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."

2018 IHSA Football Playoff Pairings

2018 IHSA Football Playoff Pairings

The 2018 IHSA Football Playoff pairings have been unveiled as teams from all over the state begin their postseason journey. 

Be sure to check our Twitter, @NBCSPreps, or the IHSA's Twitter, @IHSAState, for the latest IHSA Football updates. 

EDGY TIM PICKS CLASS 5A AND 6A

EDGY TIM PICKS CLASS 7A AND 8A

PANEL PREDICTS THE STATE FINALS FOR ALL EIGHT CLASSES

CLASS 8A

CLASS 8A EXPERT ANALYSIS

1. Brother Rice (9-0) vs. 32. Zion-Benton (5-4)
16. Oak Park-River Forest (7-2) vs. 17. New Trier (7-2)
8. Warren (8-1) vs. 25. Neuqua Valley (6-3)
9. Hinsdale Central (7-2) vs. 24. Conant (6-3)
4. Homewood-Flossmoor (8-1) vs. 29. Fremd (5-4)
13. Oswego East (7-2) vs. 20. Barrington (6-3)
5. Marist (8-1) vs. 28. Stevenson (6-3)
12. Plainfield South (7-2) vs. 21. Naperville Central (6-3)
2. Lincoln-Way East (9-0) vs. 31. St. Charles East (5-4)
15. Bartlett (7-2) vs. 18. Glenbard West (7-2)
7. West Aurora (8-1) vs. 26. South Elgin (6-3)
10. Evanston (7-2) vs. 23. Edwardsville (6-3)
3. Oswego (9-0) vs. 30. Taft (5-4)
14. Minooka (7-2) vs. 19. Loyola (6-3)
6. Maine South (8-1) vs. 27. Huntley (6-3)
11. Bolingbrook (7-2) vs. 22. Waubonsie Valley (6-3)

CLASS 7A

CLASS 7A EXPERT ANALYSIS

1. Simeon (9-0) vs. 32. Rockford East (5-4)
16. Harlem (7-2) vs. 17. Lincoln-Way West (7-2)
8. Nazareth (8-1) vs. 25. Andrew (6-3)
9. Hersey (8-1) vs. 24. Lincoln-Way Central (6-3)
4. Batavia (9-0) vs. 29. Granite City (5-4)
13. Moline (8-1) vs. 20. Glenbrook North (7-2)
5. Willowbrook (9-0) vs. 28. Lincoln Park (5-4)
12. Maine West (8-1) vs. 21. Benet Academy (6-3)
2. Glenbard East (9-0) vs. 31. Prospect (5-4)
15. East St. Louis (7-2) vs. 18. Hoffman Estates (7-2)
7. Mount Carmel (8-1) vs. 26. T.F. South (6-3)
10. DeKalb (8-1) vs. 23. Lake Zurich (6-3)
3. Hononegah (9-0) vs. 30. Buffalo Grove (5-4) 
14. Wheaton Warrenville South (8-1) vs. 19. Belleville West (7-2)
6. Rolling Meadows (9-0) vs. 27. Alton (5-4)
11. Normal Community (8-1) vs. 27. St. Charles North (6-3) 

CLASS 6A

CLASS 6A EXPERT ANALYSIS

1. Cary-Grove (9-0) vs. 16. Wauconda (5-4)
8. Kaneland (6-3) vs. 9. Von Steuben (6-3)
4. Phillips (7-2) vs. 13. Lake Forest (5-4)
5. Prairie Ridge (7-2) vs. 12. Hinsdale South (6-3)
2. Antioch (9-0) vs. 15. Reavis (5-4)
7. Lakes (7-2) vs. 10 Belvidere North (6-3)
3. Kenwood (8-1) vs. 14. Crystal Lake South (5-4)
6. Niles Notre Dame (7-2) vs. 11. St. Ignatius (6-3)
1. Richards (9-0) vs. 16. Rock Island (5-4)
8. Yorkville (7-2) vs. 9. Dunlap (7-2)
4. Normal West (8-1) vs. 13. Peoria Notre Dame (6-3)
5. Shepard (7-2) vs. 12. Springfield (6-3)
2. Washington (9-0) vs. 15. Providence Catholic (5-4)
7. Sacred Heart-Griffin (7-2) vs. 10. Quincy (7-2)
3. Glenwood (8-1) vs. 14. Lemont (5-4)
6. Bloomington (7-2) vs. 11. Crete-Monee (6-3)

