Preps Talk

Homewood-Flossmoor living in the moment as season kicks off

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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."

 

Hersey ATH Jordan Hansen pledges to NIU

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Hersey ATH Jordan Hansen pledges to NIU

Hersey senior QB/S Jordan Hansen (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) has decided to give NIU his verbal commitment. 

"I'm really excited about it (commitment to NIU)," Hansen said. "NIU started really recruiting me harder around the beginning of the season. The NIU coaches saw me earlier in the summer at one of the North Central College one day camps and we've been in regular contact ever since then."

Hansen, who was drawing fall recruiting attention from Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota State, Eastern Illinois, and Illinois State felt that NIU was the best overall fit for him.

"NIU has a lot to offer. They recruited me as a safety and I'm more of an athlete recruit for them. I really like all of the coaches at NIU. They are just great guys and they have a plan in place to keep the football program on top. NIU also has nice facilities and really everything at NIU is impressive. NIU is also close to home which is a plus. Distance from home was not a huge factor for me but it definitely works out great for my family."

Hansen is also happy and relieved to have made his college choice.

"It's a big relief for sure. I can just stay focused on my team and on my season without having to worry about recruiting."

Jordan Hansen is the 17th known verbal commitment to the NIU Huskies Class of 2020 and the 3rd known in-state pledge. Hansen joins Oswego OL Jack Hugunin and West Aurora DE Matt Johnson in the NIU 2020 in-state class.

VOTE: Wintrust Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

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NBC Sports Chicago

VOTE: Wintrust Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

Who wants it more?

NBC Sports Chicago and Wintrust present our “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week.” We are putting High School Lites, Chicagoland’s top prep sports show, in the hands of passionate high school sports followers. Fans will get the chance to pick one game that the @NBCSPreps crew will cover on Thursday night. We will send our cameras to the game that gets the most votes; highlights and postgame reaction of that game will appear on Friday night’s “High School Lites” broadcast at 11:00 p.m. The show also live streams at www.nbcsportschicago.com/watchlive and appears in the MyTeams app.  High School Lites will also have broadcast replays at 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. the following Saturday on NBC Sports Chicago. 

This week, for the first time ever, our Wintrust “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week” will be a boys soccer match—and we have some pretty nice local rivalries on deck. Which game is the most worthy of coverage?

Plainfield Central at Plainfield North, 4:30 p.m.

Fenwick at Oak Park-River Forest, 5:30 p.m.

Mundelein at Carmel, 6:30 p.m.

To participate, our fans are encouraged to do the following:

**Follow our NBC Sports Chicago preps Twitter page: @NBCSPreps.

**Note the pinned tweet that is atop the feed.

**Vote for the game you want NBC Sports Chicago to cover Thursday night.

**Spread the word!

The poll will start promptly at 12:00 p.m. Monday. We will make an announcement with the official results on @NBCSPreps just after 3 p.m. Thursday. And as a reminder, be sure to follow @NBCSPreps for updates on the “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week,” along with other high school sports news, scores and highlights, all season long.