New bleachers and press box are part of the improvements going in at the Downers Grove North High School football stadium.
New bleachers and press box are part of the improvements going in at the Downers Grove North High School football stadium.

Downers Grove South football coach Mark Molinari called the difference a game-changing move.

Most high school coaches – in sports other than football – wouldn’t understand the importance of shaving at least 15 minutes off practice times.

But football coaches are creatures of habit, plus keeping a large group of teenagers in line and focused can often be harder than designing a game plan to stop an offensive-minded team.

That’s why Molinari, set to start his eighth season leading the Downers Grove South program, is so excited about the Mustang Stadium renovation project that’s nearly completed.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Downers Grove South and Downers Grove North both had their stadium renovation projects slowed down. The multiyear, multimillion-dollar renovation project — a part of a master facility plan spanning three years – is a big plus for both football programs.

Besides new grandstands, both schools will have several rooms built underneath the bleachers that will help better coordinate and organize practices, which pleases Molinari.

“We’re 95 percent done,” Molinari said. “It’s going to help so much, especially in practices. Before, when we wanted to watch film before or after practice, we had a long walk to get inside to the locker room.

“The kids would sometimes be tired and take their time. They would be gassed and it was like pulling teeth to get them to hurry up. They would also have to get changed, then go to the classroom. It sometimes would take 20 to 25 minutes. Now, with the squad room wired for Internet and close to the field, we can save time and transition faster. We’ll also have everything we need in the squad room. I’m really appreciative to have a film room, to watch film before or after practice.”

Downers Grove North football coach Joe Horeni said he’s also excited for the changes. Like Downers Grove South, his team has yet to practice on the football field at this time. Both schools are allowing their cross county teams to gain priority for practices at the stadium track to help ensure social distancing.

“The stadium is done,” Horeni said. “It’s very exciting. There will be more seating, a bigger press box and halftime rooms for both us and our opponent. We love that upgrade while also maintaining the very cool look we will have with the school in the background.”

Horeni said his favorite changes are between the added bleacher seating and the press box, but he expects both to give his program some subtle advantages.

“The press box is bigger and higher, which helps with the camera shot for game film but also lets us get more coaches up there to help during the game,” he said. “The guys are excited and can’t wait to get out there for our first game.”

That first game most likely will be sometime in early March, when the “new” football season kicks off due to the normal delay from the pandemic.

Molinari also stressed the importance of a bigger press box to allow coaches better spacing to go with a bigger cage on top for filming.

“Everything is really nice,” Molinari said. “We’re very fortunate. We’ll also have bathrooms for the players on both sides (of the bleachers), a ton of storage room, a referee room and training room. It will be a really nice area underneath the stadium that nearly goes the length of the stadium.”