CLASS 5A

CLASS 5A EXPERT ANALYSIS

1. Payton (9-0) vs. 16. Evergreen Park (5-4)
8. Elmwood Park (7-2) vs. 9. Back of the Yards (6-3)
4. Montini (8-1) vs. 13. Woodstock North (5-4)
5. Sycamore (7-2) vs. 12. Rochelle (5-4)
2. Sterling (8-1) vs. 15. Phoenix Coop (5-4)
7. Hyde Park (7-2) vs. 10. Brooks (6-3)
3. Boylan Catholic (8-1) vs. 14. Glenbard South (5-4)
6. St. Francis (7-2) vs. 11. Amundsen (5-4)
1. Hillcrest (9-0) vs. 16. Jerseyville (5-4)
8. MacArthur (6-3) vs. 9. Morton (6-3)
4. Cahokia (8-1) vs. 13. Mt. Zion (6-3)
5. Carbondale (7-2) vs. 12. Champaign Central (6-3)
2. Highland (9-0) vs. 15. Rich Central (5-4)
7. Mattoon (6-3) vs. 10. Mascoutah (6-3)
3. Metamora (8-1) vs. 14. Joliet Catholic (5-4)
6. Marion (6-3) vs. 11. Rich East (6-3)

CLASS 4A

CLASS 4A EXPERT ANALYSIS

1. IC Catholic (9-0) vs. 16. Raby (5-4)
8. Dixon (6-3) vs. 9. Stillman Valley (6-3)
4. Urban Prep Bronzeville (8-1) vs. 13. St. Edward (5-4)
5. Marengo (7-2) vs. 12. Sullivan (6-3)
2. Coal City (8-1) vs. 15. Wheaton Academy (5-4)
7. Ag. Science (7-2) vs. 10. Johnsburg (6-3)
3. Richmond-Burton (8-1) vs. 14. Plano (5-4)
6. Genoa-Kingston (7-2) vs. 11. Clemente (6-3)
1. Taylorville (9-0) vs. 16. Illinois Valley Central (5-4)
8. Columbia (7-2) vs. 9. Freeburg (7-2)
4. Rochester (8-1) vs. 13. Breese Central (6-3)
5. Pontiac (8-1) vs. 12. Herrin (7-2)
2. Paris (9-0) vs. 15. Salem (6-3)
7. Breese Mater Dei (7-2) vs. 10. Effingham (7-2)
3. Bishop McNamara (8-1) vs. 14. Richland County (6-3)
6. Murphysboro Coop (7-2) vs. 11. Prairie Central (7-2)

CLASS 3A

CLASS 3A EXPERT ANALYSIS

1. Byron (9-0) vs. 16. Rock Island Alleman (5-4)
8. Elmwood-Brimfield Coop (6-3) vs. 9. Princeton (6-3)
4. Lisle (8-1) vs. 13. Dwight Coop (6-3)
5. North Boone (7-2) vs. 12. Mid-County Coop (6-3)
2. Dunbar (8-1) vs. 15. Herscher (5-4)
7. Clark (6-3) vs. 10. Hall Twp. (6-3)
3. Eureka (8-1) vs. 14. UP/Englewood (5-4)
6. Monmouth-Rosevl. (7-2) vs. 11. Wilmington (6-3)
1. Monticello (9-0) vs. 16. St. Joseph-Ogden (5-4) 
8. Anna-Jonesboro (7-2) vs. 9. West Frankfort (7-2)
4. Farmington (9-0) vs. 13. Greenville (6-3)
5. Beardstown (8-1) vs. 12. Pleasant Plains (6-3)
2. Carlinville (9-0) vs. 15. East Alton-Wood River (6-3)
7. Vandalia (7-2) vs. 10. Paxton-Buckley-Loda (6-3)
3. Fairfield (9-0) vs. 14. Newton (6-3)
6. Williamsville (8-1) vs. 11. DuQuoin (6-3)

