Preps Talk

Homewood-Flossmoor living in the moment as season kicks off


Homewood-Flossmoor living in the moment as season kicks off

These Homewood-Flossmoor Vikings know this could all be over in a split second.

They've seen it firsthand.

A year and eight days ago then-senior linebacker Preston Sanders, the expected leader of a young but talented Vikings defense, was running through a standard tackling drill on the eve of the team's Red and White intra-squad scrimmage when he suffered a gruesome leg injury with the entire team watching. The horrific scene - a broken fibula and dislocated ankle - ended Sanders' season in an instant and became a stark reminder of the fragility the current seniors find themselves in as their final season commences.

"Last year when Preston broke his leg, I haven't seen guys in the NFL that passionate about football. That's how Preston was," said senior linebacker Percy Walters, who replaced Sanders in 2014. "You can't take anything for granted. One play and it's done, your season (could be) over."

[#DriveVikings: H-F football ready to complete the task]

It's part of the reason head coach Craig Buzea created the "B.E.S.T." slogan for this year's championship-caliber squad. While fluke injuries have been the cause of abrupt career-enders, so too could a lack of focus against one of the many programs that will be gunning for Illinois' top-ranked football team. With six road games on the schedule, and five contests against teams that qualified for the postseason a year ago, the Vikings being at their best some of the time won't be good enough. Bring it "Every Single Time" or another team will.

"It means I can't waste no time," said senior offensive lineman Desmond Bland. "It still hasn't hit me yet that this is going to be over soon. But I'm going to make the most of while we still can."

Like the end of the road being in sight hit the seniors when they formed even more chemistry at their annual retreat, it's also becoming apparent to this veteran-laced group that the time to win is now.

Walters admitted that last season the Vikings began as individuals, attempting to gain the state's respect through personal accolades instead of a cohesive bond they'd soon find out was required to succeed. The results were telling, as they began the year 3-2, dropping their only two real tests in the first half of the season to Stevenson and Lincoln-Way East.

"We were playing so selfish," said Walters. "Everybody was yelling at each other, nobody was coming together."

Added running back Deante Harley-Hampton: "We were kind of big-headed, thinking nobody could stop us."

Buzea quickly put a stop to that destructive style of play, implementing team bonding drills after Week 5 in which players were paired up to learn more about their teammates they hadn't known off the field as well.

The transformation was evident, as the Vikings reeled off eight straight victories on their way to a berth in the 8A state championship game. And it's that vital piece of knowledge and experience, that understanding of how delicate their situation is, that Walters hopes will have his group hitting the ground running.

"My goal is to get that back," Walters said. "But this time I want to get it back for Week 1 so we're not waiting."

[DRIVE: Homewood-Flossmoor balancing, thriving on expectations]

If they're able to accomplish their team goals, that experience will play a large part. Tasting success in the build-up to the state final game was the finishing touch on a roller coaster season, but the end results were only possible because of the commitment they made to each other early in the year.

"We grinded every day," said linebacker Simeon Nwokenkwo. "We've got to do what we did last year to get to where we want to be (this year)."

Added defensive coordinator Zac Wells: "The mentality of 'remember what it took to get to where we were last year' has really been a mantra and a vehicle we've used to make sure the kids stay in the correct mindset, and I think our guys have done a really nice job with that."

They'll soon enough find out which track they're on and whether they need to change course as the regular season heats up. The Vikings are gunning for their first conference championship in the Southwest Suburban Blue, and with a Week 2 tilt against reigning 8A champion Stevenson and a Week 9 contest against Bolingbrook that could very well decide the league, there will be little time off for the Vikings to rest.

But the daily grind is something this senior-laden team embraces. Knowing all too well how quickly things can change or abruptly end, past memories and current situation alike are fueling them to get back to the promised land and finish their goal of hoisting a state championship in DeKalb three months from now.

"Walking out on the field, state championship with the lights on, looking up in the stands seeing the student section and the community supporting us, it was just unreal," Walters said of last year's title game. "That right there is what motivates us more to get back there and relive that moment."


Playoff drama highlights a busy week on High School Lites

Playoff drama highlights a busy week on High School Lites

High School Lites had a busy show as it was the final week of the regular season for IHSA boys basketball Class 3A and 4A. The Class 1A and 2A playoffs also tipped in boys basketball as the show has some thrilling regional titles that were decided in the final minute. And finally, the girls basketball Class 1A and 2A state semifinals were played on Friday as the state's top teams played in Bloomington.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for the latest news and scores for IHSA basketball.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Richards wrestler Mia Palumbo

Saint Xavier Team of the Week: Simeon boys basketball


Marshall shocks Leo in Class 2A regional final

Aurora Christian runs past Harvert Christian for 1A regional title

Buzzer-beater lifts Monticello over Gibson City for regional title

Jacobs goes unbeaten in Fox Valley with win over Dundee-Crown

West Aurora gets by rival East Aurora

Yorkville completes season sweep of DeKalb

Lemont escapes past T.F. North

Marshall needs OT to get past Teutopolis in girls 2A semifinals

Harlan takes down Eureka in 2A semifinals

Stockton runs by Okaw Valley in 1A

Schlarman races by Lebanon

Boys Basketball Playoffs begin on busy week of High School Lites

Boys Basketball Playoffs begin on busy week of High School Lites

High School Lites is down to the final week of the regular season in local high school hoops as the Class 3A and 4A schools finish up conference play. The boys basketball playoffs have also started as the Class 1A and Class 2A regional championships will be played on Friday night.

