It's almost time for high school football! Here are 11 games worth catching in Week 1
As individual programs and experts remind us in daily countdowns on social media, the start of the Illinois high school football season is less than a month away.
For a unique take on top Week 1 games, we asked Illinois High School Association Assistant Executive Director Matt Troha to chip in. He obviously brings a statewide perspective.
Troha won an IHSA Football state title as a player at Joliet Catholic Academy in 1999 and then covered the sport as a stringer for several Chicagoland newspapers after college. He is intimately involved in the IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show, which broadcasts out of the Weigel studios in Chicago on Oct. 21.
In his words, here are some games Troha will be keeping an eye on in Week 1.
Marist at Glenbard West, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26.
There is a limited college football schedule on Aug. 26 and Glenbard West's Duchon Field provides a collegiate atmosphere that will top most of the Division I offerings on the docket that day. So go check out these two heavyweight programs: Chad Hetlet's Hilltoppers have won 130 games and two state titles since 2010; Marist has 97 wins, a runner-up finish and two semifinal berths in the same time frame. You can still make it home in time to catch the end of UTEP vs. Jacksonville State on television.
Naperville Central at Hinsdale Central, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25.
Arrive early and wear red. I won't profess to know a ton about either squad entering 2023, but I do know both always have the talent and tradition to have high expectations. Hope is eternal in Week 1 and I'd bet the atmosphere in Hinsdale rivals just about any other game in the state.
York at Glenbrook South, 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25.
The ascension of York under head coach Mike Fitzgerald has been one of the best stories in the state the past two seasons, culminating with the program reaching the 2022 Class 8A semifinals. The Dukes get a chance to show their staying power immediately against a Glenbrook South program that tallied 10 wins a season ago. The Titans are writing a rejuvenation story of their own under Dave Schoenwetter, as they won a single game in 2016, but have now made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
East St. Louis vs. Mt. Carmel, 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, Illinois State University.
During my senior year of high school in 1999 the IHSA announced midseason that the state football games would be shifting from Normal to Champaign. On Thanksgiving weekend in 2023, the IHSA Football State Championships return to the Illinois State University campus for the first time since 1998. What a high school football bookend the Caravan and Flyers are providing on the Hancock Stadium turf. Mt. Carmel is the defending Class 7A champ, while East St. Louis won 6A last November. Both schools are synonymous with high school football and there will be talent all over the field when they meet in the middle of the state.
Sycamore vs. DeKalb, 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25, at Northern Illinois University.
Another amazing neighborly rivalry. Sycamore nearly toppled Nazareth (10-7) in the semis last year, while DeKalb returned to the playoffs in 2023 after a two-year absence despite playing in the rugged DuPage Valley Conference. Two proud programs that have reached the quarterfinal round of the IHSA Football Playoffs eight times apiece since 2013.
Brother Rice at Maine South, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25.
There is nothing high school football fans love more than a perennial suburban power facing off against a perennial Chicago Catholic League power. Neither of these teams ever seem to back down from a nonconference matchup and the dividends are usually playing late into November.
Rochester vs. Peoria, 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25, at Peoria Stadium.
If you know anything about either of these programs, it's that they score A LOT of points. Peoria lost a classic 5A title game to Nazareth last November, 45-44, and Rochester has won eight state titles since 2010. Peoria lost most of its production from a year ago, but Tim Thornton's teams are known for playing offense at a frenetic pace that results in points and wins. Meanwhile, Rochester head coach Derek Leonard has churned out quarterback after quarterback to operate his surgical passing attack.
Nazareth at Kankakee, 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25.
Speaking of Nazareth, they have just about everybody back from last year's state title team -- coach Tim Racki's fourth in LaGrange Park after he won four at Driscoll. Kankakee is one year removed from a 5A state runner-up finish and this contest will serve as the debut of new head coach Miles Osei, who starred at Prospect as a player and helped Elk Grove Village end an eight-season playoff drought a year ago as their head coach. Nazareth won this matchup 2-0 in 2022 (on a safety, no typo) and would have missed the playoffs had they lost.
Quincy Notre Dame at Quincy, 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25.
You don't have to know anything about the Blue Devils or Raiders to know that this game is going to be packed and both sides really want to win it.
Lincoln-Way East vs. Kenwood Academy, 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 24, Gately Stadium, Chicago.
The referee shortage is real, hence more high school football games popping up on Thursday nights (please consider becoming an official!), but getting this game on a Thursday island is a fun way to start the season. It features big-time defensive line talent in Kenwood senior Marquise Lightfoot, a Miami commit, and LWE junior Caden O'Rourke. Lincoln-Way East is one of the most consistent programs in the state under Rob Zvonar (whose son, Trey, is another player to watch), while Kenwood and head coach Sinque Turner are vying to challenge Simeon and Morgan Park as the top Chicago Public Schools football program.
West Hancock Coop at Heyworth, 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25.
A matchup of teams who combined for 3 wins a year ago doesn't look all that appetizing on paper, but this one is personal, as my oldest son will be a freshman quarterback/safety for Heyworth. Hoping Caleb sees the field in the junior varsity game that precedes the varsity kickoff. You'll find me in the press box running the game/play clocks for the varsity game and checking for scores from these other contests on IHSA ScoreZone and Twitter during timeouts.