Scouting Illinois Central Eight Conference football

Teams: Coal City, Herscher, Lisle, Manteno, Peotone, Reed-Custer, Streator, Wilmington.

Key games: Wilmington at Lisle, Sept. 20; Peotone at Herscher, Sept. 27; Reed-Custer at Manteno, Sept. 27; Streator at Peotone, Oct. 4; Coal City at Lisle, Oct. 11; Lisle at Peotone, Oct. 18; Wilmington at Coal City, Oct. 18.

Top players: Cam Berns, Herscher, WR-DB; Sam Biedron, Peotone, RB-LB; Brady Crawford, Coal City, TE-DE; Noah Curl, Reed-Custer, OL-LB; Blake Foster, Reed-Custer, QB-WR-DB; Jeremy Gesky, Manteno, OL-DL; Logan Heflin, Peotone, TE-LB; Keaton Hopwood, Wilmington, QB; Payton Hutchings, Coal City, QB; Dylan Laue, Lisle, RB-DB; Riley McCurdy, Streator, RB-DB; Austin Pullara, Coal City, TE-MLB; Jake Rodawold, Wilmington, RB-LB; Trey Shaw, Wilmington, RB-DB; Carter Spears, Streator, OL-LB; Mike Walker, Lisle, RB-LB; Brett Weber, Lisle, RB-LB; Davey Wurster, Manteno, RB-LB.

Outlook: In 2017 eight Interstate Eight Conference teams declared their intent to leave the conference. The result is the new, single-division Illinois Central Eight. (Plano and Sandwich continue in a new version of the IEC.) Streator coach Brian Hassett said it'll be one of Illinois' top Class 3A-4A football conferences; in 2018 Herscher reached the 4A semifinals, Lisle and Coal City made the 3A and 4A quarters, respectively, and 2014 Class 3A champion Wilmington made the playoffs a 23rd straight year. Coal City gets the nod this season, returning three-year starters at quarterback and middle linebacker and three other fellow all-conference players from a 10-2 team that swept 8-0 through IEC teams. Wilmington, which won 10 straight IEC divisional titles until Lisle beat the Wildcats for the first time since 1995, cannot be counted out behind another three-year starting quarterback, Keaton Hopwood. Neither can Lisle under coach Paul Parpet Sr., an Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee as is Wilmington's Jeff Reents. Seemingly now in reload mode with the biggest numbers in Parpet's six seasons, Lisle teems with offensive weapons and a dynamite linebacker duo in Mike Walker and Brett Weber. While Herscher graduated five all-conference seniors, Peotone looks to take that next step, returning many starters highly motivated by losing twice last season by 1 point and once by 3. Reed-Custer is young, but second-year coach Gavin Johnston fields strong numbers for a school of 474 students, 82 in the program. As Reents said, whomever makes the playoffs from the Illinois Central Eight will be well-tested.

Quotable: "It's kind of weird looking in our gym and they're changing the walls because they're taking down all the Interstate Eight stuff. I've only been here six years, but I think it's pretty weird." - Lisle coach Paul Parpet Sr.

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