Preps Talk

Vikings get 'mojo' back as postseason run heats up

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Vikings get 'mojo' back as postseason run heats up

You'd be hard-pressed to find a high school football player who doesn't treat the playoffs like a do-or-die situation. For many of these players, it is in a sense.

For the sophomores and juniors, there's never a guarantee of their teams returning to the postseason the following year. For the seniors, the vast majority will never strap on a helmet and shoulder pads in an organized sense ever again. There's a finality to the high school football playoffs, and for the true contenders in each of the eight classes it presents an opportunity to finish a dream or to lose it for good.

And yet somehow, it means something even more for Deante Harley-Hampton and the Homewood-Flossmoor Vikings.

The supremely talented running back can't forget how his junior season ended. It's been well documented, that inside a minute to play in the 8A state title game Harley-Hampton fumbled at the 3-yard-line, cementing a 31-25 loss to the Stevenson Patriots. Harley-Hampton rushed for 77 yards and a touchdown in the crushing defeat, averaging better than 4.5 yards per carry against one of the state's best defenses.

But none of those yards mattered on that late November evening in Champaign. It was the three yards he didn't get. And while the senior has moved past his shortcomings as a junior, it undoubtedly has fueled him to finish what he came 9 feet shy of a year ago.

It's why as the second season began last Friday night for the Homewood-Flossmoor Vikings, Harley-Hampton announced his arrival and left no doubt about his plans for the postseason.

Harley-Hampton, who had battled a calf injury the last three weeks, rushed 13 times for 287 yards and three scores in the Vikings' opening round 55-17 victory over O'Fallon, finding the end zone on rushes of 14, 85 and 95 yards in the blowout win.

"I was a little gassed, I've got to get in shape," Harley-Hampton said with a smile, referencing his 63-yard run late in the second half that didn't find the end zone. "I'm not used to running that far. But I'm glad I can run that far with my O-linemen, major shoutout to them. My running backs coach, coach Albert Evans. I'm just blessed right now."

The Vikings rushed for a season-high 602 yards, averaging nearly 16 yards per carry while finding the end zone six different times. Much of the success was due to head coach Craig Buzea's implementation of a Wildcat version of the offense, substituting quarterback Bryce Gray for an extra blocker while having Deante Harley-Hampton or his twin brother, Devonte, handling the ball.

And therein lies the rub for opposing defenses attempting Homewood-Flossmoor. For as well as Deante ran against the three-man O'Fallon front, Devonte was just as good. The taller of the two Harley-Hampton twins rushed 15 times for 249 yards, also finding the end zone three times. The two-headed monster proved unstoppable Friday night, and it acted as a reminder for the rest of the state that this offense is still the most lethal in the state, despite their Week 9 hiccup in a 22-21 loss to Bolingbrook.

"Now we're starting to have our mojo back," Devonte Harley-Hampton said. "We had to bounce back from last week but now we've got a little fire to ourselves. We're coming back strong."

A Vikings team that came 3 yards from the ultimate prize doesn't need to be reminded about how fragile the playoffs can be. Gray admitted after the game that the Vikings were as focused in practice as they had been all season long, perhaps both a reaction to the surprising Week 9 loss and the reality that one more bump in the road means heading home without the trophy they expect to win in hand.

The expectation for the eighth-seeded Vikings is a trip to DeKalb in three weeks, and for a senior-laden team that experienced the lowest of lows in last season's state title game there won't be any skipped steps. Doubt from the outside crept in following the loss in the season's final week, but the playoffs are a different animal. And for a team that's been in this exact position before, with so many seniors on their last hurrah before graduation, the past is a reminder to not let it happen again. That focus was apparent last Friday, and it will remain as they continue their journey toward a state championship.

"I thought this was a big step in the right direction to be able to do what we did tonight, and do it so convincingly," Buzea said. "You never know when you're going to be done or when you're going to get a group of seniors like this or a team like this."

Added Gray: "We had our best week of practice all year, amazing week. And I think the product showed on the field. We've got to keep this going for four more weeks and we can do some special things." 

65 Days to Kickoff: Elmwood Park

65 Days to Kickoff: Elmwood Park

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: Elmwood Park

Head coach: Dylan Mack

Assistant coaches: Gabe Ostrander, Tim Eberhard, Mario Fiorito, Chad Nardi, Joe Kraft and Dwayne French

How they fared in 2017: 6-4 (4-1 Metro Suburban Red Conference), Elmwood Park made the Class 4A state football playoff field. The Tigers lost to Genoa-Kingston in opening round action. 

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 vs St. Joseph

Sept. 1 vs Foreman

Sept. 7 vs Ridgewood

Sept. 14 @ St. Edward

Sept. 21 @ Fenton

Sept. 28 vs Leo

Oct. 5 @ Guerin Prep

Oct. 12 vs Chicago Christian

Oct. 19 vs Bishop McNamara

[MORE: 82 Days to Kickoff - Ridgewood]

Biggest storyline: An encore performance. Can the Tigers make back-to-back playoff appearances this season?

Names to watch this season: FB/DE Luciano Martino and WR/DB Kris Diallo

Biggest holes to fill: The Tigers will need to replace eight graduated starters on defense this fall.

EDGY's Early Take: Elmwood Park head coach Dylan Mack is looking to keep the winning momentum found last season going into 2018. The Tigers will rely on an experienced offense with eight returning starters back in the fold and if the defense can gel sooner rather than later, look for Elmwood Park to once again challenge for another state playoff bid this fall. 

66 Days to Kickoff: Rich Central

66 Days to Kickoff: Rich 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 July 30, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: Rich Central

Head coach: Terrell Alexander

Assistant Coaches: Quincy Woods (OC), Vince Brown (OL), Art Schuldt (ST), Les Hampton (DB), Jerrell Bibbs (DB), Steve Henley (DC), Jeff Spikner (WR), Derrick Goard (LB) William Pass (DL) Chuch Robinson (Skills), Guy Smith (RB) and Shawn Mitchell (Skills)

How they fared in 2017: 8-3 (4-1 Southland Conference). Rich Central made the Class 5A state football playoff field. The Olympians defeated Marion then lost to Dunlap in second round.

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 @ Hillcrest

Sept. 1 vs Lemont

Sept. 7 @ Kaneland

Sept. 14 vs Rich South

Sept. 21 @ Crete-Monee

Sept. 28 vs Rich East

Oct. 5 vs Kankakee

Oct. 12 vs Bloom Township

Oct. 19 vs Christ the King

[MORE: 67 Days to Kickoff: Hillcrest]

Biggest storyline: The Olympians have reached the IHSA playoffs three consecutive seasons-- the first such streak in Rich Central history. Can they stay on a winning track and make a deeper playoff run this fall?

Names to watch this season: WR/S Mehki Miller (Miami of Ohio) and RB Sean Tyler (Western Michigan)

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

EDGY's Early Take: Rich Central and head coach Terrell Alexander has brought winning and stability to the Olympians football program.  The 2018 team has some firepower back in the aforementioned Miller and Tyler; however, the development of their underclassmen group this summer will determine just how far this team will go. The ingredients look to be there for another IHSA state playoff caliber team.