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Element of unknown always a Week 1 challenge in prep football

Published: Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 10:11 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 10:23 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Rena Naltsas file photo for Shaw Media)
Kaneland linebacker Gary Koebring takes down Ahmad Bradshaw of the Gwendolyn Brooks during the 2012 Gwendolyn Brooks vs. Kaneland game in Chicago.
Caption
(Sandy Bressner file photo – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Batavia Head Coach Dennis Piron confers with his team during their 2011 season opener against Marmion Academy.

IHSA officials restricted preseason football practice time this summer, but they couldn’t completely rein in teams’ focal points.

Well before student-athletes braced for their first literature classes of the semester, whether to install Week 1 scouting prep or not to install Week 1 scouting prep became the question.

Whatever coaches decided, they also internalized the notion that everything can – and probably will – change during the course of a 48-minute game. That’s the ultimate credo as teams open the season statewide tonight.

“The crazy thing is, that first game, you just don’t know for sure,” Geneva coach Rob Wicinski said.

Take Kaneland, for instance. The Knights open the season against Brooks for the fourth straight August, which otherwise would entitle them to superior Week 1 intel.

There’s one considerable wrench in that theory, though, and it hardly pertains to the usual graduation cycle that naturally reshapes rosters. The Eagles welcome a new coach this season.

“We don’t know exactly what we’re going to see,” Knights coach Tom Fedderly said, “so we’ll be prepared for anything.”

Of course, that’s a coaching staff’s objective every week, to equip each player not just for an opponent’s base offense or defense, but any other potential wrinkles in the playbook.

Though never perfect, that objective grows increasingly more attainable as the season progresses, if only for the simple reason games actually are being played.

Defending Class 6A champion Batavia is banking on tonight’s opponent sticking to the stuff of the 2013 game film coaches found online, as well as the recent intrasquad scrimmage the Bulldogs scouted. With Oswego returning third-year starter Steven Frank at quarterback, that’s not a horrendous gamble.

“You do what you can, but we’re not going to change a lot. They’re not going to change a lot,” Bulldogs coach Dennis Piron said. “I think you can pretty much schematically count on things that you saw last year from both squads.”

Like many teams, Batavia capitalizes on the luxury of extra Week 1 prep time, practicing against the perceived offensive and defensive looks of its opening opponent for at least an extra week.

Some facets of Oswego’s likely game plan have been in the Bulldogs’ heads for even longer. Again, contact may be limited during the summer, but Xs and Os roam free.

“I mean, I think that’s been the strong point of why we do so good in our first game,” senior right guard Mitch Krusz said.

Batavia is 3-0 in openers under Piron.

Geneva traveled to Oswego to begin the 2013 season with coaches holding at least two certainties. First, their defenders had to hone in on Frank to give the team a chance. Second, the Panthers were in for a surprise from then-junior quarterback Daniel Santacaterina, who missed most of 2012 with a broken clavicle.

What happened next? Santacaterina threw for 344 yards and four touchdowns, including two to Pace Temple, who also snagged a game-sealing interception of Frank.

Oh, and Geneva, coming off a losing season, won, 29-27, its first of seven victories.

“The way we approach it is more us,” Wicinski said. “We focus on us and making sure that we understand all our roles offensively and being able to cover just about any formation that comes out against us defensively.”

Sometimes that preparedness comes courtesy of game tape. Other times, it’s the result of a hunch.

As Marmion seeks to follow up on its 2013 season-opening victory against Plainfield Central, Cadets coach Dan Thorpe suggests a win may only surface from a combination of both.

“It’s all based upon last year’s film. All based on last year’s film,” Thorpe said. “So if they come out different offensively or defensively, we’ll adjust.”

WEEK 1 CHECK-DOWNS

Road tripping

A few months after leaving the Suburban Christian Conference, Aurora Central Catholic and St. Francis will rendezvous in spirit for a reunion in Wisconsin.

Both schools are venturing north of the Illinois border for their season openers, with ACC facing Wauwatosa East in a last-minute scheduling change and St. Francis playing Menomenie.

Spartans players and coaches should be wary of any sharp-shooting questions from Dunn County News sports editor Brett Hart, whose name nearly matches that of the WWE Hall of Famer nicknamed “Hitman.”

Remember when ...

Persistent lightning provided the wrong kind of Friday night lights in Week 1 of 2013, postponing most openers involving Chronicle-area teams.

Today’s forecast calls for possible scattered thunderstorms later today and into the night.

“Hopefully the storms stay away this year, because it would be nice to not have to warm up … three times, like we did last year,” Marmion coach Dan Thorpe said.

Sleeper game of the week

Elk Grove at St. Charles North. Second-year North coach Rob Pomazak is a former Grenadiers assistant, and host Elk Grove won the 2013 opener, 23-22, in overtime.

Coaching spotlight

Three coaches will make their debuts tonight, with Bryce Farquhar guiding St. Charles East against visiting South Elgin and Mike Fitzgerald leading St. Francis into Wisconsin for a meeting with Menomonie. Former Aurora Christian assistant Dave Beebe takes over the Eagles program, which hosts Senn.

Playoff watch

St. Charles North (2013) and Burlington Central (2012) recently experienced the sting of missing the postseason despite posting winning, 5-4 records.

Both teams lost their share of close games in those seasons, as well, and are especially dialed into coaches’ messages to be alert at all times once the game starts.

– Kevin Druley, kdruley@shawmedia.com

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