Preps Talk

Primary goal still intact for HF, ready to react to first blemish

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Primary goal still intact for HF, ready to react to first blemish

There's a certain maturity level about the Homewood-Flossmoor Vikings that keeps head coach Craig Buzea from ever becoming nervous.

This is a team that knows all too well the fragility of high school football, and how quickly circumstances can change. Eleven months earlier the Vikings were three yards away from winning a state championship. Two months before that the team, comprised of juniors at most skill positions, sat at 3-2 after a gutting defeat to rival Lincoln-Way East before reeling off eight straight wins. This is a group that all year played with a bulls-eye on its back, the unanimous top-ranked team in Illinois that got opponents' best shot each Friday night, all the while dealing with outside noise of detractors and doubters.

It's why as Buzea stood in front of his Vikings last Friday night, having just been upset by rival Bolingbrook at home in the regular season's final week, there wasn't a sense of panic in his voice. Instead, as he's done all year, he spoke to his team matter-of-factly.

"I’m not angry. I’m not mad. We did not deserve to win," he said. "You don’t make mistakes like we did and win games like that. And we won’t in the playoffs, too. Can’t happen. Shouldn’t happen.

"Always talk in this program it’s not the action, it’s the reaction," he added. "So, how are we going to react? How are we going to react? Bottom line."

Though just a single loss for a top-tiered program still favored by many to win 8A, Friday's defeat stung the Vikings. The Raiders marched down the field in the game's final minute to set up a game-winning field goal, earning a 22-21 victory and vaulting them into the playoffs for the 24th consecutive season. On Homewood-Flossmoor's side, the loss meant crossing off three of the team's goals they had set out at the beginning of the season.

[#DriveVikings: HF football plays for each other, takes another step toward title dreams]

An unblemished 14-0 season. Winning the Southwest Suburban Lake conference title outright for the first time in school history. Keeping the Alec Anderson Memorial trophy, given to the winning of the annual HF-Bolingbrook game, in Flossmoor. Few teams run the table and go wire-to-wire as the state's top-ranked team, let alone an 8A team that faced three ranked opponents and played six games on the road in the regular season. The Vikings were hoping to make history.

Still, the matured Vikings, with core players entering their third postseason, have their primary goal of a state title in sight.

"Our goals are still in place. The second season starts and we know if we do something like that again we’re done," said quarterback Bryce Gray, who finished the regular season with 23 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. "So I think it’ll be a sharper focus, more hard work going into it. This is it. It’s now or never. For most us seniors it’s now or never. Some of us will never put on the pads again, so we know what the ramifications are. We’ll come back strong and do what we need to do."

The path to DeKalb was made considerably tougher with the loss. The Vikings dropped from a potential No. 3 or 4 seed with a win to the No. 8 seed, lining up on the same side of the bracket at the top-seeded Loyola Ramblers. They also could face the No. 15 Stevenson Patriots, the team that beat them in the 8A state title game a year ago, in the quarterfinals.

[RELATED: HF defense responding to, thriving on criticism with their play]

Their path is now more difficult, but it's also more difficult for the teams in their bracket that assumed they'd face the lethal Vikings later in the postseason. What their new playoff seeding does is give the Vikings an earlier chance to quiet the detractors who all year long were waiting for them to slip up. There's no easy wins in the postseason, as Buzea told his team in the locker room Friday night, meaning playoff seeding is simply a number next to a school's name.

"I still believe we’re the best team in state. We just have to prove it now. People are going to doubt us now, saying we can’t beat Bolingbrook. We’re going to have a lot more doubters than we did before and we just have to prove them wrong. We had two losses last year, made a nice run in state, came three yards away from a state championship.

"So it can be done, and it will be done."

Motivated Markese Jacobs seeks national acclaim before senior year at Uplift

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USA TODAY

Motivated Markese Jacobs seeks national acclaim before senior year at Uplift

NORTH AUGUSTA, SC. -- Markese Jacobs doesn't have to impress college coaches during the July live evaluation period since he's already committed to Kansas. But the Uplift rising senior point guard is still motivated to make a strong impression during his final summer on the grassroots circuit.

