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."


36 Days to Kickoff: Glenbard North

36 Days to Kickoff: Glenbard North 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: Glenbard North

Head coach: Ryan Wilkens

Assistant coaches: Rich Smelko, John Cassidy, Bruce Donash, John Pullia, Tom Gudella, Kudret Kamabari and Matt Ng

How they fared in 2017: 5-5 (4-4 DuPage Valley Conference). Glenbard North made the Class 7A state playoff field and lost to Batavia in opening round action.

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 @ Neuqua Valley

Aug. 31 vs Warren Township

Sept. 7 @ St. Charles East

Sept. 14 vs Batavia

Sept. 21 @ Wheaton North

Sept. 28 @ Lake Park

Oct. 5 vs St. Charles North

Oct. 12 vs Wheaton Warrenville South

Oct. 19 @ Geneva

[MORE: 50 Days to Kickoff - Neuqua Valley]

Biggest storyline: The Panthers have a new conference home. Can the Panthers reload and fare well in the DuKane Conference?

Names to watch this season: LB Michael Wellman and FB Jake Wilson

Biggest holes to fill: The Panthers will need several players to step up on offense with just one returning starter back from a season ago-- senior FB Jake Wilson.

EDGY's Early Take: Glenbard North says farewell to the DuPage Valley conference and says hello to all things DuKane. The Panthers will undoubtedly be a younger team in 2018. While some of the star power has graduated, head coach Ryan Wilkins will once again focus on establishing a strong, fast and physical running game. Getting off to a good start against a loaded schedule will be a big key for Glenbard North this season. 

Rolling Meadows' Max Christie on the verge of national breakout


Rolling Meadows' Max Christie on the verge of national breakout

EMERSON, Ga. -- Rolling Meadows rising sophomore guard Max Christie is having a strong spring and summer on the grassroots circuit as he's emerged as one of the area's newest breakout stars.
At 6-foot-5 with an ability to play both on and off the ball, Christie is a versatile perimeter player who can be either a big point guard or a smooth wing. Even though he's only finished one year of high school, Christie already has earned some major college scholarship offers as Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Loyola, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin have all been involved. Playing up an age group with the Illinois Wolves U16 team, Christie is starting to generate a lot of buzz among college coaches and national scouts.
"I think I've played well. I've been growing. I have a huge target on my back. So I'm just confident and humble and playing my game," Christie said. "College coaches are coming in everywhere, but I'm just playing my game and not worrying about them. I'm just having fun."
Christie is coming off of a positive freshman season at Rolling Meadows in which he had some big games as a freshman while playing on varsity. Although Christie is still very skinny and trying to add strength, he has started to adjust to opponents trying to play physical against him. As he starts to get older, Christie is adjusting to how certain opponents will handle him.
"On the court, it's physical. So I have to get used to that. I have encouraging teammates so that's good for me. But everybody is double-teaming me and face-guarding me, so I just have to use screens and everything," Christie said.
"I've been in the weight room working. The strength is there. I'm always using it against other teams. I just have to get used to it. I feel like [the physicality] is not as much of a factor as I get stronger."
Christie will be one of the marked men in the area this season as he'll draw a lot of attention at Rolling Meadows. He has the potential to be an all-area player. With multiple high-major scholarship offers and national recruiting profiles, Christie is just trying to maintain his focus on staying a versatile player. Playing both on and off the ball, Christie is trying to improve the consistency on his perimeter jumper while also trying to grow his basketball IQ.
"Both of them are fine. Off the ball, I like to set screens and get teammates open. I like to get open. On the ball, I like to create, passes, all that stuff," Christie said. "So I'm just trying to make plays, get my teammates open, set better screens."
"Leadership is something I need to work on, so it's something I need to accept for this season. So, since I've built this reputation, I'm trying to be more of a leader and encourage. Just being a better teammate."
Christie averaged 18 points, eight rebounds and 2.9 assists per game as a freshman at Rolling Meadows, as he has the ability to put up monster numbers as a sophomore. Underclass players don't typically compete for awards in the Chicagoland area, but Christie is a potentially special talent at the high school level as he attempts to ascend into a national-level recruit.