DuKane, Fox Valley races promise to be hard fought again
The St. Charles North football team's original Monday schedule called for 90 minutes of film review before hitting the field for the season's first practice at 4:30 p.m.
Forecast late-afternoon thunderstorms forced a plan change. Instead, last year's Class 7A runner-up beat the weather by taking the field at 2:45 p.m.
The earlier the better, according to Ben Furtney, a senior expected to play both running back and outside linebacker.
"We're really excited to be back," Furtney said. "The energy is really high."
High school football teams statewide, including 23 in the Fox Valley coverage area, opened preseason practice Monday. Twelve area squads reached the playoffs last fall, highlighted by Cary-Grove's Class 6A state title and St. Charles North's second-place finish.
Other playoff participants included 7A semifinalist Batavia, conference champions West Aurora, Kaneland and St. Edward and qualifiers Huntley, Crystal Lake South, St. Charles East, South Elgin, Bartlett and Aurora Christian.
We're a long way from the 2019 finals at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb the weekend of Nov. 29-30, but here are some things to watch as local teams gear up for kickoff on Aug. 30.
DuKane Conference reload: Defending league champ Batavia returns a lot of talent, particularly in the backfield with senior running backs Quinn Urwiler (North Dakota) and Artavion Taylor. Coach Dennis Piron said he was "jacked" to start practice Monday and for good reason. His team should again vie for the top spot in the highly competitive league.
St. Charles North is younger at several positions than a year ago, coach Rob Pomazak said, but experienced starters return, like senior defensive lineman DJ Oshin, senior quarterback Kyler Brown and junior running back Nick DeMarco, a Notre Dame baseball recruit.
The DuKane has a Big Ten bent: St. Charles East is led by Wisconsin-bound lineman Dylan Barrett; Wheaton Warrenville South returns Michigan State-committed kicker Jack Olsen; and Wheaton North boasts future Northwestern linebacker Xander Mueller.
"I think this conference is a tossup any and every year," Pomazak said. "I don't have any idea who is going to come out on top."
Conference ch-ch-ch-changes: Burlington Central joins the Fox Valley Conference, which makes the FVC a closed, 10-team league with no nonconference games.
Central coach Brian Melvin said critics within the Rockets' own building question whether the team can compete in one of the state's toughest football leagues. Doubters, he said, provide motivation.
"The negativity our kids have been surrounded by has completely changed the culture," Melvin said. "The kids have finally bought into our philosophy. We had an incredible off season."
Elsewhere, West Aurora leaves the Upstate Eight Conference for the Southwest Prairie (West), Kaneland moves to a completely revamped Interstate Eight and Marmion joins a 24-team megaconference formed when the state's two toughest Catholic leagues merged.
Hit the lights: Saturday afternoon football is a thing of the past at South Elgin, which adds lights after eight seasons of day games. The first Friday night home game is scheduled for Sept. 13 against Elgin.
West side pride: Coach Matt Gehrig has returned to lead Larkin.
Most recently an offensive line coach at South Elgin, he directed the Royals in 2008 and 2009. Larkin has not finished with a winning record since Gehrig's 2009 team went 5-4 but missed the playoffs on points.
The new coach hopes to change that. To wit: He has restored "Larkin Pride" as the team catchphrase.
"We saw plenty of good things to build on in the summer program," Gehrig said. "I am excited to be the head football coach here."
Westminster plays on: Tim Oman takes over the 8-man football program at Westminster Christian, which was unable to field a team last year due to low participation.
Oman, a former defensive coordinator at Alden-Hebron, said the revived program will include between 12-14 players.