Playing with a healthy and rejuvenated Mac Irvin Fire roster that includes Morgan Park's Adam Miller and former city players like Terrance Shannon (Lincoln Park) and Kahlil Whitney (Solorio), Jacobs is running an offense with a lot of talent around him the next few weeks. His ultimate goal is to make waves with national talent evaluators to improve his stock and overall ranking.

"We're extra motivated because we didn't get to play with each other fully healthy. We were missing guys some sessions. Some players weren't playing. Now our thing is, now that we're healthy, let's finish strong and accomplish what we want to accomplish," Jacobs said.

"My goal is to at least get top 50. They've got me in the 90s and 100s and I feel disrespected. My whole thing is coming out strong and breaking the top 50."

Since Jacobs doesn't have to worry about collecting scholarship offers since he's been pledged to the Jayhawks for over a year, he is focused instead of making sure that his point guard ability continues to grow. Jacobs also wants to continue to improve his perimeter shooting since defenses will collapse on him regularly next season.

"I have to show that I'm not only an athlete. I can play defense, score the ball and get the ball to my teammates," Jacobs said.

"Over these next couple months, my whole thing is getting off the dribble and hitting open shots. Going into my high school season, pretty much everybody in Chicago is going to be gunning for me. I'm going to get double teamed and stuff like that. So the opportunities that I get, I have to make the best of them."

Jacobs is encouraged by how things are going at Uplift entering next season -- especially now that he is a team leader. In the past, Markese could rely on leadership from his older brother Demarius, or Toraze Dobbs. Now, those guys have graduated and it's his time to shine as a team leader for the Titans.

"It's actually very different. I have to be the one talking now. I can't take a couple plays off like I normally can. So now, it's just, I have to come with it every game," Jacobs said.

Uplift will continue to develop its Class 2A rivalry with conference opponent Orr as both teams always feel like they're on a collision course during the postseason. This season, Jacobs has made it clear that a state title is his goal as he feels as though Class 2A is underrated in Illinois. 

"I'm trying to win state. That's my only goal. City is going to be what city is going to be. But my whole thing is winning state,' Jacobs said.

"Two A is actually pretty tough because it's the same two teams every time: us and Orr. For us, it's about finishing once we get to that game. We do pretty good up until that game, and then we fold. So my thing is just finishing and playing all the way through." 


 

38 Days to Kickoff - Glenbrook North

38 Days to Kickoff - Glenbrook North

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: Glenbrook North

Head coach: Bob Pieper

Assistant coaches: Matt Purdy, Dom Savino, Justin Weiner, Justin Georgacakis, Matt Miller, Brad Hokin, Ernie Brandt and Mike Nabolotny

How they fared in 2017: 5-4 (2-3 Central Suburban North Conference). Glenbrook North failed to qualify for the IHSA state football playoff field.

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 @ Wheeling

Sept. 1 vs Grant

Sept. 7 vs Hoffman Estates

Sept. 14 @ Elk Grove

Sept. 21 @ Maine West

Sept. 28 vs Highland Park

Oct. 5 @ Maine East

Oct. 12 vs Deerfield

Oct. 19 vs Vernon Hills

[MORE: 61 Days to Kickoff - Maine West]

Biggest storyline: Will the Spartans' growing pains from last season pay off come August?

Names to watch this season: DB Ben Kieffer and OL Nick Mantas

Biggest holes to fill: The Spartans welcome back an impressive 15 starters (eight offense, seven defense) this season. That said, who will be the main ball carrier this season for the Spartans?

EDGY's Early Take: Glenbrook North posted a winning record in 2017, but a low playoff point total kept the Spartans watching the playoffs at home. Look for a much more experienced team on both sides of the football this fall that will contend for the Central Suburban North conference title and a state playoff spot.