The summer is closing down and fall high school sports practices are set to begin on Monday. Sports editor Jon Styf and reporter Mike DeFabo discuss:
Styf: This point of summer always seems to drag on. I think the athletes are ready for it to begin. I know I am. You can write and read about how things are going to be only so much, now it's time for everyone to do. On Monday, coaches will find out how dedicated everyone has been over the summer.
DeFabo: These next few weeks will be especially important for football coaches, since the new Illinois High School Association ruling restricted contact at practices. Football is a completely different game with pads. Some kids look like starters when you're running around in helmets and shorts. But until you see him make a tackle in the open field, you really don't know what you've got.
Styf: That's the toughest part of the debate on football practice safety. The player's long-term health is the biggest concern, but if you don't learn how to properly tackle then you aren't going to be safe out there either. It will be interesting to see the long-term impact of reduced contact too.
DeFabo: The ruling would also seem to favor spread offenses that can spend the whole summer working on timing. Meanwhile, the power running teams would have a harder time simulating what makes their offenses effective. Luckily other fall sports like volleyball, soccer and cross country don't have this problem. Which sport are you most excited for?
Styf: Tennis, as always. It's my sport. But, outside of that, football and volleyball are the big draws each fall. But we'll cover all of them regardless of what I like. And, by we, I mean you will be out there covering your first fall sports season.
DeFabo: I'm expecting big things. My last paper was in West Virginia, where the best running back in the state only went to a Division II school. I know in this area alone several athletes will be going Division I. Hopefully they can live up to the hype.
Styf: And teams/individuals will compete for state titles. Last year was a down year in football with no semifinalists, but that will change. Many times we have one or two volleyball teams at state, I'm guessing Valerie Tarazi will compete for a state title in swimming and maybe Ethan Farnam will in golf. With the Youels and Wallaces gone, I don't think there's a girls tennis state challenger and we'll probably have at least one boys soccer team go deep in the playoffs.
DeFabo: Playoff time is when it gets interesting. I asked you earlier what your favorite fall sports is. Honestly, I could watch anything as long as it's high stakes and a good game. I don't care if it's an NFL playoff game or backyard badminton. I hope you're right about the skill level here. But I guess we won't know if your predictions are true until the games start.
Styf: If you want to take something to the bank, it should be in cross country. We have two of the state's two best runners. McHenry's Jesse Reiser (14:22) has the top returning boys time and Jacobs' Lauren Van Vlierbergen (17:07) has the third-best returning time on the girls side. I bet Reiser doesn't lose a race all year.