Preps Talk

Momentum building as Phillips prepares to make history

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Momentum building as Phillips prepares to make history

Last year, they were a Cinderella story. This year, the slipper still fits—although you may not want to call this a Cinderella story much longer.

Phillips head coach Troy McAllister will lead the Wildcats back to a state championship game this Friday night for the second straight year.

The obvious question: how does this year feel different for McAllister?

"I'm a worrier, especially right before a game," McAllister said. "But with this group I'm just much less worried. Last year I needed to go in with the rah-rah type of speeches. This year, this group is just much more relaxed compared to last year….they come in ready to play. This team just knows what to expect each week and each level of the state playoffs."

The 2015 Wildcats’ approach and focus undoubtedly started at the end of last season, one that saw them on the short end of a 49-28 decision in the 4A title game at Champaign Memorial’s Stadium. They did, though, join the 1982 Robeson Raiders as the only teams from the Chicago Public League to advance to an IHSA football state championship game. The Chicago Public League, for all of its successes in other sports –especially basketball-- have yet to bring home an IHSA state football title.

Phillips has transformed itself over five years from being one of the worst performing schools in the CPL to one of the best. Now, it’s all about finishing. McAllister will never forget what transpired last November after the loss to Rochester. It was an exceptionally long bus ride back to Chicago.

"It was just a miserable feeling," McAllister recalled. "The bus ride was quiet at first until the kids started to get hungry and then they came around. I just remember back and walking off the field and thinking to myself that we just weren't ready. We will be ready this time around."

[CLASS 4A PREVIEW: Phillips vs. Belleville Althoff]

Having his team ready and prepared hasn't been an issue too often for McAllister and his staff. But one of the big turning points for McAllister and Phillips goes back to the 2013 season after a humbling 41-8 loss to Geneseo in the 4A quarterfinals.

"That year we had a false sense of who we were and how good we were. We came off a big win against Evergreen Park and we went into Geneseo all confident and they just whacked us. I walked off the field knowing we didn't prepare the team as well as we should of prepared them. I wasn't going to let that happen ever again."

The following winter, McAllister, along with Athletic Director John Byrne, loaded up the Wildcats’ non-conference schedule with Wing T and power option running teams-- which is generally the offense of choice among Geneseo and several traditional 4A powers. The Wildcats over the past two seasons have played the likes of power running teams in Stillman Valley, Carmel, Naperville North and several others to great success, including a 24-7 win over Geneseo in the quarterfinal round.

So has the city of Chicago gotten on board with the Wildcats again this postseason?

"It's definitely building up," according to McAllister. “Monday was a prime example of how people from all over the city are coming around to us. Everyone who was driving by the practice was honking their horns and cheering for us as they passed by the field. Earlier in the day, I got a call from Jesse Chick at Simeon who wanted to let us know that the Simeon family and everyone in the CPL was behind us and in our corner. That call was really important. I also got a call from guy who lives on the Northwest Side. He's just some regular guy who has been following us all season and just wanted to wish us luck and how excited he is for the state championship game. I also got a call from the Mayor (Rahm Emanuel) wishing us luck."

"In just one day you have it all covered, from the neighborhood to the rest of the Public League, to the North Side and the Mayor. It's a pretty good feeling."

Phillips takes on Belleville Althoff at 7 p.m. Friday. The game can be seen live on CSN+, csnchicago.com/ihsa and via the NBC Live Extra App.

68 Days to Kickoff: Oswego East

68 Days to Kickoff: Oswego East

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: Oswego East

Head coach: Tyson LeBlanc

Assistant coaches: Dan Dunbar, Andy Brogan, Jeremy Main, Erik Aister, Dru Filkins, Connor Downs, Zac Sadek, Reggie Cribbs and Mike Harden

How they fared in 2017: 7-3 (7-2 Southwest Prairie Conference). Oswego East made the Class 8A state football playoff field. The Wolves lost to St. Charles East in opening round action.

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 vs Plainfield East

Aug. 31 @ Joliet West

Sept. 7 vs Romeoville

Sept. 14 vs Joliet Central

Sept. 21 @ Plainfield South

Sept. 28 @ Plainfield North

Oct. 5 vs Oswego

Oct. 12 vs Plainfield Central

Oct. 19 vs Minooka

[MORE: 73 Days to Kickoff - Joliet Central]

Biggest storyline: Can the Wolves get out of the rugged Southwest Prairie conference and make a run in the IHSA state playoffs?

Names to watch this season: ATH Justin Clark and WR Kieon Battle

Biggest holes to fill: The Wolves will need to replace their entire starting defensive line from a season ago.

EDGY's Early Take: Oswego East head coach Tyson LeBlanc is shooting to make the IHSA playoff field and the fourth straight year in 2018. He has a 36-24 record since coming over from Curie High School back in 2012. Oswego East will rely on a strong group of returning offensive skills led by D-1 recruit Justin Clark, who can --and will-- play multiple positions this season for the Wolves. 

69 Days to Kickoff: Lincoln-Way West

69 Days to Kickoff: Lincoln-Way West

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: Lincoln-Way West

Head coach: Dave Ernst

Assistant Coaches: Luke Lokanc, Larry Lokanc, Mike Villa, Eric DoornKaat, George Czart, Bob Lombardi, Sean Lucas, Rob Glielmi, Steve Bauer and Al McKellar

How they fared in 2017: 9-3 (6-1 Southwest Suburban Conference), Lincoln-Way West made the Class 7A state football playoff field. The Knights defeated Jacobs and Alton and then lost to Batavia in the quarterfinal round.

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 vs. Racine Case (Wisc.)

Aug. 31 @ Lincoln-Way Central

Sept. 7 vs. Bradley-Bourbonnais

Sept. 14 vs. Thornridge

Sept. 21 @ Homewood-Flossmoor

Sept. 28 @ Sandburg

Oct. 5 vs. Thornton Township

Oct. 12 @ Stagg

Oct. 19 @ Andrew

Biggest storyline: Can the Warriors get back to the 7A playoffs and make a deeper run this season?

Names to watch this season: OL Martin Bender and RB Caleb Marconi

Biggest holes to fill: The Warriors welcome back 10 returning starters but just three are back on the defensive side of the football. In particular, they will need to replace their entire starting secondary from a season ago.

EDGY's Early Take: Ernst has guided the Warriors to the IHSA playoffs in each the past six seasons. If West can reload a bit on the defensive side of the football they have a good chance of getting to the postseason again this fall. The good news is that the offense brings back four starting offensive linemen along with bruising RB Marconi. Look for the running game to pace the offense. It should be a big strength this fall.