The Final Stretch
As the month of March rolls on, and the clocks move forward, we are only 5 months away from the first week of practice for the 2018 season. We have discussed many items that have taken place in the offseason, and we can begin to put some of these to rest, so let's begin.
The first area we will look at are the coaching changes. There were a lot of rumors flying around Forreston HC Denny Diduch leaving, mostly stemming from a premature article before the 2017 season even began. With the rumored schools that Coach Diduch was supposed to be looking at all being filled, it is safe to say that Coach Diduch will remain at the helm of the Cardinals for the 2018 season, and hopefully beyond. I feel, and many may agree, but the coming years can really show us how great a coach Diduch can be.
The departure of Coach Troy Barr at Aquin left a hole to fill, and quite the big one as almost the entire staff will be replaced after many departures hit the Bulldogs upon Barr's resignation. Aquin will most likely be set to fill their HC spot and announce the new coach by tomorrow.
In Eastland and Pearl City, both school boards submitted their coaching opening a little over a week ago. A couple names already close to the program that may apply will be Riley Asche and possibly Tony Dunlap. Right now the latter seems to be more of a rumor than a sure thing, but you can bet on Asche being an applicant for the position. Another rumored name could possibly be current Warren HC Jared McNutt. Like Dunlap, this may only be a rumor about McNutt, but his name has been tossed around for that opening.
Let's move to the potential restructure of the NUIC. We already know that Polo will be moving on to the I8FB league in 2019, but a sure bet rumor is that Warren will also be leaving in 2019, heading north across the border to co-op with Black Hawk. The two school boards have been in regular talks and appear to be closing in on the deal. With this move, the NUIC will be down to 15 teams. This could also be leading to the rumors that McNutt is eyeing another position, as it would be highly unlikely he would continue to be the HC in a co-op with Black Hawk.
With talks of the 8 man football league building, we already know some schools won't go until there is a state championship series already in place, such as Orangeville. Another school that is eyeing 8 man football for the 2019 season is River Ridge. It hasn't been confirmed yet, but the only options they have left would be to continue playing in the NUIC or bolting for the I8FB league. A co-op is out of the option for the Wildcats as they have nobody left to join up with in close proximity to Hanover.
The remaining questions would be, if River Ridge leaves will this force AFC to take off as well? There has been no word out of Raider camp in regards to leaving, but they have recently been in talks with Amboy about a co-op that would involve wrestling, track, golf, and cross country. Could this potential co-op be a door opener for a co-op with Amboy in football in the future? Amboy currently co-ops with Lamoille, which puts them right on the cusp of 1A and 2A. If you add AFC into the mix it would definitely push them into 3A with a combined enrollment over 450. This could be a likely option, considering it is only 18 miles between the 2 school's.
As far as filling openings in the conference by departures of current members, we can cancel out the rumor of Ottawa Marquette joining. The drive for sports outside of football would create much longer nights during the week, and the board has already discussed the Crusaders wouldn't be a logical choice. So, who would be a logical choice? Well, our friends who left us in 2016, South Beloit, might be a fit to rejoin the conference, as would Fulton. Both have been discussed, but no formal decisions have been made yet.
As we continue to approach the end of the school year, we can see things are beginning to take shape for not only this season, but the season after. Either way it shakes out, it looks as if the NUIC will remain in place, but the potential of new members may take place. The storyline will continue to unfold, but this has made for one of the most intriguing off-season's in a decade.