Another year, another change in the Northwest Upstate Illini football scene.
Last year, Amboy joined the NUIC from the Three Rivers, replacing South Beloit.
For this upcoming season, the football programs at Durand and Pecatonica have joined forces, and the Rivermen will play in the conference’s Northwest Division.
More changes may be coming in the future.
The Upstate Division boasts some of the smallest football-playing schools in Illinois, and numbers on several of those teams have dwindled to the point where seasons may be in doubt.
Aquin is the smallest football-playing school in the NUIC with 100 students, one less than Orangeville (101). AFC is the smallest local football school with an enrollment of 155, and Milledgeville isn’t too far behind with 174.
“We went through that where we had a couple of classes that were low, were in a tight spot and struggling to get through the season,” Milledgevillle coach Jason Wroble said. “I can see this being a problem in the future for some teams. That’s why some of those teams are exploring 8-man [football].”
Despite the low numbers in some areas, West Carroll coach Matt Leitzen doesn’t think the overall competition to fade as much – especially in the Northwest Division, which has had four state champions in as many seasons.
“It’s always challenging because it’s the NUIC, so I don’t think that makes it any easier,” Leitzen said. “I do like the fact that, with the stronger opponents in our conference, you’ll see at times where we’ll be able to be playing at our best.”
The void that Durand-Pecatonica – a solution between two programs which had struggled with numbers – has created in the Upstate will not be filled in time for this coming season, meaning it will have 1 week of nonconference games for those division teams.
Former Big Rivers Conference member River Valley – a cooperative between Henry-Senachwine, Low Point-Washburn and Varna Midland – will host AFC in Week 4 and travel to Milledgeville in Week 5. Neither the Raiders nor the Missiles have ever faced the co-op, which has only won 20 games since 1994, or any of its predecessor schools.
“I think it’s interesting to see some different areas where football is different,” Missiles junior running back and linebacker Nate Rahn said.
“I noticed that last year in the playoffs when we played Ottawa [Marquette], we were two different types of football. It’s fun to see how we stack up against each other, and that’s all we can do.”
The Falcons are in the Northeastern Athletic Conference, which saw its membership whittled down to six competing teams from 10 when four of its members elected to play in an 8-man football circuit.
Several other NAC schools are facing other NUIC Upstate teams this season, which has become a common occurrence for the conferences’ playoff teams in the first couple of rounds of the playoffs.
According to Wroble, just a few hours after the deal with River Valley was agreed to, he received a call from Marquette, which defeated the Missiles 9-6 in a 1A first-round playoff game last year.
However, it was first-come, first-serve, and River Valley remains.