Preps Talk

DRIVE: HF Vikings balancing, thriving on expectations

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DRIVE: HF Vikings balancing, thriving on expectations

As soon as he hears it, Homewood-Flossmoor quarterback Bryce Gray can't resist.

The boisterous senior has been flawless on Day 1, leading a pre-practice throwing routine before manning the Vikings offense in the first drill of the official season. Harsh weather conditions push Illinois' top-ranked high school team inside to their 9,000 square foot indoor practice facility, and from the moment head coach Craig Buzea signals for stretching to begin until the final drill of the early evening, music blares through the speakers. And Gray can't resist.

While the second unit runs their play, Gray jogs back to the first team huddle bellowing out the opening lines to Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" - a few others, including Division I offensive lineman Desmond Bland follow suit - with a contagious smile beaming through his face mask. Never mind that the Michael Jackson single came out in 1987, years before any of the Vikings were born; they're having fun, and Gray is leading the way.

As he's finishing off his last move, the jovial Gray looks to the sidelines and receives instruction from Buzea and assistant coach Alex Pratt for the starters' next play.

Suddenly it's all business.

Gray straightens up, gathers his group, breaks the huddle, barks out his cadence and fires a dart to Division I prospect wide receiver Kendric Pryor, who hustles into the end zone for another precise repetition that resembles an offense practicing in late October instead of mid-August after a 10-day hiatus post-summer camp.

[RELATED: Homewood-Flossmoor ready to complete the job]

Like the veteran group they are, the Vikings seem to have already perfected the delicate balance between the expectations of earning the program's second state championship with the realization that a group that largely has been together since grade school has one opportunity remaining to play together the game they've loved since they first time they had a ball in their hands.

"Nobody's real uptight like, 'We have to win state, we have to win state,'" Gray admits after practice. "Of course we all want to, that's the goal. But we can't help but be loose. We're not putting any extra pressure on ourselves at all."

The well-oiled machine that is the Homewood-Flossmoor offense, commanded by Buzea - who doubles as the team's offensive coordinator - and nearly perfected by Gray has been at this awhile. They return eight starters from an attack that compiled more than 6,000 yards and nearly 600 points a year ago. Defensively, newcomer coordinator Zac Wells has been tasked with replenishing a front seven Buzea admits is booming with "guys that have been waiting to get their turn" and a secondary that includes Deante Harley-Hampton (also the team's leading rusher) and Pryor, a Division I cornerback prospect with a dozen offers, including Wisconsin, Iowa and Iowa State.

The returning core - one that came within three yards of winning the 8A state championship a year ago - understands all too well that the target has been firmly planted on their backs. There won't be any Cinderella story coming out of Homewood, Ill., this season. There's plenty of film on Gray, also a collegiate prospect, after he threw for 2,353 yards and 24 touchdowns as a junior. The two-headed attack of the Hampton twins, Deante and DeVonte, won't be sneaking up on anyone, not after they combined to rush for more than 2,600 yards and 48 touchdowns in their second season as varsity starters.

"There's a lot of teams coming for us," DeVonte says. "We have to be ready for that, and we will be ready for that."

Adds Deante: "I want competition. It makes me work harder. I want (opponents) to bring it every time, and me and my team are going to bring it every time."

[#DriveVikings: Follow DRIVE all season long on Twitter!]

And yet, for as focused as the Vikings are and for as much precision as they exude honing their craft in something as minuscule as a limited practice, they've found time to enjoy the ride.

Buzea, who took over a 1-8 program in 2010, runs an annual retreat that allows seniors time to build chemistry, relax a little and hone in on the focus for the year. Even in that setting there's a balance of work and play. The seniors squared off against the coaches in paintball, and enjoyed pizza and swimming back at Buzea's house. When that was over, each member of the coaching staff and each senior spoke about their goals for the year and how they planned on achieving them. "Buzz," as he's referred to around the program, admitted that much of what the senior class spoke on was what he was saving for in his final speech to end the night, a positive sign that his team is locked in on what's expected of them.

"The senior retreat was one of the best days of my life, honestly" said inside linebacker Percy Walters, a two-year starter. "We really have a bond. It's so special. It was a great moment."

Many teams in Illinois have state-title aspirations. The Homewood-Flossmoor Vikings have state-title expectations. It's why Buzea dubbed the team's motto this season, "Be the B.E.S.T," or "Bring it Every Single Time." All offseason the common theme Buzea heard in the locker room, weight room and classroom was how this group wanted to be remembered as the best, not simply a team that had a successful season despite falling short of their ultimate goal - like 2014.

"We do have a bullseye on our back, people do know who we are," Buzea recalled telling him team. "And you better Bring it Every Single Time or else you're going to get knocked off.

"But we'll take that. We'll embrace it. It's going to be fun, and I think our kids are looking forward to it."

