I've long felt there was something missing from the way media covers high school.
There's the usual formula: game preview, game night, notebook, feature story. Rinse and repeat throughout the season.
That's not to say the content isn't good. In fact, some of it is terrific.
But it always felt a bit disjointed. Where was the context with more than 500 teams competing across Illinois?
I was still working at my old job for in Kankakee back in the summer of 2016 when I made the drive up to Crystal Lake to meet Jon Styf for lunch and to discuss high school football coverage.
We ate lunch at Tracks Bar and Grill in downtown Cary – I can't recommend the burgers enough – and came up with a modest plan: to start a podcast and create a weekly state football notebook that would incorporate content from both of our companies' publications.
In early 2017, I came to work for Shaw Media in Styf's former role as sports editor at the Northwest Herald.
Steve Soucie, my former colleague in Kankakee and the most knowledgeable person in the state on high school football (seriously, he used to carry around a shoe box full of index cards for every team), landed at The Herald-News in Joliet as its sports editor a little more than a year later.
Now, nearly three years since that delicious lunch in Cary, those early goals have evolved into a much more ambitious project called Friday Night Drive.
Our goals for Friday Night Drive are simple: to deliver quality coverage of high school football with timely news, in-depth analysis and more while creating an online community for fans.
Are you already a Shaw Media print or digital subscriber? We have great news: you get free access to FridayNightDrive.com. Just sign in with your current digital credentials and you'll get unlimited access. If you're a print subscriber to one of our newspapers and need to activate your digital account, go to any of our news sites and click login to get started.
Not a current subscriber? You can sign up for Friday Night Drive for a limited-time subscription rate of just $2.49 per month (billed annually), a 40% savings.
Our quality coverage has already started this week with my deep dive on the history of the IHSA's mapping program. Josh Welge discovered Nazareth quarterback J.J. McCarthy's favorite play in his terrific profile on the Michigan commit. J.T. Pedelty showed us how declining participation numbers is giving rise to 8-man football in Illinois. And Soucie and myself discussed our thoughts on the IHSA's district mock in our first podcast.
Next comes the community part.
We don't want this to be a place you come only to find out scores on Friday nights. Or simply to see Soucie's latest playoff projections.
We want you to stick around Friday Night Drive and be a part of that discussion. How this community evolves and how we conduct these discussions will be a process of trial and error in these early months. If you want to share an idea for that, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can't wait to get to know you all a bit better.