Don't look now, but we're just over three weeks away from crowning eight teams as football state champions in Illinois. And as we approach the end of the season, it's a good time to take stock of other individual awards. Prairie Ridge's Chris Schremp already claimed a title. The IHSA named him "2016-2017 Football Coach of the Year" this week. The award recognizes success on the field and positive work with athletes.
What other Chicagoland IHSA football coaches are worthy of awards this season? Obviously, every team in the IHSA state playoff field can make a strong case for their coach. While we still have a few more weeks of IHSA football left to play, here are some more under-the-radar head coaches for award consideration:
Minooka's Terry McCombs: There were few people (if any) around the Minooka Indians football that had any idea that McCombs, an IHSFCA Hall of Fame coach, would become the program's leader going into this season. McCombs, in his 49th season coaching IHSA football, is a district resident who decided to throw his hat into the ring when the Minooka job opened up. McCombs landed the job and immediately went to work winning over the kids left from a 4-5 team in 2016. Community support quickly followed. Minooka (8-2) travels to take on Barrington this Friday.
Hope Academy's Matt Kelly: His Eagles (8-2) have been a consistent winner and are back in the Class 2A playoffs. Yet Kelly needs to be mentioned here for having to deal with several issues away from the field including having two opponents (St. Francis and Bishop McNamara) decide to forfeit games against Hope. Both schools cited "safety concerns" after an early season shooting incident in the neighborhood surrounding Altgeld Park, the Eagles home field. Kelly, along with the Hope Academy administration, have handled the situation about as well as they could handle it. The Eagles have remained focused at the task at hand.
Raby's D'Angelo Dereef: The Raiders are back in the IHSA state playoffs and have a chance to keep making noise in the 2A field. Raby took some lumps in 2016, posting a 2-7 record. This season, the Raiders have played several underclassmen who are major contributors. The Raiders will hit the road this Saturday and take on Richmond-Burton (7-3).
[MORE: Edgy Tim's Week 11 Power Rankings]
Buffalo Grove's Jeff Vik: The Bison (9-1) have also been able to turn their fortunes around. They went 3-6 in 2016 and the program only cobbled together two winning seasons from 2002 until this fall. Buffalo Grove, who just played in its first IHSA state playoff game in 13 years (a win over Belleville West), will travel this Saturday to take on East St. Louis (8-2). Best part of all for Bison football? They have a nice core of underclassmen starters and could potentially make a return playoff visit in 2018.
Wheaton North's Joe Wardynski: The Falcons (8-2) under Wardynski play old-school football, meaning they will run the football early and often. Then, they suffocate teams with a quick and physical defense. Wardynski, who took the Falcons to the IHSA playoffs in his first six seasons, missed out on the playoffs from 2014-2016. That all changed this year. Any school that survives the 2017 DuPage Valley Conference schedule is a dangerous team to watch from here on out. Wheaton North travels to Batavia (9-1) on Saturday in Class 7A.
Other worthy candidates to consider:
Bryant McNulty - Warren Township
Joe Pardun - Hersey
Nick Nildreth - Willowbrook
Tim Heyse - Hoffman Estates
Morgan Weaver - Hillcrest
Terrell Alexander - Rich Central
Apostolos Tsiamas - Peotone
Mike Barry - Hinsdale South