GIBSON CITY — More than eight months have passed since Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley football captured the Class 2A state championship, a first in program history.
So is Mike Allen approaching his 18th season coaching the Falcons any differently because the program now has some special hardware?
"We're not changing anything we've done," said Allen, whose squad begins its title defense today with the official start of the 2018 campaign. "Our players have stayed humble. The attention, yeah, you get more attention, and that's been positive. The excitement in the community is there."
Thirty-six teams in The News-Gazette's coverage area — along with all others throughout Illinois — were permitted by the IHSA today to begin regular practices. Week 1 of the upcoming season is slated for Friday, Aug. 24.
In the case of Allen's Falcons, who produced a 14-0 record last year, that means getting back to the business of winning football games.
"These kids are hungry still," Allen said. "They're not satisfied with last season. That's last season. They've moved on, and they're ready to leave their mark on the program."
That's made apparent to those who frequent Twitter, paying close attention to the accounts of GCMS athletes.
It's a regular occurrence to see various Falcons posting videos of their latest weightlifting max-out, and the youngsters are hoisting some serious poundage these days.
"That was something that came along last year," Allen said. "I'm old-school, so it was awkward at first. But a lot of kids do that. There's a lot of pride, and it's exciting to see what they do and how much pride they have in what they're doing."
Numbers such as those are the only ones that really matter right now. Each of Illinois' prep football units has a clean slate and an equal shot at hoisting a large trophy at season's end with the eight state title games returning to Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
Perhaps some area clubs can reach the promised land. As Allen notes, such an achievement affords unique opportunities afterward.
"A couple weeks ago, we got invited to the Greyhound Festival and were asked to bring the trophy up," said Allen, referencing an annual Gibson City event with ties to the school's pre-consolidation mascot. "We're Falcons now, but we bridged that gap a little bit.
"That was fun, seeing the alumni from Gibson City and how proud they were. It made the kids feel good and made them feel more prideful in what they accomplished."
Week 1 of the 2018 prep football season is 18 days away, and teams across the state officially can begin preparing for that moment today. With that in mind, here are five things to know before another gridiron grind gets underway:
Get to know them
Several area programs turned to a new coach for the 2018 campaign: Ryan Jefferson at Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond, Robert Sutton at Blue Ridge, Tim Turner at Champaign Central, Chris Ridgeway at Clinton, Cameron Stone at Iroquois West, Al Craig at Oakwood, Jeff Myers at Sullivan/Okaw Valley, Brian Anderson at Tri-County and Heath Wilson at Villa Grove/Heritage. That doesn't even mention Nate Albaugh, who is the first-ever leader of Judah Christian football.
Going to college
The University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium will play host to a quartet of local games on Saturday, Sept. 22 since Illinois hosts Penn State on Friday, Sept. 21 in the Illini's Big Ten opener. The local teams competing are Centennial (against Peoria Notre Dame) at 10 a.m., Unity (versus Olympia) at 1 p.m., Urbana (against Bloomington) at 4 p.m., and St. Thomas More against Rantoul at 7 p.m.. This will be a fun, unique chance to catch some prep action in a state-level venue.
A league of their own
The 8-Man Football conference gets its start, with squads from Judah Christian and Milford/Cissna Park taking part. Elgin Westminster Christian, Alden-Hebron, Illinois School for the Deaf, Lake Forest Academy and Rockford Christian Life join them in contesting an eight-game schedule. Travel times will be long for both Judah Christian and Milford/Cissna Park, but the two programs will face each other twice this season — Sept. 21 in Champaign and Oct. 26 in Milford.
One last hoorah
Following a December 2017 vote, all local schools within the Little Okaw Valley Conference — Arcola, Argenta-Oreana, Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond, Bement, Blue Ridge, Cerro Gordo, Heritage, Kansas, Oakland, Shiloh and Villa Grove — have opted to leave that league after the 2018-19 academic year. That means this football season will be a sendoff to the LOVC in this form. Look for Arcola and A-O to contend in the LOVC Northwest, with Villa Grove/Heritage a threat in the LOVC Southeast.
Dates to remember
In addition to official practices beginning today and Week 1 action being slated for Aug. 24, there are some other important dates to circle on the calendar this prep football season. Postseason pairings will be announced the night of Oct. 20, first-round action will occur Oct. 26-27, second-round bouts will be held Nov. 2-3, quarterfinal matchups will come Nov. 9-10, semifinal tilts are slated for Nov. 16-17 and state championships will be awarded Nov. 23-24 at Memorial Stadium.