daniels | Who’s ready for high school football? | Sports


Step out of a five-minute chat with Kyle Jackson about the centennial football program, and it’s easy to get excited.

The jerky, quick responses the energetic fourth-year Chargers coach spits out on a hot weekday afternoon in mid-July as he stands on the black track surrounding the Tommy Stewart’s grass playing surface Field, mean this feeling. .

“Were excited. We’re thrilled,” Jackson repeated enthusiastically. “We prepare more and more with each practice.”

Summer practices are in full swing and have been for area high school football programs. The News-Gazette has 36 high school football teams in our coverage area, ranging from the mighty small school Arcola, steeped in tradition – the Purple Riders paint players’ names and numbers on telephone poles on the street leading to the high school the outskirts of the Douglas County Village – to brand new turf and facility improvements at Memorial Field in Westville.

And all the points in between, with the 36 programs spread across 12 surrounding counties (nine from Champaign County, eight from Vermilion County, four from Douglas County, three from Iroquois County, two each in DeWitt County, the Ford County, McLean County and Piatt County and one each from Coles County, Livingston County, McLean County and Moultrie County).

Champaign County will once again serve as the ultimate destination for high school football programs in the state this year.

Memorial Stadium will host all eight IHSA State Championship games Nov. 25-26. It’s the first time since 2018 that venerable venue Red Grange, Dick Butkus, Jeff George and other Illini greats over the decades have played to host the state championship games.

Possibly the latest too, with IHSA opening bids to host state championship games from 2023-27 and citing a desire to have one venue to host all games.

Champaign has alternated with DeKalb for the past decade as Illinois football has had a Big Ten home football game that clashes with the state championship game in odd-numbered years.

But let’s not get bogged down in the finer details. Right now, with the summer heat still sweltering and pre-season training still weeks away, it’s a time for optimism for high school football players, coaches and fans.

Anticipation of a new season sparkles with hope in every program, just as the Friday night lights will come on across the region in just over a month with the Week 1 kickoff set to end. august.

That’s why The News-Gazette’s sports team loves to cover high school football. We’ll be unveiling a special section featuring a preview of the season on Thursday, August 25, the same day programs from the Hoopeston Area/Armstrong-Potomac (who don’t like the Cornjerkers moniker), Iroquois West (watch out for the commitment of Iowa offensive lineman Cannon Leonard taking on defensive linemen this fall) and Milford/Cissna Park (the Bearcats have proven that 8-a-side football can thrive and rally a community around it) kick off the season more late at night.

The full slate of regional schedule opening night matches begins Friday, August 26. We can already smell the pork chop sandwiches on the grill at Memorial Field in Tuscola, where the Warriors will host Arcola as the cola war resumes. Perched in the press box that night in Tuscola will also be a new venture, our radio partners at WHMS 97.5-FM will debut this season.

It’s true. We’re set to air eight high school football games this regular season, with up-and-coming radio talent Joey Wright (Urbana High School graduate and recent Bradley University grad) lending his tips to get fans in action throughout the season. Scott Beatty — pregame host for Illinois football coverage, host of “SportsTalk” and the play-by-play voice of Illinois baseball — and do-it-all prep coordinator Colin Likas will also bring their talents to the show.

After the Arcola-Tuscola game in Week 1, radio broadcasts will resume in Week 3 — Illinois plays Indiana on a Friday night Sept. 2 — and continue for the remainder of the regular season. Wright and Co. will be set up in Villa Grove on September 9 to see Illini sign Kaden Feagin and teammates Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond against the host Blue Devils at Russ Ghere Field.

The annual Centennial-Champaign Central rivalry game kicks off Sept. 16 at Tommy Stewart Field, with WHMS to broadcast. The possibility of Champaign Central playing its first-ever college game at McKinley Field on Sept. 24 against Urbana will feature a WHMS broadcast, with Quincy Notre Dame at Mahomet-Seymour (Sept. 30), Paxton-Buckley-Loda at Monticello (Oct. 7), St. Joseph-Ogden to Rantoul (Oct. 14) and Monticello to Unity (Oct. 21) rounding out the broadcast schedule.

The 2021 fall football season has seen something of a revival for a few Champaign County programs.

Unity, led again by the area’s dean of coaches as Scott Hamilton enters his 29th season in charge of the Rockets (where has the time gone), reached the Class 3A State Championship Game and has led his passionate fans into a deep playoff run that saw four playoff wins unfold on the turf of Hicks Field.

Attending a Unity home football playoff game is like going to a lower level college game, complete with video board ads and a professional feel in the game day environment.

Mahomet-Seymour, who hadn’t made the playoffs since 2017, advanced to the 5A state quarterfinals last fall. Coach Jon Adkins, like Jackson at Centennial, is a relatively young coach who exudes intensity and has plenty of talent for his Bulldogs this fall. Plan to arrive at Frank Dutton Field early for any game this fall to secure a good seat. They’ll fill up fast if MS quarterback Wyatt Bohm and his friends keep the show going.

Centennial advanced to the second round of the 6A playoffs, with the Chargers posting their first winning season since 2014. Quarterback Brady Boatright graduated, but talented tailback and linebacker Brandon Harvey returns as Centennial deals with expectations raised for the first time in some time.

“Yeah, yeah, there’s some light on us now,” Jackson said. “It’s a good thing. It’s good for us.

Centennial also wants to keep the two trophies he currently holds, one for beating Urbana last season and also the Twin City championship after beating the Tigers and Central last fall.

“We’re excited to win the Twin City Championship, but we don’t want that to be our only goal,” Jackson said. “We want to do bigger and better things.”

Just like every high school football program wants to do at this point in the schedule. But only a few will carry their communities on a deep playoff push. Only a few will have dynamic rallies through October and November.

But all of that will play out in the next few months. That’s why what Jackson says below applies to his Centennial football team, but can be felt by all regional programs as well.

“People are excited. Were excited. Families are happy. Fans are excited,” Jackson said. “We’re ready to rock this thing.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Matt Daniels is the sports editor of The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-373-7422 or [email protected]

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