There’s no question in my mind that one of the best games that will be featured on High School Lites this season includes Neuqua Valley (1-0) at Naperville Central (1-0), a battle of two Top 25 teams Friday night in DuPage Valley Conference action.
Wait ... both Neuqua Valley and Naperville Central in the DuPage Valley?
In case you haven't been paying attention to IHSA football early on this season, three Indian Prairie District 204 schools (Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley) are now in the juggernaut DVC. Think of it as, say, the likes of an Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin bolting the Big Ten to join the SEC.
While old Naperville (Naperville Central) and new Naperville (Neuqua Valley) have played against each other as non-conference regular season foes every year since 2009 (Central holds a 4-2 advantage), does this game take on a new feel?
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If you’re looking for a potential rivalry game that could really take off, this could be your choice.
"We want to impose our will against them and give them a proper welcome into the DVC," Naperville Central senior wide receiver and Iowa verbal commit Emmanuel Rugamba said. "It's always been a great game but having them in our conference now definitely ramps things up. The intensity in the conference games is there from the get go. We beat a tough team last week (a 13-12 win over Glenbard North) and this week will be even more intense. I love games like last week because it showed us right away what we have and what we need to work on."
Neuqua Valley junior wide receiver Isaiah Robertson, who already has a handful of DI scholarship offers and interest from multiple schools, is taking a slightly different approach.
"It's an important game and we whenever you play [Naperville Central] you’re focused pretty hard," Robertson said. "We haven't beaten them in a while (2012, a 41-8 Neuqua Valley win) so just getting that win is key. It's definitely a hardcore test for us and a big challenge. If it's in conference or out of conference it's a big test."
Robertson has also heard the talk on the street about how the Indian Prairie schools could struggle in the DVC compared to its old conference home.
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"I've heard all of that talk and it really doesn't matter too much to me," Robertson said. "If anything that talk just puts a chip on our shoulder. Talk like that just makes us work even harder."
Like all good rivalry games, the kids on both sidelines know each other well.
"I've known kids like Manny (Emmanuel Rugamba), Connor (Joyce, senior QB) and bunch of the Central kids since middle school. We still talk and I was just texting Manny a few minutes ago. Once we play we will go hard and compete but after the game we will still be cool. Knowing all of those guys just makes it that much more fun."