The end of what has seemed like a lightning quick summer will manifest itself next Friday as the Illinois prep football season kicks off. On the 28th, the sun will set and the lights will come on for nine weeks of regular season play. Local teams have been hard at work since the commencement of formal practice ten days ago. Peoria teams had, in the aggregate, historic success a year ago and are not satisfied, but rather hungry for more. Off season conditioning was met with great enthusiasm and effort for each of our local teams as they look to improve on last year’s fine showing.
Both Notre Dame and Peoria High advanced to the state semi-finals last Fall in their respective classes. Both teams are similar this time around in the sense that each lost a multitude of starters, but yet have high expectations for this season and seek to take that last big step to the state title game. This can be attributed in large part to coaches Joe Walters of the Irish and Tim Thornton of the Lions having instilled spirit, technique and continuity in their respective programs. While many “big guns” have graduated, others are right there to step in having awaited their chance to shine this season. Two way back Luke Shadid will lead the Irish and wide receiver Jason Bennett will do the same for the Lions.
The Richwoods Knights will look to continue the finest football tradition in the area with several key players returning. The Knights lost in the first round of last year’s playoffs to a mighty East St. Louis squad and are obviously hungry for more this season. Shundale Wilcox should be strong at fullback while Sean O’Malley and Tre Hendon will battle it out for duty at quarterback. The Knights will sorely miss Damien Gillespie, whose family relocated out of the district in the off season, but have many experienced players along with some up and comers to help fill the void. A bright spot is the return of six out of seven offensive lineman who will be key in establishing ball control for the Knights as Coach Roland Brown told WMBD’s Kurt Pegler yesterday. (http://www.centralillinoisproud.com/sports/seasoned-offense-could-lead-r…). Brown also told WHOI’s Jim Mattson a week ago (http://www.cinewsnow.com/sports/high-school/HOI-19-Football-Tour–Peoria…), that competing in the Big 12 Conference this time around will certainly make teams playoff ready and the Knights hope that will be the case for them. They should find out early how they stand locally as the season opens against Notre Dame followed by Peoria High in week two.
The Manual Rams are young and will need some new faces to come through once again this year. Rams’ fans will also be watching the progress of Logan Tuley-Tillman at the University of Michigan. Logan, in his third year in Ann Arbor, is poised for success it seems after seeing significant playing time in the Spring game coupled with dwindling numbers due to attrition on the offensive line for the Wolverines.
Another interesting note in local action will be the success of Peoria’s newest High School, Quest Charter Academy, as they foray into interscholastic competition. The basketball team had an outstanding Summer at several shoot outs and the football players will combine with Peoria Heights to field a team on the gridiron. All Peorians wish them well to be sure.
While Peoria fans do not as yet know a whole lot about the remaining Big 12 Conference teams, it is certain they will provide extremely tough competition week in and week out. Normal Community, led by it’s fine coach Wes Temples, has built an outstanding program and should be back at the top of things in the conference race. Normal West is always tough and should rally behind the return of Coach Darrin Hess from suspension. The Bloomington Purple Raiders, as per the norm, will have a lot to say about who is the top team in Bloomington-Normal as well.