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.

5 Days to Kickoff: Batavia

5 Days to Kickoff: Batavia

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 Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Batavia

Head coach: Dennis Piron

Assistant coaches: Matt Holm, Billy Colamatteo, Sean Anderson, P.J. White, Dan Cadena, Adam Lester, Adam Kolowski, Mike Theriault, Zac Roberts and Erin Finucane

How they fared in 2018: 12-1 (7-0 DuKane Conference). Batavia made the Class 7A state playoff field and defeated Granite City, Moline and Willowbrook. They advanced to the semifinals where they lost to Nazareth Academy.

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 31 vs East St. Louis
Sept. 6 @ Naperville North
Sept. 13 @ Lake Park
Sept. 20 vs Glenbard North
Sept. 27 @ Wheaton South
Oct. 4 @ Geneva
Oct. 11 vs St. Charles East
Oct. 18 @ St. Charles North
Oct. 25 vs Wheaton North

[MORE: 64 Days to Kickoff - Geneva

Biggest storyline: Batavia has won a minimum of 12 games four times since 2011 (two state titles: 2013, 2017). They were within striking distance of another title game appearance last season. Can Batavia reload and make it to DeKalb in November?

Names to watch this season: RB/LB Quinn Urwiler (Sr., North Dakota) and ILB Matt "Mojo" Weerts (Jr.)

Biggest holes to fill: The Bulldogs welcome back nine returning starters (four offense, five defense); they will need to patch a few holes on both the offensive and defensive lines. 

EDGY's Early Take: Head coach Dennis Piron has simply built the Bulldogs into a perennial state title contending team over his eight seasons (85-12 overall record, two state titles). The 2019 Bulldogs welcome back some key names from a season ago including RB/LB Quinn Urwiler, his brother junior RB/DB Trey Urwiler, senior RB Art Taylor, junior ILB Matt Weerts and senior S Sam Barus. The schedule is loaded, like usual. The opener vs. East St. Louis is full of intrigue. The Week 8 game against St. Charles North could be a must-see. If the new faces can step up and help Batavia reload in a few key spots, the Bulldogs will again challenge for the Class 7A state title. 

6 Days to Kickoff: Naperville Central

6 Days to Kickoff: Naperville Central

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 Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Naperville Central

Head coach: Mike Stine

Assistant coaches: Mike Ulreich (DC), Tim Boecker (DB), Marty Balle (LB), Marc Anderson (DB), Eric Novak (DL), Adam Pucylowski (LB), Rick Erickson (DL). Offense: Mike Stine (OC), Pat Watson (OL/Assistant OC), Tony Colletti (OL), Phil Allen (H-Backs), Kofi Hughes (WR), Josh McLeod (WR), Joe Denney (WR), Ryan Clifford (RB) and Chad Bradley (QB)

How they fared in 2018: 7-4 (4-0 Dupage Valley Conference). Naperville Central made the Class 8A state playoff field, defeated Plainfield South and then lost to Marist in the second round.

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 30 @ Hinsdale Central
Sept. 6 vs Lincoln-Way East
Sept. 13 @ Pickerington Central (Ohio)
Sept. 20 vs Metea Valley
Sept. 27 vs Naperville North at NCC
Oct. 4 @ Neuqua Valley
Oct. 11 @ Waubonsie Valley
Oct. 18 vs DeKalb
Oct. 25 vs East St. Louis

Biggest storyline: Can the Redhawks’ transfers mesh well with their new teammates and win big in Class 8A?

Names to watch this season: QB Sam Jackson (Jr., Minnesota) WR Jadon Thompson (Sr., Illinois)

Biggest holes to fill: The Redhawks welcome back just seven returning starters (four offense, three defense); however, some key incoming transfers will certainly help fill those holes. 

EDGY's Early Take: Naperville Central had a short IHSA playoff run last season. Coach Stine’s 2019 Redhawks might be young in spots, but they have the potential to be one of the most explosive offenses in the state. Junior quarterback Sam Jackson (Minnesota) played receiver in 2018 and brings incredible speed/quickness and athletic ability to the offense. Incoming (transfer) wide receivers Thompson and sophomore Reggie Fleurima provide instant big play ability to the Naperville Central offense.

If the new faces on defense can develop and progress this fall, the Redhawks have a chance of being one of the top teams in Chicagoland in 2019.