Lake County football teams, led by Warren, are raring to go
Football in the fall (or technically late summer) is back.
Monday marked the Illinois High School Association's first official day of football practice for the fall 2021 season, and perhaps never had an opening day of practice felt more monumental.
After having the 2020 season canceled last fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then moved to this past spring for an abbreviated, no playoffs season, players and coaches across the state are thrilled to have things looking more "normal" again.
"We're kind of getting the feel again of how it was pre-COVID," Warren senior quarterback Aidan Lucero said after the Blue Devils wrapped their first practice session late Monday afternoon. "We are really ready to go. I don't think I've been more excited to play football in my life."
"We're full speed ahead right now," Warren senior safety Benjamin Wilson added. "I'm super excited. Especially after that short spring season."
Warren will again be one of the top teams in Lake County.
The Blue Devils went the to Class 8A state championship game in 2019 and then finished last spring's season sharing the North Suburban Conference championship with Lake Forest. (Due to the abbreviated schedule, Warren and Lake Forest did not have the opportunity to play each other and settle the battle for the league championship on the field.)
The Blue Devils graduated two unusually talented senior classes over the last two years, but the cupboard is hardly bare.
"Talent-wise, there is no drop-off," Lucero said. "Last year, I think we truly believed that we were a state-championship caliber team and we just didn't get that chance (to find out, since there were no playoffs). That will be our standard again this season, nothing short of a state championship. We're working hard for it. There's no difference with how we're looking at this season."
Speed might be one area that differentiates this group of Blue Devils from the most recent teams of the past.
These Blue Devils are probably faster.
"We have the fastest team we've had in years, on both sides," Wilson said. "It will be our biggest strength."
Motivation shouldn't be a problem either.
In 2020, before COVID-19 twisted up the season, the Blue Devils were looking forward to taking that final step. They finished as the state runner-up in 2019 and wanted to break through in 2020.
They never got that chance, of course, and there is still a hunger in the pit of the collective stomach at Warren, even for the now seniors who were just underlevel sophomores back during the state championship game run.
They share in that need for "finishing the job" that their predecessors had.
"We actually talked about that today as a team," Warren coach Bryan McNulty said. "Our seniors want to resurrect the program. And we don't mean to like bring it back from the dead. The seniors weren't on the team when we went to the state championship, but they know our tradition, they know what we're trying to do, but now, they need to try to make it their own, which can be a hard thing.
"These kids sat through a year and a half of not much, but now it's their time to create their own memories. We're excited that they're going to get the chance to do that."