Area football teams preparing for 2014 campaign
Practice for Illinois high school football teams began this past Monday and the 10 schools covered by this paper hit their respective fields with more questions than answers.
But even for squads that struggled the previous year the first week of practice in a new season brings with it a fresh batch of high hopes and optimism.
Some of the storylines that fans will keep an eye on throughout 2014 include the following:
• Richards’ quest for a state championship. The Bulldogs return a fair amount of talent from a team that finished second in Class 6A in 2013. Richards is the last area team to win a state title in football, having done so in 1989. Last year’s runner-up finish was the Bulldogs’ second since 2001.
• Evergreen Park’s bid for a fourth straight playoff appearance. The Mustangs qualified for the postseason from 1992-95 under coach Brett Nelson and hope to tie that school record after going 8-4, 9-4 and 10-1 in Dan Hartman’s three coaching seasons. Hartman left to coach at Hinsdale Central and Ray Mankowski, Evergreen’s boys’ track coach and a former assistant at Mt. Carmel, has taken over the program.
• Marist’s offense. The RedHawks’ high-flying passing attack suffered an expected blow with the graduation of receiver Nic Weishar, who now attends Notre Dame, and an unexpected one when receiver Flynn Nagel transferred to Lemont. Running back Jawill Aldridge, who had six carries for 151 yards and three touchdowns in Marist’s 64-28 Class 8A opening-round playoff win over Plainfield South, could be one of the most exciting players to watch this year.
• Shepard trying to return to the playoffs. Dominic Passolano made a great early impression when he took the Astros to the postseason in each of his first four seasons as head coach after they had qualified just once in the previous 14 years. Now Shepard must recover from a winless 2013. Will the Astros prove that last season’s 0-9 record was merely a fluke?
• Chicago Christian joining a new conference. The Knights are now a part of the Metro Suburban Conference East after a stint in the now-defunct Suburban Christian Conference. Gone from the schedule are Wheaton-St. Francis (which beat Christian 49-0 last year) and Immaculate Conception (which beat the Knights 56-20), but there will still be some tough foes, including St. Edward and Walther Christian.
The Knights’ final game of the regular season is at Guerin, which will be coached by former Bears player Glenn Kozlowski, who had previous coaching stops at Wauconda and North Chicago.
The season opens Aug. 29 with nine games. Another will be played on Aug. 30.
For the first time since 2011, Marist will not be facing St. Rita at Soldier Field to open its season. Instead, the RedHawks will host Chicago Public League member DuSable, which finished 1-8 last year and lost to Aurora Christian 67-0 in the 2013 season opener.
Other Aug. 29 games include the Battle of Burbank with Reavis visiting St. Laurence, Chicago Christian at Westmont, Kenwood at Oak Lawn, Lincoln-Way Central at Sandburg, Hillcrest at Stagg, Evergreen Park at Lake Station, Ind., Indianapolis Arsenal at Richards and Shepard at Niles North.
On Aug. 30 Brother Rice will win
Chicago’s Brother Rice travels to Bloomfield Hills, Mich., near Detroit to take on another school named Brother Rice in a historic game.
The Michigan program has won three straight Division 2 state championships. Coach Al Fracassa stepped down after 57 years, 430 wins and 10 state titles and has been replaced by assistant Dave Sofran, a former Warriors player. Fracassa was the only football coach Brother Rice of Michigan ever had.
Ready to pick some football games?