High School football is back. The 2018 season begins on Friday with a full slate of games involving local teams.
Here are five storylines for fans to keep an eye on:
1. A new era in Granite
Granite City begins its first season without a conference affiliation when the Warriors travel to Jerseyville on Friday at 7 p.m.
One of the charter members of the Southwestern Conference — with a history that goes back to 1923 — is competing this year as an independent. The Warriors, who will still face former conference foes in Belleville West (Sept. 21), Collinsville (Sept. 28) and Alton (Oct. 12), but the schedule is represented by opponents from five different leagues and one independent from both sides of the Mississippi.
Last year Granite City High School officials elected to leave the SWC following the 2017 school year, citing concerns about safety at large sporting events, more specifically football and basketball games.
2. The Canadians are coming
Madison High School will have an international opponent when it opens its season on Saturday against Canada Prep Academy in the first International Classic beginning at 2 p.m.
“We are very proud to be hosting the first International Classic. We feel it’s a tremendous way to promote good sportsmanship and to give people a chance to see two quality football programs play in an event that we feel will be very enjoyable for local fans to come out and witness,’’ Madison athletic director Phillip Gilbert said last week.
“Our administration is very proud of the improvements made in the athletic program and hopes that fans from throughout the metro east come out and show their support for these hard-working student athletes.
Madison, coached by Mike Hill, is looking to get out to another strong start after finishing 6-4 and qualifying for the Class 1A playoffs in the Trojans’ first season back on the gridiron in more than 20 years.
3. Freddy’s back
The Granite City-Jersey game also will mark the return to action of one of the most highly-touted and highly-recruited players in the St. Louis area in Granite City quarterback Freddy Edward.
A junior, the 5-10, 170-pound Edwards, helped a strong Warriors offense total over 100 points in wins over Jersey and Carbondale to open the ‘17 season. Edwards then suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in a week three loss to Belleville East. Granite City ended the year with seven straight losses, all in Southwestern Conference play.
After surgery and six months of rehabilitation, Edwards returned to play baseball in the spring and on Friday will lead the Warriors offense. Still with two full seasons of high school football to play, Edwards has a scholarship offer from Iowa State University and has received interest from several other Big 10 and Big 12 Conference football programs as well as Notre Dame and Clemson.
4. Flyers tackle national power
Another tough opener for the East St. Louis Flyers awaits coach Darren Sunkett’s team when it travels northeast to take on national power Detroit King High School at Wayne State University in Detroit on Saturday beginning at 6 p.m.
The defending Southwestern Conference champion Flyers advanced to the Class 7A state quarterfinals where they ended their season with a 10-2 record.
The Flyers will take on a Detroit King team that is ranked third in the Michigan High School preseason poll and finished 11-2 a year ago. King features four-star senior Peny Boone, the nation’s 26th rated running back by 24/7 Sports.
5. New faces on the sidelines
In Jerseyville, former Wesclin coach Ric Johns will lead the home Panthers, while Brad Hasquin begins a new chapter in Granite City.
A longtime coaching fixture in the metro East and former head coach at Belleville West, Johns, stepped down after five years at Wesclin High School following the 2017 season, when he led the Warriors to the Cahokia Conference title and a record of 9-1.
Hasquin, a former standout at Civic Memorial High School, was an assistant at Granite City and took over when Carl Luehmann resigned following the Warriors’ 2-7 season.
Former Mater Dei and Centralia coach Ray Kauling will make his coaching debut with Wesclin when the Warriors travel to Dupo on Friday.
Dupo also ha a new coach in Joseph Day while Collinsville will be led by its new coach in Mike Popovich when it hosts Cahokia on Friday.