Not their locations: while the former is in leafy Lincolnshire, on Chicago's North Shore, the latter is literally surrounded by cornfields in the tiny town of Maple Park, about a half-hour drive west of Naperville. (I've been to both places.)
Stevenson, at almost 4,000 students, is one of the largest high schools in the state of Illinois and competes in class 8A in football. (You should see their marching band!) Kaneland, on the other hand, enrolls only a little over a thousand students and is in class 5A.
So, on the face of it, the two institutions would seem to have very little in common.
But their football teams are both returning a ton of starters and may be two programs to watch this year.
Let's take up the case of Kaneland first. The Knights were 10-1 last year, and I was able to see them play in their final game of the regular season against Morris. (Great contest by the way; you can read all about it here.) But, as I was watching the game, I kept looking down at my program to see who had just made a good play. And, it seemed like every time I did, it turned out to be a junior. When I remarked on this to the fans around me, they all nodded as if to say, Wait until these guys are seniors!
Well, that day isn't far off.
Leading the Knights this year will be the diminutive Drew David (pardon the alliteration) at quarterback. When David isn't handing off to running backs Jesse Balluff and Nate Dyer, he can throw to wide receiver Dylan Nauert. And, when needed, kicker Matt Rodriguez has a pretty good foot (if I remember correctly).
And while I don't know much about their defense, it's worth noting that four of Kaneland's ten victories last year were shutouts.
Head coach Tom Fedderly (above), now in his fifth year, has led the Knights to three straight undefeated regular seasons. The Maple Park squad will take a 28-game regular-season winning streak into the opener this year. (I may have to drive out that way again.)
Here's a look at Kaneland's 2013 schedule (with last year's records in parentheses):
Aug. 30 Gwendolyn Brooks (8-3)
Sept. 6 Immaculate Conception (6-5)
Sept. 13 @ Sterling (6-4)
Sept. 20 Streator (1-8)
Sept. 27 Rochelle (6-4)
Oct. 4 @ DeKalb (2-7)
Oct. 11 Yorkville (3-6)
Oct. 18 @ Sycamore (7-4)
Oct. 25 @ Morris (12-2)
The Knights open the season against Brooks College Prep, a team they narrowly defeated last year, 25-24. The Eagles will show up in Maple Park this year with two returning running backs, Dyllan Harris and Dakota Starks. This should be a good early test for Kaneland.
Week Two brings tiny IC Catholic Prep (as Immaculate Conception is now known). Although the Knights (this could get confusing!) enroll only 320 students (of which I assume about half are boys), they are not to be taken lightly. The Elmhurst squad only lost to eventual Class 3A champs Aurora Christian in the playoffs last year by a touchdown, 28-21.
After IC, Kaneland plays six teams whom they totally dominated last year. (The Knights outscored this bunch by a combined tally of 268-36!)
(But a word of caution: while DeKalb might seem like just another "gimme," the Knights will have to be on the lookout for up-and-coming junior running back Dre Brown. Don't say you weren't warned!)
So Kaneland's season comes down to Week Nine and that school down the road, Morris. The contest was a see-saw battle last year, resulting in a last-minute 33-30 win for the Knights. Morris, however, licked its wounds and ended up advancing to the 5A championship against Montini, while Kaneland was upset two weeks later by Lincoln-Way West, 31-15.
How will the 2013 season go for Kaneland? Well, by my reckoning, the Knights could be undefeated going into the Morris game (or at least 7-1 if they stumble against Brooks). And while Morris will have home-field advantage this year, the Redskins seem to have graduated most of last season's starters. So Kaneland could conceivably go 9-0 this year and make a real run for the 5A final in DeKalb. Should be fun!
Next: The Patriots of Stevenson.