Gordon Voit, new sports director at WAND, has been back in the area since late April. Earlier this week, the former Daily Illini columnist and UI alum got a heavy dose of Illinois football when he covered the Big Ten kickoff event in Chicago.
DANVILLE — The words came out naturally, but it certainly wasn’t a phrase Danville football coach B.J. Luke uttered the last two years.
“We’ve got a veteran group back,” Luke said.
Finally. Luke and the Vikings are primed to reap the rewards that came with starting youthful groups the last two seasons, with several players entering their third year of starting on varsity.
PAXTON — Others will look at wins against quality programs like Bismarck-Henning and South Newton (Ind.) in the first two weeks of last year’s football season, Paxton-Buckley-Loda coach Jeff Graham knows, as turning points for his program.
Those wins showed that a team that hadn’t won more than five games in a season since 2002 could hang with some of the best in the area.
ARCOLA — Repeat football state championships are nothing new in Illinois.
Now-closed Addison Driscoll won a state-record seven straight Class 4A titles from 2001 to 2008. Rochester, sparked first by future Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt, won five 4A championships in a row from 2010 to 2015.
Rockets went 10-4 last season, but postseason surge to Class 3A state title game and a bevy of returnees has Scott Hamilton’s program topping our list.
CHAMPAIGN — Stability and success were lacking when Nate Albaugh assumed the reins of the Champaign Central football program in 2013.
In 2005, we asked now-retired sports writer Fred Kroner to come up with a formula to fairly evaluate all of our area schools against one another, whether they competed in five sports or 20.
TEAMS OF THE YEAR
1. Unity boys’ cross-country. Dominant performance by five seniors at state; they placed among the top 14 individually, leading Rockets to a Class 1A state crown.
2. LeRoy boys’ basketball. School’s first state trophy in the sport was for first place in Class 1A.
The 2015-16 school year was a tough one for local high school athletics. We remember 10 former athletes, coaches, fans and innovators who passed away in the last 12 months.
■ Stephen Montez, 24, July 16, 2015. Former St. Thomas More wrestler won 114 matches with the Sabers.