On Saturday night, my wife and I sat under a pavilion at the Carroll County Fair in Milledgeville, probably consuming enough greasy food to fuel a small forest fire.
I was decked out in my Northern Illinois cap and matching red MAC championship shirt. It’s about as close to looking like a fanboy as I get.
A few moments after taking our seat, a group of teenage boys sat at the other end of the picnic table. One them also wore an NIU cap, and I realized I knew him.
It took a second, because the last time I probably had talked to him, he was garbed in shoulder pads and cast a much more intimidating figure as the punishing running back for the Eastland-Pearl City Wildcatz.
His name is Eric Shaney, and it’s a name that area football fans are sure to remember. He helped the Wildcatz to an undefeated regular season in 2013.
The bad news for NUIC Northwest defenses is that they’ll have to spend 2014 trying to tackle Shaney again.
Shaney knew me on sight also, and he asked a question that I think I’ve been asked about 1,000 times over the last 2 weeks.
“Ready for football?”
At this point, I might as well tape my standard response.
“I better be.”
As you read this, football and all the rest of the fall sports are here. Practice started this morning, and in just over 2 weeks, the lights will blaze and the games will be played.
The conversation didn’t stop there. Anyone that read our lead-in stories for last year’s second-round playoff game between EPC and Newman knows that the Comets have been on the Wildcatz’s mind the last couple years.
Last year, the Comets beat EPC in the second round en route to a fifth state championship. So it’s no surprise that Shaney asked about the Comets.
My answer was, and until further notice is, the Comets are going to be very good.
Shaney said he hopes to get another crack at the Comets. The Newman faithful shouldn’t read that as a threat I think Shaney is just the kind of kid that likes a challenge.
The Wildcatz – like the Comets – should be good, too. They return Shaney and pretty much the rest of their skill position players. Both teams will spend time the next couples weeks trying to find some extra depth.
We also talked about other good teams in the area. Shaney mentioned that Galena and Lena-Winslow both should be good.
I brought up a Three Rivers team in Bureau Valley that has plenty of potential.
He asked about Morrison, mentioning how fast the Mustangs were a few years back in the playoffs.
Morrison is coming off a 2-7 campaign, but they were young last season. A year of experience should help, and hopefully the Mustangs also can add some numbers to the roster.
After that, the conversation veered toward whether Jordan Lynch could make the Bears, before we both went our separate ways.
It’s alway good to talk to athletes away from the actual athletic venue, and when I am not scribbling down notes during an interview.
It was also beneficial, because it gave me the boost I needed to write this column.
See, this will be my 10th school year since joining SVM, and it can get real easy to look at the start of the new season as nothing more than the beginning of a lot of work.
That’s when this job gets hard.
But Shaney provided the spark I’ve been looking for.
He’s a senior now, and he views the next few weeks of practice and 9 weeks of games after that with optimism and enthusiasm.
I am sure he and his teammate have big dreams. And without becoming too much of a fanboy again, or ignoring my responsibility to remain impartial, I do hope they reach those dreams.
Anything can happen once that whistle blows, and that’s exciting for players – in football and all the other sports across the prep scene.
It’s also exciting for grizzled sports journalists like me.
So, buckle up, because here we go, and we won’t be stopping until June.