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Leaving Bishop Noll never crossed Wayne Racine’s mind.

When the school’s football program announced last year that it would suspend varsity play for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, it was a disappointment for the Warriors coach but not a reason for him to give up.

It’s just not in his nature.

After the team only played junior varsity games last year, Racine said a couple of varsity match-ups are already slated for this upcoming season. He added that there are 36 players on the roster, 10 more than last year, and Bishop Noll’s schedule has not been finalized.

The school is still trying to figure out how many varsity games the Warriors will play, but Racine is confident the program’s two-year rebuilding process is trending upward.

“You start a job, you don’t leave until it’s finished,” Racine said. “It’s just about maturation at this point. We’re just trying to get the kids some experience because we are going to be all varsity next year. We wanted to play a few varsity opponents (this season) so our kids aren’t in total shock about what’s getting ready to happen to them in the following years.”

Racine attended Mount Carmel, an Illinois football powerhouse, and graduated in 1985. During his time as a Caravan, he played under legendary coaches Bill Barz and Frank Lenti, whom he said left a tremendous impact on him.

After his playing days, Racine became an assistant coach at Marian University and Walsh University under Ted Karras Jr., who also coached at Andrean, and he credits Karras for setting a great example for him to follow. Karras helped start the Marian football program in 2007 and led the Knights to an NAIA National Championship in 2012.

“Barz and Lenti taught me how to be a coach,” Racine said. “Karras showed me how to build a program. We started it from scratch and won a national championship, so we must’ve done something right.”

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Racine said many of the strategies Karras implemented into Marian’s program are the same ones he’s using to reestablish Bishop Noll’s team. The Warriors used to be a formidable opponent, winning the Class 3A state championship in 1989, and Racine doesn’t see why his current program can’t lay another foundation for future success.

Senior lineman Christopher Valdes said it was tough to not play any varsity games during his junior campaign, and he looks forward to competing on a few more Friday nights this year. According to Racine, Bishop Noll will take on South Central and Lake Station, among other teams at the varsity level, and Valdes thinks it will be a great way for the senior class to cap off their prep careers.

“What people thought and the criticism was the hardest part,” Valdes said about last year’s junior varsity schedule. “It was really hard for some people on our team to get used to not being full varsity because they were super competitive. The energy should be a lot higher at the varsity games (this year), and a lot more people will be there.”

Valdes has been on the football team during his entire prep career, but the Warriors' co-captain won’t continue playing in college. Instead, he's headed to Purdue next fall to pursue a degree in engineering.

Even though his four years haven’t gone exactly as he envisioned, Valdes plans to enjoy his last season of organized football and still appreciates all of his coach's effort to kick-start the program.

Without Racine, Valdes isn’t sure if Bishop Noll would have had a season at all last year, and first-year athletic director Eric Roldan also commended the dedicated coach. As a former basketball, baseball and soccer player for the Warriors, Roldan said he understands the value of prep sports and believes Racine has done a great job of being there for his team.

“The roster has grown and more kids are coming out,” Roldan said. “Coach Wayne Racine is really heading the two-year plan and basically manning the charge to get us back to where we want to be.”

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Lake County Sports Reporter

James Boyd is the Lake County prep sports reporter for The Times. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a proud native of Romeoville, Illinois. Before anything else, his main goal in life is to spread love and light.