Adell Hawks was the right man for the job as Peoria Heights faced the beginning of the end of its 11-man football era when Week 1 of the 2019 IHSA season arrived Friday.
The 2019 season journey opened with a range of experiences, from Peoria Heights starting a farewell season in the 11-man format to Notre Dame staying on the sidelines for a Saturday opener, plus Manual and Eureka and Peoria High all weighing in.
The Patriots will play 8-man football starting next season. Hawks understands that game well. He was a running back and linebacker in arena football for the Peoria Pirates franchise — then called the Roughriders — when he arrived with the team in 2006.
Arena ball, of course, is an 8-man game.
"I loved playing the 8-man game, it brought different kinds of challenges for us," said Hawks, 36, a Bemidji State (Minn.) product who spent all 16 games with Peoria's pro team in 2006. "You really have to love the game to play it.
"These kids we have here, they love the game, and that's what is important. We really haven't spent a lot of time talking about what is going to happen when this season ends and 11-man football exits the program.
"We just don't focus on it. We have to prepare to play the game that is in front of us today."
Hawks owned the semi-pro Midwest Hawks and Midwest Storm teams up until last year, and won two championships in the MA8FL.
He'll be a big asset in the transition to the eight-man game for Peoria Heights. But first things first.
"There's no telling what the future may hold for our team," Hawks said. "Whatever happens, happens."
Notre Dame High School didn't play Friday. The Irish open on a Saturday for the first time since a 25-18 win over Limestone — played at Richwoods Stadium — on Aug. 29, 2009.
"Our preparation was moved back a day," Notre Dame head coach Pat Armstrong said. "We're going to give our players Friday night to rest at home, we want them ready for the game Saturday."
Armstrong and his coaching staff were on the way to Champaign Centennial to watch Peoria High School play its opener Friday night.
The Irish will host Normal Community West on Saturday.
"They have a thousand more kids than we do, so we know what a challenge that game is going to be," Armstrong said. "But at the end of the day, it's football no matter what day of the week it's played on."
And what will the players be doing? "We get an extra day to practice and prepare, and I'm just going to stay home and look at more film," Notre Dame quarterback Ben Kouri said. "There are a few of our guys who will go watch the Metamora game.
"Saturday morning we're going to have breakfast as a team at (restaurants) Le Peep or Childers, and then we're going to get to work. It's definitely different.
"But we will be ready to play."
Peoria High School opened on the road Friday, but head coach Tim Thornton had his team over at Peoria Stadium a few days ago for a scrimmage.
"That field has a distinctive crown on it," Thornton said. "It's unique to the area fields, it's high, high, high. So it's important for us to get on it and take our skill kids around to the different zones on that field and make sure they understand that surface.
"There's an area out there that has settled, in addition to the crown, so it's challenging. Every year the first screen pass on that field sails over the kid's head and out of bounds.
"Last season we were playing Danville, and it was a one-score game and they had the ball. The Danville kid wasn't used to the slope and hit that thing accelerating — he was probably gone for a touchdown — but he lost his balance and went down. The field made a touchdown-saving tackle for us."
Notre Dame players will wear special decals on their helmets this season, bearing the initials "SGK" in honor of their late head coach, Sean Kent Gillen.
Gillen died on May 11 at the age of 32.
Eureka High School opened its season with a 28-0 win over LeRoy on Friday, beginning a 2019 journey of high expectations.
The Hornets were ranked No. 3 in the state, the highest ranking to start a season in the school's history.
"We were ranked eighth or ninth, maybe, nothing in the last 25 years or so like this," Eureka head coach Jason Bachman said. "We talked about it. It's fun to be ranked. But we have to play every Friday and do our jobs, too."
Eureka had a tough night on the ground Friday, managing only 21 rushes for 38 yards. Junior quarterback Matt Martin delivered by air, though, as he threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns.
"People know we have some talent," Bachman said. "We like to run the ball. But they schemed us well. We're going to take what teams give us. This is the first time we can do that."
Martin stepped up and now the Hornets -- 9-2 last season -- are off to a good start in 2019.
"We're well aware of the ranking," Martin said. "We expected some recognition after last season. Now we're going to have to do the work to live up to it every week."
SHORT YARDAGE: The Peoria Heights game was delayed with 8:40 left in the second quarter Friday when Patriots running back Davieon Barnett — a senior Quest student — was tackled while running the ball near the 40 and stayed down with an injury afterward. Medical personnel attended to him on the field while teammates gathered around him. He appeared awake and had some movement, and an ambulance was brought onto the field to transport him to OSF. Peoria Heights athletic director Matt King said late Friday night that Barnett had a neck injury. "Everything is coming back good," King said. "He should be OK."
Dave Eminian covers the Rivermen and Chiefs for the Journal Star, and writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.