora Central will compete in the MSC Blue Division along with holdovers Riverside-Brookfield, Wheaton Academy and two-time Class 3A state champion IC Catholic Prep. Those schools are joined by former Chicago Catholic League teams St. Francis, Aurora Christian and Bishop McNamara.

New Management

Three of the five Elgin Area School District U-46 football programs have new head coaches.

Former Larkin coach Dragan Teonic moves to South Elgin, which lost successful coach Pat Pistorio to Niles North. Known for turning around struggling programs, Teonic gets the chance to direct a team that won Upstate Eight division titles two of the last three seasons.

Larkin is now led by 29-year-old Zeus Gonzalez. The Aurora Central Catholic and Aurora University graduate spent the last four years running the defense under Teonic, who returned the Royals to respectability.

Bartlett football takes a new direction in 2018 under new coach Matt Erlenbaugh, a Buffalo Grove and Western Illinois graduate. Erlenbaugh spent the last two seasons as the head coach at Chicago Solorio. His teams went 15-8 and made consecutive Class 5A playoff appearances.

In the Fox Valley Conference, Hampshire's new leader is Peoria-area native Jake Brosman. The Dunlap High and Eureka College alum has coached various levels of high school football for 14 years, the last six as varsity assistant at Dunlap. He replaces Mike Brasile, who left after three seasons to take the vacant job at Woodstock, his alma mater.

No Place Like Home

The term "home game" takes on new meaning at Bartlett this fall.

The Hawks will play all four scheduled home games on campus for the first time after a fundraising campaign yielded permanent home bleachers and lights. Bartlett has played home games at nearby Streamwood High's Millennium Field since the program was established in 1998-99.

Bartlett played a Saturday afternoon homecoming game on campus in October of 2016. That game jump started the fundraising campaign. The Hawks fly home for good on Aug. 31 with a Week 2 matchup under the lights against Glenbard East.

St. Charles East's Norris Stadium has a new artificial playing surface. The stadium improvement project began in May, part of a five-year plan to renovate the 40-year-old school's athletic facilities. The finishing touch was added last week when the Saints' trademark orange fleur-de-lis was painted at midfield.

Parents can wave goodbye to muddy football uniforms. With the installation of turf at St. Charles East, every game in the new DuKane Conference will be competed on an artificial surface.

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