Fox Valley area teams kick off 2021 season with optimism
High school football in Illinois is back where it belongs -- in the fall.
With the first official day of practice Monday leading up to season openers Aug. 27, coaches and players alike were glad to be on the field in August instead of March like the past season.
Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg, whose team only got to play four of their scheduled six games in the spring, certainly appreciated the return of fall football.
Seaburg said that feeling started during summer workouts. The veteran coach, who led the Trojans to the Class 6A state championship in 2018 and runner-up finishes in 2012 and 2014, contrasted the atmosphere at Cary-Grove in 2021 vs. 2020.
"This summer felt normal again," Seaburg said. "Kids were in the weight room. We were practicing and preparing for a season. Last year we were preparing for something that we thought might happen. I don't think anyone (this summer) whether at Cary-Grove or in the state of Illinois, I don't think anybody thought we would not have a season this year. It was just a different vibe, a much better vibe than last summer when you were constantly worried are we going to play a season. This year it was more of we are practicing because we are trying to win a conference championship, win a state championship, whatever that might be."
During that abbreviated season last spring, Cary-Grove went 4-0 in the Fox Valley Conference.
Seaburg said the Trojans tried to make the best of it but it wasn't easy.
"We tried to make it as competitive and normal as our normal season would be," Seaburg said. "We treated every game just like it was during a regular season. The kids were phenomenal the way they handled everything that was thrown at them. But I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't difficult in many, many ways. While we were happy to get the games in, going 4-0 and having a good team, you feel we really would have liked to have seen what could have happened if we had a state series or an actual conference championship."
Knock on wood, that won't be a problem this fall. Cary-Grove hosts Dundee-Crown to start its season on Aug. 27, and has a key back-to-back stretch in weeks five and six against Prairie Ridge and Huntley.
Seaburg said his coaching staff has had to adjust their preparations slightly because of the compacted stretch in the spring when some players went straight from basketball to football to baseball or track and field.
"Many of our kids played a football season which was overlapped by a baseball season which then went into a summer schedule were kids were playing other sports and weightlifting and a lot of things going on in a short amount of a time," Seaburg said.
"As a coaching staff we had to balance we want to get things done but understand the kids need time to let their bodies heal to an extent. It was kind of a balancing act. You want to do a lot but at the same time understand the situation the kids were in."
Boone Thorgesen also was coaching this spring -- as the sophomore coach at Geneva. This year he makes his debut as Vikings varsity coach, taking over for Rob Wicinski, an Illinois High School Football Coaches Hall of Famer who stepped down after 22 seasons.
Thorgesen, an all-state quarterback at Kaneland whose dad Joe won two state championships with the Knights, was excited about Geneva's first practice Monday afternoon -- even if it was cut short by tornado warnings.
"I think Coach Wicinski always said it best to us as young assistants, treat your job as an assistant like you might be a head coach because some day you might be one," Thorgesen said. "Now being the head varsity guy it's something I was looking forward to and having a blast with and am excited about the season and what we have going."
The Vikings went 2-4 in the spring. In Week 2, Thorgesen will get a chance to coach against his alma mater when Geneva plays Kaneland.
"We are excited about the upcoming year," Thorgesen said. "We have some guys back in key positions we feel pretty good about."
Northern Illinois University will host the Class 1A-4A state championship games Nov. 26 and the Class 5A-8A state title games Nov. 27.
A season with a regular postseason and fans back in the stands sounds perfect to both Seaburg and Thorgesen.
"It will be electric," Seaburg said of the Aug. 27 opener. "So many of our fans weren't able to watch us play last year. There are so many people inn our community who support our team who weren't allowed to come to our games last year. You mix that with the band, cheerleading, everybody that's a part of that game night, I think it will be really exciting."
"The sound and the feel and smell of a Friday night, there's nothing like it," Thorgesen said. "We are really excited to have a season that's going to be as normal as it can be and get our fans back at Burgess Field and give these kids an experience they remember because that's what high school sports are about."