Coaches like to throw the word “mind-set” around a lot when they talk about the difference between having a winning program and a losing program.
It was one of the first words Bloom football coach Tony Palombi used when asked what it took for his Blazing Trojans to become the first Bloom team since 1989 to qualify for the state playoffs.
He didn’t use the word frivolously, though. He provided two interesting illustrations when we talked Thursday morning about Friday’s Class 8A match-up against Simeon. We’ll provide them momentarily. First, let’s set the timeline for this rather significant Southland athletics event.
It hasn’t just been a long time since Bloom has been in the state playoffs, it’s been a LONG time.
We’re talking four presidents ago. Pre-cell phones, or at least the kind that weren’t the size of a shoebox. Miley Cyrus still was three years away from being born.
That Bloom team was led by All-State senior defensive lineman Bryant Young, who went on to have a stellar career at Notre Dame and play for 14 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers — four of which he was chosen for the Pro Bowl. The coach was John Piazza, and the playoff run lasted one game, a 30-14 loss to Bradley.
In 1989, Palombi was in his first season as a line coach for John Wrenn at Homewood-Flossmoor. Five years later the Vikings won the Class 6A state title.
“The feeling was just incredible,” Palombi said. “At the time it was at Illinois State University, and to be at that (title) game after all those years of working and watching films and finally getting to that spot that everybody dreams about … We were sitting there like, ‘Man, how many guys are at home now wishing they were me?’ It was just a great feeling.”
Palombi has not known such a feeling at Bloom, where he has been head coach for two terms totalling nine years. The Blazing Trojans have come close to making the show, winning five games in 2007 and ’08, only to fall short on at-large points. The previous three seasons produced a 4-23 record.
So why the sudden turnaround?
Palombi said he noticed that shortly after the season in 2011, more players than usual were finding their way into the weight room.
“It all started with my linemen,” he said. “And then, kids who were finishing up winter sports were going into the weight room to lift. So that mind-set of working, working working finally worked its way in.”
And their confidence went up. So much, in fact, that in the closing seconds of regulation in their opener against Thornwood, Palombi met opposition when, with the ball at his own 43 and the score tied at 14, he called for quarterback Kendall McGinnis to take a knee and force overtime.
“The guys were like, ‘We’ve got this, coach. We can get this done.’ So I said, ‘OK, let’s for it.’”
A 57-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jonah Wiley later, the Blazing Trojans had
turned belief into a bounty and were on their way to a memorable regular season that ended at 6-3 and an at-large lock.
Will they beat city powerhouse Simeon? Betting money on it probably wouldn’t be wise.
Can they beat Simeon? You can bet their minds are set on it.