Daily Chronicle sports editor Eddie Carifio and sports reporter Steve Nitz spend their days covering the area’s sports scene. Occasionally, they give their viewpoints on those local sports. In this installment of their Take 2 column, they discuss the opening week of high school football.
Carifio: No three words make me happier than “football is back.” With the season kicking off tonight, obviously I’m excited for a full slate of home games. And I’ve done some homework, writing the stories and talking to players and coaches from each of the five football-playing schools we cover.
So I know the big points – Dre Brown, Kaneland’s dominance ended by Sycamore last year, Hiawatha’s battle with low numbers, a Genoa-Kingston resurgence.
But I’m still the new guy who hasn’t even been here two months yet. Is there anything else I should be watching for not just in Week 1, but moving forward?
Nitz: Eddie, you’re spot on with your area assessment. Last year was a great season in terms of DeKalb County success, specifically Sycamore’s run to the Class 5A semifinals.
Here’s what I’m looking forward to this season – Week 3 at Huskie Stadium. Can DeKalb top the Spartans for the first time since 2007? The Barbs have been at the wrong end of the rivalry so many times, but this year, I think they have what it takes to beat Sycamore. It should be a fun, interesting matchup.
Anything that’s catching your eye?
Carifio: I’m intrigued by the Spartans this year. They came off an incredible season last year but they lost a of talent to graduation. There are also seven suspensions that will leave them shorthanded for the next two weeks – the school couldn’t say who the suspended parties are, but some of it should be made clear by who is missing Friday.
Then there’s the gigantic target on their backs – they beat Kaneland last year, handing the Knights their first regular season loss in years. They beat Lincoln-Way West twice, the only two losses suffered by the Warriors – who face the Spartans tonight.
It still seems that Joe Ryan has this team coached up year in and year out. Granted I don’t know much of the history, but I do know what a challenge looks like.
Another interesting team is Genoa-Kingston, which is slowly and surely getting better under coach Travis Frederick. Do you think they make a leap to the seven-, eight-win range and a playoff win or two, stay as a fringe playoff team, or regress?
Nitz: One thing is for certain, Genoa-Kingston’s program is on the way up. Like you said, the next step is to go beyond waiting until the end of the season to clinch a playoff berth and get in comfortably.
Can they do it this year? The Cogs lose players like Sal Lopez, Mike Kuhn and Eli Thurlby, but there’s talent there. I also don’t know what to make of the Big Northern East, it looks like it will be wide open. Harvard seemingly came out of nowhere to win the conference last season, Richmond-Burton was down but the Rockets are always a top program. Burlington Central and North Boone were near playoff teams.
In the end, how many playoff teams do you see coming out of the area?
Carifio: I see the same four making the playoffs. DeKalb and G-K were fringe playoff teams last year, and both are hoping to be much more this year. And while Kaneland and Sycamore had losses, these are well-oiled machines that are designed to win year in and year out regardless of losses.
I would love to say we’re going 5 for 5, but I just don’t see Hiawatha getting five wins. Hawk players and coaches seem to think it’s possible if everything breaks right, but it is going to be very difficult.