NBC Sports Chicago to carry live coverage of the 2018 IHSA Girls Basketball State Championships

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NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago to carry live coverage of the 2018 IHSA Girls Basketball State Championships

Network to televise LIVE coverage of the Class 1A-4A IHSA Girls Basketball State Championships from Redbird Arena in Normal, IL over the next two weekends

PLUS -- Live streaming coverage of EVERY IHSA Girls Basketball State Championship telecast – including surrounding pre/postgame coverage – to be made available to authenticated subscribers on NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive and via the NBC Sports app

NBCSportsChicago.com/Preps to air highlight packages from all semifinal, consolation, and championship games; “High School Lites” Girls Championships specials to air Feb. 23 & Mar. 2 at 11:00 PM CT

Chicago, IL (February 20, 2018) NBC Sports Chicago, the home of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Championships, will be airing LIVE cross-platform coverage of the 2018 IHSA Girls Basketball State Championships on Friday, February 23 & Saturday, February 24 (Class 1A & 2A) and Friday, March 2 & Saturday, March 3 (Class 3A & 4A) from Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena in Normal, IL.  Over the next two weekends, Illinois preps hoops fans can look forward to seeing every action-packed semifinal, consolation and championship battle starting Friday at 11:00 AM CT featuring four, live semifinal match-ups, along with a pair of consolation and two huge state championship title games on Saturday.  Plus – EVERY game will be telecast in a high-definition (HD) format.  The 2018 IHSA Girls Basketball State Championships will be produced by the IHSA & PlayOn! Sports.

In addition -- EVERY IHSA Girls Basketball State Championship telecast on NBC Sports Chicago, including surrounding pre/postgame coverage, will be streamed LIVE on NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive and will be made available via the NBC Sports app on tablets and smart phones.  Authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers can watch live IHSA Girls Basketball State Championships action from anywhere in the United States.  The live streaming service is currently available to customers of Comcast/Xfinity, DIRECTV, DISH Network, AT&T U-verse, Mediacom, RCN, WOW!, Time Warner Cable and Charter among numerous other carriers.  In addition, NBC Sports Chicago is also available on numerous digital streaming services including DIRECTV NOW, Hulu, fuboTV, Sling TV, CenturyLink Stream, PlayStation Vue, and YouTube TV.  For a full list of carriers and more information about NBC Sports Chicago’s live streaming service, viewers are urged to visit nbcsportschicago.com/live-faq.

IMPORTANT NOTES:

  • Several IHSA Girls Basketball State Championship telecasts will all air live on NBC Sports Chicago+…NBC Sports Chicago+ is located on Comcast/Xfinity ch. 201 in the Chicago area and in South Bend, IN, and on ch. 285 in Comcast/Xfinity’s Peoria, Springfield, Rockford and Champaign markets…viewers are urged to visit NBCSportsChicago.com’s special “Channel Finder” section (http://www.nbcsports.com/chicago/channel-finder ) or IHSA.org for complete channel location details for ALL games throughout the state. 
  • Fans are also strongly urged to interact via Twitter throughout the entire weekend by utilizing the hashtag #IHSA to share their comments and showcase their school spirit for their favorite teams. 

In addition, NBCSportsChicago.com’s IHSA Preps section (NBCSportsChicago.com/preps) will feature highlight packages from all games over the next two weekends, plus – NBC Sports Chicago viewers can look forward to a special championship editions of High School Lites on Friday, February 23 & Friday, March 2 (both nights live at 11:00 PM) for a complete rundown of every girls championship game, including expanded highlights and player/coaches interviews, along with the latest highlights and playoff scenarios for the upcoming IHSA Boys Basketball State Championships, which will take place the weekends of March 8-10 & March 17-18 at Carver Arena in Peoria, IL.  (NOTE: Full schedule details regarding NBC Sports Chicago’s live coverage of the 2017 Boys Basketball State Championships will be announced the week of March 5.)

The following schedule details NBC Sports Chicago’s coverage of the 2018 IHSA Girls Basketball State Championships over the next two weekends (all times Central Time) (play-by-play/color analyst/sideline reporting teams are in parentheses):

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 23

11:00 AM –      Class 1A Semifinal #1: Okaw Valley (Bethany) vs. Stockton (Lee Hall/Chloe Barnes/Elise Menaker)

12:45 PM –      Class 1A Semifinal #2: Lebanon vs. Schlarman (Danville) (Lee Hall/Chloe Barnes/Elise Menaker)

5:30 PM –        Class 2A Semifinal #1: Harlan (Chicago) vs. Eureka (Dave Bernhard/Patricia Babcock-McGraw/Elise Menaker)

7:15 PM –        Class 2A Semifinal #2: Marshall (Chicago) vs. Teutopolis (Dave Bernhard/Patricia Babcock-McGraw/Elise Menaker)

