Preps Talk

HF football shows what 'Viking Tough' is all about

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HF football shows what 'Viking Tough' is all about

Craig Buzea stood in front of his team silently.

Just outside the gates of the Stevenson football stadium, the Homewood-Flossmoor Vikings gathered around their head coach for one final meeting. Just behind them, the Patriots' marching band performed the school's fight song. The Stevenson students, taking up two sections of the massive stands in their corresponding white outfits, roared as the fifth-ranked Patriots took the field minutes before kickoff. Late-arriving fans from the HF side bellowed out to the team words of encouragement as they filed into the packed house.

Noise surrounded the Vikings, a raucous atmosphere not too dissimilar from the ambience they experienced 10 months earlier in the 8A state title game against that same Stevenson team.

But where they had gathered, under a few trees on a small hill just outside the school's north entrance, the Vikings were eerily quiet. Confidently quiet.

Many of the players knelt. Others stood. Some, like defensive end Tyler Newkirk and linebacker Percy Walters, anxiously paced as they awaited their head coach's final message.

With a gleam of brightness from the stadium's lights on his face, Buzea stared at his players. Then he spoke.

"We talked about our number one goal here today," he said. "'Viking Tough.' Everybody thinks we're finesse. Everybody thinks we're just fast. They have no idea how we hit. They have no idea how we get after people. And I told you yesterday, guys: 'Viking Tough.' You can't really define it, but you hear it and you see it. And when we walk out there today everybody's going to understand what Viking Tough is!"

Perhaps the Vikings have been mislabeled. Or at least not labeled thoroughly enough. Their speed, agility and quick-strike capability had been on full display in the season's first week in a 56-15 trashing of Downers Grove South. It had been apparent the previous year when this year's seniors gashed opposing defenses on a weekly basis, littering Hudl highlight reels with dazzling touchdowns from anywhere and everywhere on the field.

But squaring off against a Stevenson team ranked fifth in the state, Buzea understood flair alone wouldn't carry them to a second straight road victory. They needed to show muscle. They needed to show toughness. Viking toughness.

And in their 43-29 victory over the Patriots, a statement-making win whether they'd like to acknowledge it or not, the Vikings proved they can punch as well as they can dodge.

The embodiment of Viking Tough showed itself late in the fourth quarter, with the Vikings leading 36-29 with 3:20 remaining. Josh Hjorth's defense had all three of its timeouts and knew the Vikings, starting at their own 41, would pound the run game.

Devonte Harley-Hampton, who had scored twice, began the drive with a five-yard run. Deante Harley-Hampton, owner of three rushing touchdowns on the night, then rushed for four more yards. Devonte then picked up a first down on third-and-1 and rushed for five more yards on the next play. On a second-and-6, pocket passer Bryce Gray faked a handoff to Deante and lowered his shoulder for a 7-yard run and another first down. That set up Deante, running behind a bruising offensive line, to break free on the next play for a 29-yard score to put the game out of reach with 1:15 remaining.

"Our plan this game was really to break them down from the inside-out, and in the past it's always been to get to our speed real quick," Buzea admitted after the game. "I thought our offensive line really showed that on the last drive when (Stevenson) knew (we) were going to run the ball, and still be able to get a first down, I think that really was the definition of 'Viking Tough' right here."

Homewood-Flossmoor also revealed that "Viking Tough" was more than just a physical trait.

After racing out to a 22-7 lead, the Vikings surrendered 15 straight points to Jack Sorenson and the Patriots' offense that tied the game late in the first half. Gray and the offense responded with a 10-play, 80-yard drive capped off by a Deante Harley-Hampton touchdown run. Wisconsin commit Kendric Pryor then intercepted Sorenson in the end zone on the half's final play, ending a scoring threat and maintaining the lead.

In the second half coordinator Zac Wells' defense came out with a new attitude. The Vikings defense allowed 177 yards and seven points in the second half, turning over the Patriots on downs three times on five possessions after halftime. The most crucial stop came with 6:23 to play and the Patriots on their own 41 trailing by a score. Stevenson managed the ball to the HF 41 before crucial pass break-ups on third down (by Jeremy Correll) and fourth down (Pryor) ended the drive and set up the offense's clinching drive.

"Hit them in the mouth, that's all we had to do," said linebacker Simeon Nwokenkwo, who had nine tackles and half a sack in the win. "We hit them in the mouth in the second half and it was over from there. We reflected on what happened last year and we pushed ourselves to keep going."

91 Days to Kickoff: Joliet Catholic

91 Days to Kickoff: Joliet Catholic

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting July 30, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: Joliet Catholic Academy

Head coach: Jake Jaworski

Assistant coaches: Dave Douglas, Cory McLaughlin, Chris Kinsella, Mark Mettille, Jake Ziesmer, Zach Dolph, Josh Greenback and Craig Slowik

How they fared in 2017: 3-6 (2-5 East Suburban Catholic Conference). JCA failed to make the 2017 IHSA state playoff field.

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 vs. St. Rita

Aug. 31 @ IC Catholic Prep

Sept. 7 @ St. Viator

Sept. 14 vs. Carmel

Sept. 21 @ Marist

Sept. 28 vs. Benet Academy

Oct. 5 vs. Marian Catholic

Oct. 12 @ Nazareth Academy

Oct. 19 @ Notre Dame

Biggest storyline: Can Joliet Catholic snap a two-year hiatus from the state football playoffs?

Names to watch this season: OT Dave Monnot and RB Kenyetta Williams

Biggest holes to fill: The Hilltoppers will need to reload at the quarterback and wide receiver positions. 

EDGY's Early Take: It's been a rough few seasons at one of the state's best football programs. That said, 2018 has the potential to be the turnaround year the Hilltoppers have been looking for. Second-year head coach Jake Jaworski will feature four big and experienced offensive linemen, led by senior OT Dave Monnot (6-foot-6, 287 pounds). They also have a name to watch in junior-to-be RB Kenyetta Williams. If Joliet Catholic can survive another challenging early season non-conference schedule, they will compete in the always-tough ESCC.

New Trier's Duke Olges gives Northwestern verbal commitment

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247 Sports

New Trier's Duke Olges gives Northwestern verbal commitment

New Trier junior three-star ranked athlete Duke Olges (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) gave Northwestern his verbal commitment last Sunday yet waited until Friday morning to make his decision public via his Twitter page.

Olges, who was recruited by the Wildcats as a defensive tackle, felt pressure to make a decision since the Wildcats already had one defensive tackle verbal commitment in Clear Springs Texas Jason Gold while another defensive tackle with an offer was making an on campus visit later that day.

“I didn’t know if it was the right decision, to be honest. It was impulse more than anything,” Olges told WildcatsReport.com's publisher Louis Vaccher. “But what comforted me is after having a couple days to think about it, I felt a sigh of relief. It would have hurt me too much to let that scholarship go. As much as I wanted to go and visit other schools, losing that scholarship would have hurt more than anything else.”

Olges is now the 10th known verbal commitment in the Wildcats Class of 2019  and the second in state pledge along with Bolingbrook junior DB Cameron Mitchell. 

Olges, who was holding 26 scholarship offers this spring, was planning to make summer visits to Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Virginia and Duke before giving the Wildcats his verbal commitment.