HUNTLEY – When John Hart took over Huntley’s varsity football program last year, he did so on the premise that changing the culture had to be part of overhauling the system.
Watching the school’s athletic stadium receive a massive face-lift certainly has been part of that process. Now, a week before Hart officially gets to work on his second season with the Red Raiders, he anxiously awaits the day when his team can step foot onto the new FieldTurf that is part of the centerpiece of Huntley’s athletic complex renovation.
Huntley will become the first Fox Valley Conference Valley Division school to compete on FieldTurf – an upgrade that is part of $3.6 million in facility renovations that Hart says were much-needed in his plan to continue to turn the school’s football program around. Fox Division members Grayslake North and Grayslake Central already play on FieldTurf.
Hart has waited patiently for the running track around the field to be completed. As a reminder of what awaits his team, Hart keeps a photo on his phone showing his toes planted in the recently laid green turf.
“For the people who think maybe this is too much, we had the worse facilities I’ve ever seen at a big school – anywhere – it wasn’t even close,” Hart said. “We had bad facilities for a (Class) 2A school, let alone a school of 3,000.”
Work nearly is complete on the renovated stadium, which includes about 2,000 new seats on the home side of the stadium, a new press box and the FieldTurf, which recently was installed. The school’s familiar logo is emblazoned at the 50-yard line with fresh black paint in each end zone with “HUNTLEY” and "RED RAIDERS" painted in eye-popping red.
Huntley athletic director Michelle Jakubowski said in addition to football, the stadium will be used for varsity soccer matches and in the future, varsity lacrosse. But for Huntley’s football team – which will play five home dates this fall beginning Aug. 30 against Bartlett – the renovated stadium offers an environment Hart said his players can’t help but be excited to play in.
“It’s going to be electric,” Jakubowski said. “The parents, the student body; they’re excited just to have this, but for the players – whether it’s football or soccer or whoever else is playing on this – I just think it’s a whole different ballgame for them.
“I think [the new environment] just pushes them a little bit more. You see what you have out here and you can do that extra sprint or whatever the coach asks of you – that extra mile. This is just something to be really, really proud of.”
Hart, who came to Huntley from Indianapolis Warren Central, said he never has been part of a grassroots movement before in his coaching career. At prior stops, the facilities already were in place. He said in the past year, he has lost players to injury because of substandard facilities.
But now, he’s confident that the new stadium will go a long way in the process of building Huntley into a winning program after last year’s 6-4 finish.
“I knew what the vision was and I knew what the commitment was – but there was no promises (about facility upgrades),” Hart said. “People always say, ‘Why Huntley?’ and I just loved the desire and the commitment to be outstanding.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see – whether it’s in the classroom, in a theater or on our football field – where nothing will be expected except for the best.”