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 24

11:00 AM –      Class 1A: CONSOLATION GAME (Teams TBD) (Lee Hall/Chloe Barnes/Elise Menaker)

12:45 PM –      Class 1A: CHAMPIONSHIP GAME (Teams TBD) (Lee Hall/Chloe Barnes/Elise Menaker)

5:30 PM –        Class 2A: CONSOLATION GAME (Teams TBD) (Dave Bernhard/Patricia Babcock-McGraw/Elise Menaker)

(NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit NBCSportsChicago.com’s CHANNEL FINDER   for the exact channel location in your area)

7:15 PM –        Class 2A: CHAMPIONSHIP GAME (Teams TBD) (Dave Bernhard/Patricia Babcock-McGraw/Elise Menaker)

(NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit NBCSportsChicago.com’s CHANNEL FINDER   for the exact channel location in your area)

FRIDAY, MARCH 2

11:00 AM –      Class 3A: Semifinal #1 (Teams TBD) (Dave Bernhard/Katy Winge/Camron Smith)

(NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit NBCSportsChicago.com’s CHANNEL FINDER   for the exact channel location in your area)

12:45 PM –      Class 3A: Semifinal #2 (Teams TBD) (Dave Bernhard/Katy Winge/Camron Smith)

(NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit NBCSportsChicago.com’s CHANNEL FINDER   for the exact channel location in your area)

5:30 PM –        Class 4A: Semifinal #1 (Teams TBD) (Nate Baliva/TBA/Katy Winge)

(NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit NBCSportsChicago.com’s CHANNEL FINDER   for the exact channel location in your area)

7:15 PM –        Class 4A: Semifinal #2 (Teams TBD) (Nate Baliva/TBA/Katy Winge)

(NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit NBCSportsChicago.com’s CHANNEL FINDER   for the exact channel location in your area)

SATURDAY, MARCH 3

11:00 AM –      Class 3A: CONSOLATION GAME (Teams TBD) (Mike Bradd/Katy Winge/Camron Smith)

12:45 PM –      Class 3A: CHAMPIONSHIP GAME (Teams TBD) (Mike Bradd/Katy Winge/Camron Smith)

(NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit NBCSportsChicago.com’s CHANNEL FINDER   for the exact channel location in your area)

5:30 PM –        Class 4A: CONSOLATION GAME (Teams TBD) (Nate Baliva/TBA/Katy Winge)

(NOTE: This game will air in its entirety on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit NBCSportsChicago.com’s CHANNEL FINDER  for the exact channel location in your area)…ALSO, this game will be joined in progress on the main NBC Sports Chicago channel location immediately following “Blackhawks Postgame Live”

7:15 PM –        Class 4A: CHAMPIONSHIP GAME (Teams TBD) (Nate Baliva/TBA/Katy Winge)

Public League champion Simeon remains clear No. 1 in latest Preps Power Rankings

Public League champion Simeon remains clear No. 1 in latest Preps Power Rankings

The Class 1A and 2A regionals begin this week and the regular season is finishing up for every other team in the state. We're getting that much closer to state titles being decided in Peoria. Simeon remains the clear No. 1 in the latest Power Rankings after beating No. 4 Whitney Young and No. 2 Orr by double digits on the way to earning a third straight Public League Playoff title, while a couple of familiar faces are back in the tail end of the rankings.

1. Simeon (25-3, 9-0) (1) -- Simeon stays at No. 1 after winning the Public League Playoffs for the third consecutive year. The Wolverines have now defeated teams No. 2 through No. 6 in the Preps Power Rankings for a 6-0 record on the season in which the average margin of victory has been 14.5 points per game. The clear No. 1 in the state of Illinois, Simeon has the week off before the Class 4A playoffs.

2. Orr (22-4, 9-0) (2) -- Orr put up a good fight but they ultimately fell short to No. 1 Simeon in the Public League Playoff title game. The Spartans did gain revenge on No. 3 Curie, however, with a big semifinal win on Friday. Orr has to forget the title loss ahead of the Class 2A Playoffs that begin this week as the Spartans try to repeat as champions.

3. Curie (23-4, 8-1) (3) -- The Condors have only lost to No. 1 and No. 2 when it comes to in-state losses as they remain one of the most complete and balanced teams in the state. Curie has the week off before the IHSA Playoffs.

4. Whitney Young (22-7, 7-2) (4) -- Whitney Young earned a huge quarterfinal win over Morgan Park before falling to Simeon in the Public League Playoff semifinals. The Dolphins also have the week off before they attempt to repeat as Class 4A champions. 

5. Morgan Park (18-9, 7-2) (5) Disappointing result for the Mustangs as they lost on a buzzer-beater in the Public League Playoffs to Whitney Young. Defending champions in Class 3A, the Mustangs will rest this week before the playoffs begin.

