SENECA — With Seneca High School having left the Interstate Eight Conference at the conclusion of last school year, the 2018 season is the start of a new era for the Fighting Irish football program.
Now two days into official preseason practice, seventh-year head coach Ted O'Boyle knows the season ahead looms large ... and is pleased the number of Fighting Irish players he'll be taking into it is larger than he'd feared it might be.
"We've got better numbers than I expected, just a touch over 50 (players program-wide)," said O'Boyle, who among that 50-plus said seven or eight return after seeing considerable varsity playing time in 2017. "To be honest with you, at one point in the summer I was shooting for 40. So it's extremely weird to say I'm extremely pleased with 50, but this year I am."
A small freshman class accounts for some of that, but is offset in part by a large sophomore group as Seneca football enters the Sangamon Valley Conference. The Irish's new conference foes include former I-8 rival Dwight along with Iroquois West, Momence, Paxton-Buckley-Loda, Watseka and defending league champion Clifton Central.
"I almost think it's one of those things where we've got to start playing games before the kids really realize we're not in the Interstate Eight anymore," said O'Boyle.
Seneca will, however, open up against a former Interstate Eight foe when Westmont visits Aug. 24 in Week 1. While there have been a number of changes for the program — including the new conference, some new coaches and a new, or at least tweaked, offense built around the run and play-action passes — O'Boyle seems happy with how his team has been handling it all so far.
"After two days of practice, I couldn't be any happier with where we're at," he said. "It's kind of a fresh start to everything."