'I am just so ready to play again': Prep football season starts in the suburbs
It was just moments into the high school football season on Monday and already Palatine coach Corey Olson was calling an audible.
The heavy rains and thunderstorms Monday morning forced many area teams like Palatine to move indoors.
Palatine coach Corey Olson had scheduled practice to begin at 7 a.m. But when the weather rolled in just before the first whistle, Olson moved his Pirates to the weight room where they worked out. As the rains continued, the team had its first practice of the season in an auxiliary gym.
“At the end of day, we got a lot done,” Olson said. “We are in helmets anyway. We aren't out there hitting right now. It is an opportunity to get the kids back in and get them moving. We did a lot of mental stuff and ran them on a conditioner. Hopefully we can be back out there tomorrow.”
Palatine running back Dominick Ball was disappointed that he and his teammates couldn't get outside. But that didn't limit Ball's excitement to get started on a new season.
“I am just so ready to play again,” said Ball who is a junior and entering his third season as a starting running back for the Pirates.
“It was not at all what we expected. But you have to do what you have to do. Inside, we are going to put in the same amount of work as we do outside.”
Batavia also had their practice moved indoors to their field house due to inclement weather. The Bulldogs posted pictures on their Twitter website of the team working its way through some drills.
“We are blessed at Batavia to have a field house to use,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “It is something we added a number of years ago. All our levels got work in today. The first couple days you are in and out with breaks in between. We split the time up so we can get our number of hours in.”
Many area teams got a later start in the day and were able to get their first official day on the practice field.
Hoffman Estates was one of the teams that had scheduled its practice for later in the day. Although it was still overcast, the storms had moved through, and the Hawks were able to get their first practice in on their own turf.
“It is beautiful out here,” Hoffman Estates coach Tim Heyse said. “This is the best time. Besides the first game, it is the first time you drive in as a coach you get butterflies heading into the parking lot. That first day every year. Our seniors are awesome. This is the best leadership we have had in the 22 years I have been here.”
Teams had their first organized day of practice in anticipation of their first games on Aug. 26. After a nine-week regular season schedule, the stare playoffs will begin on Oct. 28. Those 8-classes of state playoffs will culminate with state championships in each class beginning Nov. 25 at Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois in Champaign.
This season will have some major differences from the past few seasons.
To begin with, the death of football, that many predicted due to concussion and other possible issues, appears to have subsided dramatically. Numbers are actually on the increase at many schools and, in worst case scenarios, have remained the same from previous seasons.
Batavia is up over 200 players thanks in part to large freshman turnout despite an overall lower freshman class. Maine South is up to 213 players in its program while New Trier reported that its numbers have increased by 30% this year.
Those increases don't surprise Tim O'Halloran, who authors Edgy Tim, the preeminent high school football website in Illinois.
“What I am hearing from coaches all over is that the numbers have stabilized and in many cases they are up,” O'Halloran said. “The coaches are saying that kids are bored at home. They sat out of extracurriculars during COVID. A lot of coaches feel that this thing has run its course that these families are looking at their kids and telling them to get out of the house. Fortunately we are seeing the overall pop and increase in numbers.”
Another huge issue this year is the lack of game officials. Those numbers have been on the decline the past few years and have taken a large drop this season.
So much so, that there are many area schools scheduling varsity football games on Thursday nights to help alleviate the stress on the entire high school football schedule.
During week four of the season, many of the Central Suburban League teams have scheduled home games with the Mid Suburban League for Thursday, Sept. 15. In week nine, on Thursday, Oct. 20, Hinsdale South is playing Addison Trail, Morton travels to Willowbrook, Naperville North faces Naperville Central and Neuqua Valley plays Metea Valley.
“Our league voted to have home games that weekend to help with the referee shortage,” Maine South coach Dave Inserra said. “We wanted to bring it to the attention of people to get more people interested in officiating football.”
Because of the lower officiating numbers, it would be wise to keep close eye on the game schedules each week. There also could be changes to the dates of games due to officials being injured or other issues that could arise.