CLASS 2A

CLASS 2A EXPERT ANALYSIS

1. Gibson City-MS (9-0) vs. 16. Watseka (5-4)
8. Hope Academy (7-2) vs. 9. Knoxville (6-3)
4. Illini West (9-0) vs. 13. Mercer County (5-4)
5. Newman C.C. (8-1) vs. 12. Rockford Christian (6-3)
2. Orion (9-0) vs. 15. Fieldcrest (5-4)
7. Clifton Central (7-2) vs. 10. Rockridge (6-3)
3. Eastland-Pearl City Coop (9-0) vs. 14. Harlan (5-4)
6. Collins Coop (8-1) vs. 11. Chicago Christian (6-3)
1. St. Teresa (9-0) vs. 16. Staunton (5-4)
8. Eldorado (7-2) vs. 9. Athens (7-2)
4. Pana (8-1) vs. 13. Oakwood (5-4)
5. Nashville (8-1) vs. 12. Tri-Valley (5-4)
2. Maroa-Forsyth (9-0) vs. 15. Routt Coop (5-4)
7. Warrensburg-Latham (7-2) vs. 10. Chester (6-3)
3. Tuscola (8-1) vs. 14. Villa Grove-Heritage Coop (5-4)
6. Bismarck-Henning (8-1) vs. 11. West Hancock Coop (6-3)

CLASS 1A

CLASS 1A EXPERT ANALYSIS

1. Princeville (9-0) vs. 16. Polo (5-4)
8. Annawan-Wethersfield Coop (6-3) vs. 9. Aurora Christian (6-3)
4. Lena-Winslow (8-1) vs. 13. Lewistown (5-4)
5. Orr (8-1) vs. 12. LeRoy (5-4)
2. Ottawa Marquette (9-0) vs. 15. Orangeville (5-4)
7. Stockton (7-2) vs. 10. Dakota (6-3)
3. Milledgeville (9-0) vs. 14. Fulton (5-4)
6. Forreston (7-2) vs. 11. Hiawatha (6-3)
1. Argenta-Oreana (9-0) vs. 16. Cerro Gordo-Bement Coop (5-4)
8. Fisher (7-2) vs. 9. Cumberland (7-2)
4. Red Hill (8-1) vs. 13. Central A&M (6-3)
5. Madison (8-1) vs. 12. Edwards County (6-3)
2. Camp Pt. Central (8-1) vs. 15. Greenfield-NW Coop (6-3)
7. Sesser-Valier Coop (7-2) vs. 10. Carrollton (6-3)
3. Triopia Coop (8-1) vs. 14. Georgetown-RF (6-3)
6. Arcola (7-2) vs. 11. Salt Fork (6-3)

 

High School Lites Football Roundup Week 9

High School Lites Football Roundup Week 9

High School Lites is back with an exciting Week 9 full of thrilling matchups. NBC Sports Chicago has the highlights of some of the top matchups from Friday's games.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPREPS for all of the latest IHSA football scores and highlights.


DRIVE: Batavia (episode 9)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Oak Forest football

VIEWERS' CHOICE GAMES OF THE WEEK: Fremd runs past Schaumburg

WINTRUST ATHLETE OF THE WEEK: Notre Dame running back Ty Gavin

FRIDAY'S TOP 25 SCORES

(1) Lincoln-Way East 31, (16) Bolingbrook 0

(2) Batavia 24, Wheaton North 13

(3) Brother Rice 31, (17) Montini 0

(4) Marist 24, Benet 7

(6) Homewood-Flossmoor 56, Sandburg 0

(7) Cary-Grove 55, (15) Naperville Central 41

(9) Nazareth Academy 42, Marian Catholic 6

(10) Maine South 48, Niles West 6

(11) Oswego 22, Plainfield South 15

(12) Richards 41, Eisenhower 6

(13) Phillips 41, Raby 0

(14) Willowbrook 42, Downers South 20

(18) Oak Park-River Forest 48, Lyons 0

(19) Warren 43, Mundelein 7

(20) Glenbard West 35, Proviso West 6

(21) Hillcrest 43, Bremen 6

Joliet Catholic 33, (22) Notre Dame 17

(23) Hinsdale Central 21, Hinsdale South 12

(24) Rolling Meadows 34, Buffalo Grove 7

Wheaton Warrenville South 13, (25) St. Charles North 11

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

Payton 43, Kenwood 42

Coal City 43, Lisle 14

Huntley 55, Dundee-Crown 12

Perspectives 32, Solorio 16

SATURDAY'S TOP 25 GAMES

Fenwick vs. (5) Mount Carmel 

(8) Simeon vs. Curie