6. Fenwick (18-7, 8-0) (8) -- The Friars earned two wins during the week as they beat Marmion while also getting a huge conference road win at Loyola. Fenwick will battle Taft during the week.

7. New Trier (22-3, 8-1) (9) -- New Trier had one of the best weeks of any team in the area as they picked up wins over Maine South and Evanston. Now the leaders in the rugged CSL South, the Trevians have some more tough games against Niles North and Glenbrook North this week. 

8. Evanston (20-5, 8-2) (6) -- Evanston's red-hot recent play was finally slowed down as they fell to rival New Trier. The Wildkits will try to bounce back when they play Vernon Hills in a Central Suburban crossover this week.

9. Oak Park-River Forest (21-5, 12-0) (11) -- The Huskies finished the West Suburban Silver season unbeaten following wins over York and Proviso West. OPRF gets a great test right before the playoffs when they face Hinsdale South in the West Suburban championship game.

10. Benet (21-4) (6-1) (12) -- Two wins for the Redwings this week when they beat Joliet Catholic and Stevenson. Things aren't easy for Benet this week as they head to Marian Catholic before hosting Carmel in two tough ESCC games. 

11. West Aurora (19-4, 8-0) (13) -- The winning streak is now 11 for the Blackhawks after beating South Elgin. West Aurora will play Bartlett and crosstown rival East Aurora this week as they try to keep the momentum going into the playoffs. 

12. Marist (23-4, 6-2) (15) -- Marist picked up a double-digit win over St. Patrick during the week as they prepare for the Class 4A draw. The RedHawks will have an ESCC game against Marian Central this week. 

13. Niles North (22-4, 5-4) (8) -- The Vikings fell to CSL South rival Maine South and followed that up with an overtime win over a tough Wisconsin team in St. Catherine's. The Vikings get a crack at conference leader New Trier this week before playing Maine West in a tough Central Suburban crossover. 

14. Marian Catholic (20-4, 5-3) (16) -- Three wins for the Spartans during the week as they knocked off Nazareth, Rich Central and Marian Central. Marian Catholic gets a tough test this week when they host Benet in its final ESCC game.

15. Naperville North (23-2, 14-1) (17) -- The Huskies have won eight straight games as they clinched at least a share of the DuPage Valley Conference with a win over Waubonsie Valley this week. Naperville North hosts Wheaton-Warrenville South this week to decide the DVC title.

16. DePaul Prep (20-6, 5-3) (19) -- Picking up a convincing double-digit win over Mount Carmel, the Rams got back on track after the loss to Brother Rice. DePaul Prep will host Montini during the week as they prepare for Class 3A. 

17. Loyola (21-6, 5-3) (10) -- Tough recent stretch for the Ramblers as they fell to St. Joseph and Fenwick to fall out of the Catholic League Blue race. Loyola hosts Steinmetz for a tune-up this week. 

18. Hillcrest (21-5, 13-0) (21) -- Hillcrest survived a tight win over T.F. North before winning convincingly against Oak Forest. The Hawks have the week off as they prep for Class 3A. 

19. Leo (19-5, 8-0) (22) -- Finishing the regular season with a big win over Marmion, the Lions will be one of the area teams to watch in the Class 2A playoffs as they are in the Marshall Regional. 

20. Homewood-Flossmoor (16-6, 7-1) (23) -- Another huge win for Homewood-Flossmoor as the Vikings took down Bolingbrook to keep a lead in the SouthWest Suburban Blue. Homewood-Flossmoor goes on the road this week to battle Sandburg and Lockport. 

21. Hinsdale South (20-5, 10-2) (24) -- The Hornets stayed hot with wins over Addison Trail and Proviso East as they clinched the West Suburban Gold. Hinsdale South has a tough battle against Oak Park-River Forest in the West Suburban championship game this week. 

22. St. Viator (22-5, 8-0) (25) -- The Lions picked up some wins against Carmel and Bartlett. St. Viator will try to close out the ESCC with an undefeated record when they play Nazareth this week. 

23. Bolingbrook (17-6, 5-3) (18) -- Bolingbrook fell out of the SouthWest Suburban Blue conference race when they lost to Homewood-Flossmoor. The Raiders still have some tough games to close out the regular season when they play Lincoln-Way East and Stagg.

24. Maine South (20-7, 6-4) (NR) -- Huge win for Maine South as they knocked off Niles North after losing to New Trier in overtime earlier in the week. The Hawks close out the regular season with a Central Suburban Crossover against Highland Park.

25. Willowbrook (22-5, 9-3) (NR) -- Willowbrook is back in the rankings by earning three double-digit wins over Morton, Leyden and Downers South. The Warriors have only lost to ranked teams like West Aurora and Hinsdale South lately as they've been playing well.