Monday, August 3, 2015

Who is Lindblom?

That's what I'll bet Justin Pressley (above), the new head football coach at Lindblom Math & Science Academy, asked himself when he heard about the opening over the winter. 

"I knew I was ready to be a head coach this season and I was open to exploring a new area," the Tennessee native told me in an email last week. "I came across the Lindblom job early in the process and after much research I knew that Lindblom would be a great fit for me."

Now before we get to Mr. Pressley, who grew up in Kingston, Tennessee, a small town about 30 miles south of Knoxville, and why on earth he'd want to move to Chicago (where I presume he's never experienced one of our winters), let's answer that first question, "Who (the heck) is Lindblom?"

From Wikipedia:

Robert Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School is a public 4-year selective enrollment high school located in the West Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. The school, originally constructed in 1919 and named Lindblom Technical High School, is named for Robert Lindblom, a nineteenth-century Swedish–born trader on the Chicago Board of Trade. Designated for students intended to enter vocations in industrial and skilled trades, in the later 20th century it developed curricula to prepare students for college and was known as Lindblom College Prep High School. 

In 2003, Lindblom underwent a two-year, $42 million renovation to upgrade systems and prepare the school as a site for concentration in math and science, as planned by the Chicago Public Schools. The grand reopening was held by the Lindblom Alumni Association and the Board of Education on October 14, 2005. The occasion featured alumna Cheryl Burton, a prominent TV journalist in Chicago, as the mistress of ceremonies. The school reopened in the fall of 2005 as Lindblom Math & Science Academy.

On June 9, 2010 the Chicago City Council approved the designation of the Beaux-Arts style Lindblom Building as a Chicago landmark by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.

Besides Ms. Burton (class of 1980), who was also a Chicago Bears cheerleader from 1983-1986 before a news anchor at WLS-TV in Chicago, another Lindblom alumus is Gene Rayburn (for you old-timers), the long-time host of the Match Game. Rayburn was born Eugene Jelyevich but later took the stage name Rayburn after "randomly sticking a finger in the phone book."

Now I know what you're thinking: that's all very interesting, but what about the football team?

The Lindblom Eagles compete in the Great Lakes Conference of the Chicago Public League, where they finished in sixth place (out of eight teams) with a 2-7 record last year. According to Coach Pressley:

We have been putting an emphasis on turning Lindblom football into a "Football Program." That starts with establishing a work ethic. We have a great group of kids that have a strong work ethic.

For the most part we have a young football team. We have a small senior group but great senior leadership. Darius Cook, our senior defensive back was very vocal with leading the team through spring workouts leading into summer camp.

Malcolm Beason, Kendall Jackson and Emmanuel Owusu are our senior leaders on the offensive line.

We have been focused on raising the bar with our tempo on the field. Everything we do is full speed and fast paced. We practice fast and condition ourselves while doing so. Our players work hard and learn fast. That has been key to our progression thus far.

We are focused on establishing a running game this season. We will rely heavily on junior running back Ryan Weatherspoon. He has worked hard in the off season and is ready to carry the load for our team this season. He will run behind our fullback Juan Easton who also has quick feet and can help us in the run game.

We will have several underclassman on the field for us this year, starting at the quarterback position. Sophomore Bryce Walker has stepped up as the new quarterback this year. I have seen him progress consistently since I arrived on campus.

Sophomores Carlton Rutherford Jr and Josh Bufkin will play a big role on the perimeter for us. They are fast receivers with great ability in the open field. Sophomore Makhi Cochran has been splitting carries with Ryan Weatherspoon in camp and will also see the field a ton for us this season.

Senior wide receiver and track standout Demitri Gary will be looking to have a breakout year this season. He is a big play receiver that can go up and get the football at the highest point. We are looking for new ways every day to put the football in his hands.

We are not anywhere near a good football team at this point. We have some special players that come and work hard that have potential to help us succeed. It has been a slow process and we are just grinding everyday to get better than the last. We open the football season with Curie and we have our work cut out for us. I have no doubt these kids will give everything they have to build a football culture at Lindblom.

That's a pretty thorough scouting report; more than I've received from any other coach. So what should we make of this guy Pressley? Can he "turn Lindblom football into a 'Football Program'?" Is Pressley the right guy to "build a football culture at Lindblom"? He might be.

Coach Pressley comes to Lindblom from Pearl-Cohn High School in Nashville, where he was a strength and linebacker coach. Who's Pearl-Cohn? Well, suffice it to say that the Firebirds went 21-5 over the last two seasons. Wow.

Pressley was a three-sport athlete growing up and played defensive back in high school. After studying physical education at Middle Tennessee State University he began his eight-year coaching career. Pressley has made "several stops coaching at great programs in Tennessee," including two state semifinal games with two different schools. He also has experience as a head middle school coach and offensive coordinator at successful programs.

As Pressley mentioned to me in his email, the Eagles open the 2015 season against defending City champ Curie, who went 11-3 in 2014, losing to Loyola Academy by only a touchdown, 14-7, in the Prep Bowl. (That ought to be a warm welcome to Chicago for Coach Pressley.) But after that the schedule gets a little less intense for Lindblom. Here's the full list for you:

August 29: Curie

September 5: @ Orr
September 12: Bowen
September 19: @ Douglass Academy
September 26: Agricultural Science

October 3: TEAM Englewood
October 10: @ Corliss
October 17: @ Chicago International Charter-Longwood Academy
October 24: @ John Hope College Prep

Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here and, based on last year's records, say the Eagles will fall to Curie, Bowen and Longwood. But I think they can take Douglass, Englewood and John Hope. If Lindblom can go 2-1 against the remaining teams, Orr, Ag Science and Corliss (not too daunting a task) that would put them at 5-4. And while I can't tell if that would make them playoff-eligible according to the byzantine rules of the Chicago Public League, it would give them a winning record for the first time since 2010, when today's seniors were in seventh grade.

Could Coach Pressley take Lindblom to the 5A playoffs? Don't be too surprised. I seem to recall a couple of schools by the name of Phillips and Simeon last year who made it all the way to the 4A finals and the 8A semifinals, respectively. The two programs surprised all those naysayers who claimed that a Chicago Public League team couldn't go deep in the postseason.

So keep an eye on these guys.

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