Preps Talk

State-of-the-art practice facilities 'wonderful addition' for HF

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State-of-the-art practice facilities 'wonderful addition' for HF

Temperatures in Homewood, Ill., the week of the 2014 8A state title game reached uncommon lows of 16 degrees, with winds gusting as high as 45 miles per hour. One week away from the ultimate prize, the 16 teams remaining in the IHSA playoffs around the state dealt with icy, snowy conditions on their practice fields leading up to the biggest games of their respective lives.

All teams but one.

Tucked away inside their cozy, 137,000-square foot student-athlete facility, the Homewood-Flossmoor Vikings spent the vast majority of that week practicing on their 30-by-55-yard indoor football field. They calmly lifted weights inside their 9,000-square foot state-of-the-art fitness center. They diligently watched film of Stevenson, their opponent, in brand new classrooms and wound down inside brand-new locker rooms that had been constructed mere months earlier.

The gold standard for athletic facilities in Illinois resides on the Homewood-Flossmoor campus, and it's been an instrumental tool in constructing one of the state's top football programs.

The project, completed in spring 2014, was the result of nearly a decade of saving, researching and careful planning. The school was helped out in large part by earning a AAA bond rating, one of 69 schools in the country at the time, two months after the renovation began in February 2013. The bond rating improved the school's credit profile, helping it maintain competitive interest rates on financing and not requiring the use of increased taxpayer dollars. Athletic director Dan Vosnos, who arrived at HF two years ago, applauded the work of business manager Ken Parchem for his years of work and planning which allowed the $26 million project to be completed in such financially and timely efficient fashion.

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Walk into the north building on HF's campus and you'll swear you're inside a collegiate field house. Football head coach Craig Buzea has heard from countless college assistants that their facility is the nicest they've seen anywhere in the country. They're not wrong.

The facility was the product of faculty members and coaches touring more than 20 different schools and facilities across the Midwest, researching and pooling together data to better blueprint their own plans on what they hoped would become an athletics center unmatched by any school in Illinois for the next five decades. It was the major piece of a decade-long "strategic facilities plan" that saw the science labs, the school's main auditorium, the TV/radio station and district offices all renovated.

In a little more than a year, construction took an athletic facility built in 1973 and transformed it into a staple of the community and school. Among the amenities? The aforementioned fitness room, locker rooms and indoor football field, four full-size basketball courts, practice rooms for cheerleaders and pom teams, a 200-meter indoor track, a wrestling room, a medical center, a volleyball gymnasium and batting cages for baseball and softball teams. The renovation also included a second turf field outdoors that acts as the home field for the boys and girls soccer teams, as well as the junior-varsity football team.

"It's just a wonderful addition to such a wonderful school," athletic director Dan Vosnos, who gave CSN and Drive an exclusive tour of the facilities, said.

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Vosnos also added that feeder teams and park district groups are able to use the facility year-round, offering more local community support from the school to the city of Homewood. Past the athletic teams, the renovation also included the school's main atrium and cafeteria.

And there's more on the horizon. Vosnos said the school will look at renovating the pool area next summer, in addition to other facilities.

"We're still not done yet," he said. "We still have some ideas we're talking about."

As it pertains to the football team, the renovations have been crucial. Thunderstorms threatened to abruptly end the first day of organized practice. Instead, Buzea moved practice indoors, the offense ran 7-on-7 on their indoor field and the defense ran 11-on-0 sets on the school's basketball courts.

The result of rain-or-shine accessibility has been a 4-0 start for the Vikings. Inclement weather postponed many of the games last Friday night. But with the help of the indoor turf field, both the Vikings and Joliet Central Steelmen had time to warm up indoors as they waited out the storms. That allowed the game to start as soon as the all-clear sounded, with both teams warmed up from their time inside.

As is the case for any school, the football stadium lies at the heart of the athletic complex. The Vikings were one of the first teams in the state to install field turf, and both the press boxes and scoreboard have undergone complete renovations that make HF one of the most visually appealing stadiums in Illinois.

"We've sort of taken away a few things from how colleges do it," Buzea said. "We really try to make it not just a football game, but some people come to it just as an event. And we want it to be the event on that Friday night that we host, and because of the facilities that we have it's become that. I think it's made a really nice home-field advantage for us."

Hear more from Vosnos in the video below.

63 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

63 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

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: Shepard

Head coach: John Rone

Assistant coaches: Andrew Porter, Ron Rivera, Chris Lewis, Ryan McGuire and Clint Connelly

How they fared in 2017: 8-2 (5-1 South Suburban Red Conference). Shepard made the Class 6A state football playoff field. The Astros lost to Marmion Academy in opening round action. 

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 @ Leyden

Sept. 1 @ Stagg

Sept 7 vs Hillcrest

Sept. 14 vs Eisenhower

Sept. 21 @ Richards

Sept. 28 @ Oak Lawn

Oct. 5 vs Reavis

Oct. 12 vs Evergreen Park

Oct. 19 @ Argo

Biggest storyline: First-year head coach John Rone. Can the Astros challenge once again for the South Suburban Red conference title under a new head coach?

Names to watch this season: RB/LB Chris Harrison and TE/DE Kevin Graham

Biggest holes to fill: The Astros bring back 10 returning starters (five offense, five defense). Overall depth could also be a concern.  

EDGY's Early Take: Shepard will be led by former Eisenhower assistant Rone, who was able to retain an experienced staff at Shepard. It will help ease the transition from former head coach Dominic Passolano this summer. If the Astros can get off to a good early start they have the overall talent to again make a state playoff appearance in 2018. Can they challenge conference power Richards in the South Suburban Red race?

64 Days to Kickoff: T.F. South

64 Days to Kickoff: T.F. South

Head coach: Bob Padjen

Assistant coaches: Trent Jensen, Jesse Kikkert, Jonathan Hill, Doug Smith, Mike Tisza, Rob Shell and Tim Russell

How they fared in 2017: 6-4 (3-3 South Suburban Blue Conference), T.F. South made the Class 6A state football playoff field. The Rebels lost to Danville in opening round action. 

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 @ Thornwood

Sept. 1 vs Julian

Sept. 7 vs Oak Forest

Sept. 14 @ TF North

Sept. 21 vs Bremen

Sept. 28 @ Reavis

Oct. 5 vs Hillcrest

Oct. 12 @ Lemont

Oct. 19 @ Tinley Park

[MORE: 86 Days to Kickoff - Reavis]

Biggest storyline: T.F. South has advanced to the playoffs 20 times in the past 24 seasons. Can the Rebels get back to the IHSA state playoff field and make more noise this fall?

Names to watch this season: QB Kamron Clayton LB Michael Smith

Biggest holes to fill: The Rebels will need to replace seven starters on each side of the football this fall. 

EDGY's Early Take: T.F. South head coach Bob Padjen was able to keep the Rebels on a winning path in his first season as Rebels head coach after several years serving in an assistant role. South always has talent. If the underclassmen can step up this summer, look for the Rebels to challenge for the top half of the South Suburban Blue conference race.