Drew Potthoff had roots in the DeKalb area, knowledge of football from a long coaching career and, most importantly, time.
When the IHSA Destination DeKalb Committee started its work on bidding for the IHSA state football championships two years ago, it approached Potthoff, who was technically retired, but working on a one-year contract as part-time athletic director at McHenry.
With that 60-percent workload, Potthoff had time to help DeKalb work on the bid it landed in June of 2012, and with planning for the eight state championship games that will be played at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium Friday and Saturday for the first time.
“I was a small part of it, but it was fun doing this,” said Potthoff, now in his first year at Marian Central’s athletic director. “Being down [at the state championships] so many year and seeing how things go, I can show them some of the things that might get screwed up, making sure teams got where they needed to be. More of the actual game-day stuff.”
Potthoff knew people in DeKalb from his days teaching and coaching football at Sycamore. He also attended the state championship games most year at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium, including in 2002 when his South Beloit team won the Class 1A state title.
Former DeKalb AD Dan Jones (now at Hinsdale Central) brought Potthoff in as an adviser with the bid process. After DeKalb received the bid for odd-numbered years through 2021, Potthoff stayed and worked as a liaison with the IHSA.
“I tried to help with what a team expects,” Potthoff said. “Filling them in on where to park buses and getting teams to their locker rooms. They got the bid and now they’re ready to go. It’s showtime now.”
The last time the championships were played anywhere but Illinois or Illinois State University’s stadiums was in 1984 when Northwestern hosted the Classes 5A and 6A games. IHSA assistant executive director Craig Anderson, who is in charge of football, anticipates attendance may elevate a little bit with 11 of the 16 teams coming from north of Interstate 80.
“It’s hard to judge, but I think they’re going to be well-attended games because of the location, the newness and the teams we have are going to travel well,” Anderson said. “It’s a different site and there’s some anticipated excitement for what DeKalb has to offer.”
Anderson also likes that Huskie Stadium has a capacity of 24,000, while Memorial Stadium’s capacity is 60,670.
“It’s such a huge stadium that, while we have some great crowds there, you don’t necessarily feel like there’s a great crowd,” Anderson said. “When you get a nice crowd at NIU, you’re going to feel like you have a nice crowd.”
IHSA Destination DeKalb fundraised about $231,000 through sponsorships and donations to offset costs to NIU. Destination chairman Tom Matya said “a conservative estimate” figures the games will bring in five times that much money to the DeKalb County area.
“We feel really good about it,” said Matya, the vice president of development at Zea Mays Holdings, a band holding company in Sycamore. “Like any big event, there’s a little bit of nervousness. We know there might be a few hiccups and we will learn from that. We want to roll out the hospitality for everybody.”
The games will alternate between Illinois (even-numbered years) and DeKalb through 2021, so there will be at least four more times that DeKalb will host.
“I’ve had a lot of affiliations in the community over the years and was approached me about a year and a half ago,” Matya said. “I probably didn’t realize quite the time it was going to take, but I’ve learned a lot, it’s been a lot of fun, and I’ve met a lot of great people along the way.”
Potthoff was pleased to take part in the planning and logistics for the teams, his area of expertise. He will be present as part of the IHSA sportsmanship committee, but also ready to offer any other advice.
“I told them I would help out with whatever they needed,” Potthoff said. “We’ve been almost a year doing the bid and almost a year planning. Now, you have to produce, you have to do what you said you’d do.”