Football coaches excited for PepsiCo Showdown Series

By Bob Narang

Nazareth football coach Tim Racki is used to making history.

Racki, who has won seven state championships at two different schools, is ready for the next big accomplishment in his illustrious coaching career.

Nazareth, Marist, Richards and Warren are just four of the 16 premier high school football programs slated to compete in the Allstate Football Bowl a part of the popular PepsiCo Showdown Series. The event, which kicks of in Aug. 2021 and will be seeded No. 1-16, will become the first regular-season football tournament in the U.S.

“I loved it from the first time I heard about it,” Racki said. “It will create a buzz, especially for the beginning of the season. Having something like that will motivate the kids during double practice days.”

After leading Addison Driscoll to four consecutive state titles, Racki quickly went to work turning Nazareth into a state powerhouse. The Roadrunners have won three state championships and placed second in Racki’s first 15 seasons.

“Throughout the years, I’ve watched how the excitement for the annual PepsiCo Showdown Soccer Series has built up at school,” Racki said. “I’ve seen how excited our girls soccer team gets and talked to the coach. It’s a really cool thing to be involved with.”

The entire field and seeds will be publicly announced during a special TV event featuring student athletes from each of the schools.

The goal of the PepsiCo Showdown Series has always been to put student athletes, schools and communities on the big stage to spotlight them both on and off the field. The football event was locked up in Feb. 2019.

Due to its unique format, college recruiters are going to be able to come to Chicago and see 16 schools and nearly 1,000 players in 48 hours at the same site. If they can’t make it the first weekend, they have the option of the second weekend.

“That’s the cool thing, the massive excitement Week 2 when teams are playing for championships or still on the big stage,” said Nicole Powell, a lead volunteer with the PepsiCo Showdown Series since 2010. “There’s going to be excitement and impact on and off the field, and that’s what we’re most excited about for the student athletes and their families.”

Marist is another Chicago powerhouse slated to compete in the two-game tournament, which will showcase four games on Saturday and four more on Sunday at the same site on back-to-back weekends. The games will be broadcasted with an ESPN College Gameday-like setup for student bodies.

“This event will be a great way to start a year, especially coming off this year where there’s been so much uncertainty and there won’t be a regular season as we know it,” Marist coach Ron Dawczak said. “To start a season with some of the top teams in Illinois competing against each other brings a lot of attention to our sport.”

Marist has been a dominant program in Class 8A for more than a decade. The RedHawks have been sending top-flight talent to colleges for several years.

“This is a great idea,” Dawczak said. “It’s exciting to think of opening the season against two unknown high-quality opponents.”

Warren coach Bryan McNulty said the opportunity to play elite competition at the start of the season in a playoff-type format is a plus for his burgeoning program. The Blue Devils have posted a 23-3 mark over the last two seasons, losing to Lincoln-Way East in the 8A state title game in 2019.

“We are going to get to play great competition in front of a ton of fans, which is exciting,” McNulty said. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.

“It’s very unique. I feel when you get to a certain point as a program, you want to play the best.”

Warren junior running back Maurice Edwards is expected to be one of the marquee players in the Midwest in 2021.

“(The PepsiCo Showdown Series) will be a good measuring stick for your team to see how they match up,” McNulty said. “We’re at the point as a program where we don’t want to schedule cupcake games anymore.”

Richards coach Tony Sheehan said the PepsiCo Showdown Series kicking off for football comes at a perfect time.

“It’s something different for high school football, and it’s definitely needed after this year,” Sheehan said. “It’s a great way to start the fall of 2021, to showcase football in Illinois. We’re very excited to be a part of it.”

The Bulldogs are a traditional power, winning at least 10 games in each of the last three seasons.

“We will be young and talented next season,” Sheehan said. “We could be pretty good and have a special group. (The PepsiCo Showdown Series) will bring a lot of attention and excitement.”

Trost pointed out that the programs involved come from the city and suburbs, public and private schools and all different backgrounds.

“This is a real cool thing to be involved with,” Racki said. “It’s not hard to get your kids to work hard in practices, knowing you get to compete in a tournament like this.

“The kids love exposure, and there are so many bonuses and pluses that can help your program – especially early in the season. This event will create that playoff-type feeling.”

Bio on reporter: Bob Narang has been covering prep recruiting and sports for the past 25 years. His work also appears in the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, Athlon Sports and the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.