This Friday night, it will be kickoff time for the 2014 prep football season across the State of Illinois. From north to south, teams are anxious to show their wares and have dreams of a playoff bid just ten short weeks from now.
One of the bigger and better season opening match ups statewide is nowhere else than right here in Peoria. Notre Dame travels to Endres Field to square off against the Richwoods Knights in a game that will go a long way to establishing local dominance as well as neighborhood bragging rights. In addition, given that all four Peoria schools will be playing as independents this year pending next year's merger with the Big 12 conference, the winner should have a rung up the ladder come playoff selection time in late October.
Notre Dame won a last second thriller over the Knights in 2013 and will be looking to repeat. Irish fortunes have been on the rise for the past three years and they return as many as 20 senior starters this campaign. With the likes of Jake Hurst, Andy Shadid and Demarco Washington leading the way for Notre Dame, the Knights face a tough task to say the least.
Richwoods is looking to re-establish local superiority and will have no better opportunity than this Friday night. Seniors Kiontre O'Neal and Jon Jackson lead the way. Big things are expected from both. In addition, Steve Covington and Damion Gillespie spearhead a very talented junior class that the Knights will rely heavily upon. Both played a major role for the varsity last year as sophomores and are expected to take the next step this season. One thing is for sure, Friday's game will be a fierce struggle featuring outstanding and experienced talent on both squads.
Peoria Central is also expecting big things this year as they return numerous players who gained valuable experience a season ago. Central took the semi-final bound Washington Panthers to the wire in last year's playoffs and are hungry for more. They have no less than six players capable of making a big play at any time and the offense, led by Orlando Hernandez and B.J. Harris, should be explosive. A tough opener awaits, however, as they travel to always strong Rock Island Alleman this weekend.
Lastly, the Manual Rams are hoping to turn things around after two disappointing seasons in a row. New Coach Ed Cagle has provided inspiration and will have an excited new group of Rams ready for action to be sure.
Over in the Mid Illini Conference, the usual favorites, namely Washington and Metamora, are both in somewhat of a rebuilding mode and could be looking up in the standings this time around. While both will certainly field strong teams, Pekin and Limestone may be the teams to beat in 2014. Pekin, in fact, boasts an offensive line with two players at 300 pounds or more and an overall average weight of 275. The usual passing attack will be absent as they will instead be grinding it out this year. They get an early test as they travel to Alton this weekend.