Thoughts of someone who has been observing the state football playoff since it kicked off in 1974 and watched the 2010 finals from an easy chair in his comfortable den on Friday, then spent Saturday taking notes while signing books in the Great West Hall of Memorial Stadium in Champaign:
* Wheaton Warrenville South is as good as advertised but not as good as coach Ron Muhitch had projected prior to Saturday's 28-17 victory over Lake Zurich in the Class 7A final. The 2010 Tigers aren't as good as John Thorne's high-scoring 1998 WW South powerhouse that was led by quarterback Jon Beutjer (national-record 60 TD passes), wide receivers Jon Schweighardt and Eric McGoey and running back Corrice Burns. The Tigers averaged 44 points per game and crushed Barrington 42-14 in the state final.
* WW South quarterback Reilly O'Toole had a season that legends are made of. He was the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year, passing for more than 3,000 yards and 42 touchdowns in a season that reminded of past Players of the Year such as Morris' John Dergo and Maine South's Matt Perez and Naperville Central's Ryan Clifford.
More importantly, perhaps, O'Toole demonstrated the poise and moxie and leadership qualities in the spotlight and under pressure that should make him a major presence in coach Ron Zook's program at Illinois.
* While O'Toole was the most studied and scrutinized player in Champaign, trying to live up to the high expectations of the many critics in Illini Nation, two players who were even more impressive were Lake Zurich running back Jacob Brinlee and O'Toole's primary target, wide receiver Titus Davis.
Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming believes both Brinlee and Davis are Division I prospects who have been largely overlooked by college recruiters--at least up until now. Against WW South, the 5-10, 170-pound Brinlee proved he has the toughness, shiftiness and durability to play in the Big 10 or MAC. Davis, a 6-2, 175-pounder, has the speed and athleticism and good hands to be a big-time receiver.
* Was there anyone more impressive than Jordan Westerkamp, Montini's junior wide receiver? The 6-1, 185-pounder caught seven passes for 146 yards and three touchdowns as Montini won its second Class 5A title in a row. He is the son of former Montini star Bob Westerkamp, who played at Illinois.
* Westerkamp is one of the headliners on an outstanding crop of prospects in the Class of 2012 that also includes Simeon quarterback Robert Gregory, Glenbard West defensive end Tommy Schutt, Barrington tackle Dan Voltz and Northwestern-bound running back Malin Jones of Joliet Catholic.
* Eight classes are at least one too many. Before expansion, the state finals were more competitive. Isn't it downright embarrassing to have running clocks and final scores of 47-14, 48-7 and 48-19 in the state championships?
* But unless the state finals are moved to Soldier Field in Chicago, there isn't a better venue than Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
* The new television production company and its broadcasting staff--Lee Hall and Rick Venturi, Dave Bernhard and Jack McInerney--deserve an 8 on a scale of 10 for their opening performance. There were glitches and oversights and omissions--did you miss the introductions of the starting lineups?--but the total package was entertaining.
* It's a shame more people don't support the state finals. Remember how it was during the magical days of the Prep Bowl in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s when the Chicago Public League and Chicago Catholic League champions annually attracted crowds of 50,000 to 90,000 to 120,000 to Soldier Field?
Since the state playoff was introduced in 1974, it hasn't been the same for the Prep Bowl or the state finals. Why? In the old days, all of the city's public and parochial schools and their boosters supported the conference representative in the Prep Bowl. Today, only students, parents and fans of the participating schools attend the city and state finals.
* If there ever was any doubt, it was abundantly clear while watching all eight championship games that the quality of football and coaching in Downstate schools is every bit as good as it is in the Chicago area. Jim Unruh (six state titles, four seconds) of Illini West in Carthage and Mike Lalor (four state titles) of Stillman Valley gave a clinic in the Class 3A final. So did Sterling Newman's Mike Papoccia (four state titles, two seconds) in Class 2A.
* And how about the feel-good story of the finals? Lena-Winslow, a school of 313 students that consolidated in the 1950s, had never won a state title in any sport until this year. Coach Ric Arand didn't win more than nine games in his first nine seasons. This year's squad wasn't even ranked in the final state poll in Class 1A. After crushing top-ranked and defending state champion Tuscola, however, Arand is 24-3 in the last two years and has a big trophy to show for it.