The girls basketball Class 1A and 2A state semifinals will also be featured. You can catch all of those games on NBC Sports Chicago on Friday beginning at 11 a.m. with the 1A semifinals. High School Lites will air Friday night at 11 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago

East Aurora at No. 11 West Aurora, 7:00 p.m. -- These two rivals meet for the 225th time. The Blackhawks (20-4, 9-0) won the first matchup by 22 points as they try to finish the season on a 12-game winning streak. 

Jacobs at Dundee-Crown, 7:00 p.m. -- Fox Valley rivals match up as Jacobs tries to go unbeaten in the conference. The Eagles (23-3, 15-0) has been playing very well as they've won 20 of 21 games heading into this one -- including an earlier win against Dundee-Crown. The Chargers (14-11, 10-4) has won seven consecutive games since dropping to the Golden Eagles as they're second in the Fox Valley heading into this one. 

Yorkville at DeKalb, 7:00 p.m. -- The top two teams in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East play in this one. DeKalb (16-11, 11-1) has already clinched a share of the conference title as the team's only league loss has come against Yorkville. The Foxes (17-8, 10-2) knocked off DeKalb at their place on Feb. 3 as they try to win again to get a piece of the division title. 

T.F. North at Lemont, 7:00 p.m. -- Two of the better teams in the South Suburban Blue battle on the eve of the playoffs. Lemont (17-8, 9-3) has picked up three straight wins entering this one. T.F. North (11-9, 9-3) is trying to build some momentum after recent close losses to Hillcrest and T.F. South.

Carmel at No. 10 Benet, 7:30 p.m. -- The ESCC closes out its season with this one. Benet (22-4, 7-1) is coming off a nice road win at Marian Catholic earlier this week. Carmel (17-10, 4-4) knocked off Joliet Catholic during the week as they've been a dangerous team in the ESCC. 

Class 2A Boys Basketball Regional Championships

Leo vs. Marshall, 6 p.m. -- The Lions are the favorites but the Commandos are the host of this regional title game. Leo (20-5, 8-0) has a 13-game winning streak as they won the Catholic League White. Marshall (8-17, 4-5) struggled in the win column but they were a competitive 4-5 in a very deep Public League Red-South. 

Uplift vs. Northridge, 7 p.m. -- This should be an interesting battle as Uplift is playing on the road at Northridge. Uplift (17-9, 6-3) has played an extremely competitive schedule that includes a recent close loss to No. 1 Simeon as Kansas commit Markese Jacobs and senior forward Toraze Dobbs are one of the best combinations in the Class 2A field. Northridge (22-5, 12-0) went unbeaten in the Independent School League this season as they're riding a 13-game winning streak.

Class 1A Boys Basketball Regional Championships 

Aurora Christian vs. Harvest Christian, 7 p.m. -- These two teams play for the third time this season in what should be an interesting regional title game. Aurora Christian (23-1, 10-0) is the host as they only lost to Winnebago this season. The Eagles beat Harvest Christian twice in a six-day span in December. Harvest Christian (18-8, 8-2) finished third in the Northeastern Athletic as they played the second game within two points. 

Class 1A Girls Basketball State Semifinals

Okaw Valley vs. Stockton, 11 a.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Okaw Valley (29-5) is making its first state appearance after winning its first regional title in school history. Stockton (31-2) finished under .500 last season (13-15) and had an amazing turnaround that includes a current 15-game winning streak. 

Lebanon vs. Schlarman, 12:45 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- These two teams have combined for two losses this season as this should be a good one. Lebanon (31-1) just won its first sectional title in school history as they've now moved on to state. Schlarman (31-1) is led by junior Anaya Peoples, a Notre Dame commit and five-star prospect in the Class of 2019. 

Class 2A Girls Basketball State Semifinals

Harlan vs. Eureka, 5:30 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Two red-hot teams play in the first semifinal in Class 2A. Harlan (25-6) is riding a 12-game winning streak as this is its first appearance at state for girls basketball. Eureka (28-3) has a 19-game winning streak as they make their first state appearance since 1988.

Marshall vs. Teutopolis, 7:15 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Two storied programs in the state match up in this one. Marshall (20-7) will be making its 21st state appearance as head coach Dorothy Gaters is one of the most storied coaches in Illinois. Teutopolis is making its 17th appearance at state as the Lady Shoes (28-6) seek their first title since 1995.