Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The last time Lindblom...

...appeared in the postseason was in 1991, above. The oldest player on today's Eagles wasn't even born until 1997.

With one regular-season game remaining, against the Mighty Eagles of John Hope (0-8), the "merely" Eagles of Lindblom (7-1) are in sole possession of first place in the Chicago Public League's Great Lakes Conference.  

I had a chance to catch up with Lindblom's first-year head coach Justin Pressley after Saturday's 32-12 victory over Longwood. He's a very personable young man (everyone's young compared to me) who was obviously enjoying his team's success. Pressley wasn't sure if his squad would end up being one of the largest in 4A or one of the smallest in 5A but was looking forward to a high seed.

My first question for the Tennessee native was about the unique challenges of coaching in the Chicago Public League. After all, many people were writing off city schools until Simeon and Phillips went so deep in the playoffs last year.

It is very different coaching in the Chicago Public League, but not very different coaching at our school in particular. Our kids work just as hard if not harder than any school I have coached in Tennessee. Like the Chicago suburbs, most kids in Tennessee grow up playing football within a school's program from youth league all the way up to high school. We don't have junior high ball here so that means we get a lot of kids that have never played football or have played in different youth leagues in different systems. There are very talented athletes in the Public League and the teams here can be successful; it is just difficult when you only get a maximum of four years to teach kids how to play within your system.

Pressley has his team playing a very aggressive style of football. I noticed the Eagles use a lot of onside kicks and often go for it on fourth down. I wondered if that was strategic, or a comment on his team's kicking game.

We can kick it deep as much as possible, but statistically for us the opponent usually starts around the 35- or 40-yard line when we do. When we kick an onside if we don't recover the opponent typically starts around the 45. We feel it is worth the 5-10 yards to take a chance on getting the football. We are very confident in our defense and the kids enjoy the challenge of recovering the onside kick. 

As for fourth downs, we are confident in our offense and like to control the football so it takes a lot of pressure off the kids on third down situations to know that we usually will have four downs to get the first instead of just three.

The Eagles work from a no-huddle offense and Pressley calls the plays from the sidelines. I wanted to know how many plays his team runs and how difficult it was for them to learn them all.

Well we really don't have many plays but we run them a lot of different ways in a lot of different formations. We just try and get the ball to our playmakers as much as possible. Most of our offense is based around our junior running back Ryan Weatherspoon. He is a strong runner and is able to carry the load for us throughout every game. We have a wide receiver that I would take over anyone in the state in Demitri Gary. We are always finding new ways to get him the ball in our offense. I really don't do much on the sidelines but clap my hands and yell. Most of the plays I call on the sideline are called by our players. I trust our guys and ask them every possession what they feel comfortable running. When they are confident in a play then I let them run it.

Finally, I had to ask Pressley about his team's relative youth. Many of his starters are sophomores. That means two years ago they were in eighth grade. Last year the Eagles were only 2-7, and now they're headed for the playoffs. Lindblom's first game could be against some suburban high school that's used to being there. How on earth, I wondered, would Pressley get these young men ready for the postseason?

We do have a lot of young starters on our team. I rely on our sophomore quarterback Bryce Walker to manage the offense like a senior quarterback and he does that. We start two sophomore wide receivers in C.J. Rutherford and Josh Bufkin. They have to step up in every game and they have both become big time playmakers for us. I ask a lot of them and they step up every day. We have some invaluable senior leaders on this team at every position. We all push each other every day to be better. 
It is an exciting challenge for us going into the postseason. One thing we have to do is continue to get comfortable in our system. We have a lot of work to do in a short time. None of our players have had the opportunity to play in serious football games after Week Six. We are trying to teach these kids how to continue progressing in every practice. We are having fun as a football team right now and in practice every day. We just have to keep improving and learning how to play together. I have some seniors that have played all four years at Lindblom and have been through some tough times. I am so happy for them to get an opportunity to participate in the postseason. They have certainly earned it. We are excited to play in the playoffs, and I am just extremely proud of our team.

I can personally attest to Pressley's statement that he and his players "are having fun as a football team right now." I watched them leave the stadium on Saturday to board the bus back to school and they looked like a team that's enjoying their success and confident in their future. Lindblom also gets a ton of fan support from the bleachers and Pressley is understandably very popular with this crowd. I don't know what the long-term future is for him and his team, but the Eagles look to enter the postseason from a very strong position. I plan on attending that Round One contest, which may fall on Halloween. You can follow along with me on Twitter @BoringOldWhtGuy.

As for that other game I attended this weekend, Homewood-Flossmoor's 55-21 victory over Sandburg in Orland Park on Friday night, I have to confess: I only saw the first half.

It's a little ironic, because I met a friend for dinner before the game at Hackney's in Palos Park and lectured him on the necessity of staying for the entire game. He has a habit, he told me, of watching a baseball game until the seventh inning or so, or a football game until the beginning of the fourth quarter and then leaving. "What?" I demanded. "What if there's a great comeback or something? Wouldn't you want to see that?"

"Not really," he answered, "I figure I came to see some baseball (or football) and I saw some; now it's time to go home."

Right, I thought, and it's time for me to go to this game.

It was Senior Night at Sandburg (is it Senior Night at every game I attend?) and after introducing all the seniors and all their parents they finally got the game underway at 7:30. It was cold and dark, of course, and I was tired from the workweek (and the long drive out there).

Sandburg, in particular, was pass-happy, and it reminded me of that famous quote attributed to Ohio State coach Woody Hayes: "Three things can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad."

Actually, a fourth thing can happen, and it's equally as bad: it slows down the game.

The first half lasted about an hour and a half, until nine o'clock, but I had seen enough. Although the Vikings got off to a slow start and trailed the home team Eagles (again with the Eagles?), 13-0, early in the second quarter, the No. 1 team in the state (or No. 3 if you believe MaxPreps) came roaring back to lead at the half, 27-19. Sandburg played well (and a special shout-out to No. 43 Patrick Brucki, who seemed to do everything for the Eagles), but I had a feeling the Vikings would take control in the second half. (Which they did, with a final score of 55-21. Did Sandburg get a safety somewhere along the line?)

My initial response on Friday (and I tweeted this) was that Loyola would have no trouble beating Homewood-Flossmoor. But after watching their quarterback, Brice Gray (who has a heck of an arm!), and the Harley-Hampton twins (who are only 5'8", 165 pounds, by the way), I thought otherwise. That 8A final everyone is expecting between the Ramblers and the Vikings should be One for the Ages. (Although I'd still give the edge to Loyola -- it's the best Rambler team I've ever seen.)

As I was leaving at halftime my buddy texted me, "No way can U leave early." What, was I on candid camera or something? How did he catch me in the parking lot on my way to the car? Was that drone I saw at the game following me? I could have lied, I suppose, but I responded, "Left at the half. Too cold and tired. Maybe I'm finally getting my fill of this."

Don't you believe it.

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