Back on schedule: Morgan Park has high expectations on first day of practice

It has been a chaotic stretch for Chicago Public Schools students, especially the high schoolers who didn’t attend any classes in person last school year.

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Morgan Park’s Aaron Warren (9) gets ready to pass the ball during practice on August 9, 2021.

Morgan Park’s Aaron Warren (9) gets ready to pass the ball during practice on August 9, 2021.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Morgan Park sophomore Tysean Griffin was one of the area’s breakout stars during the brief high school football season last spring.The speedster has scholarship offers from Arkansas, Illinois, Syracuse and several other schools. He was immediately comfortable on the football field, even as a freshman.

But he’s understandably apprehensive about actually attending high school in person in a few weeks.

“I will no doubt be lost and feel like a freshman,” Griffin said. “I haven’t been in the building.”

It has been a chaotic stretch for Chicago Public Schools students, especially the high schoolers who didn’t attend any classes in person last school year.

A small slice of normal returned all across the state Monday, as fall sports athletes started practice on schedule for the first time since August 2019.

“It feels great to get back in the normal routine,” Morgan Park quarterback Aaron Warren said. “I just woke up excited today.”

Expectations are high for the Mustangs, who finished 4-0 during the spring.

Coach Chris James, who graduated from Morgan Park and played at Illinois, has built his alma mater back into a Public League powerhouse. There were more than 100 players on hand for the first practice.

“When I first got here three years ago, there were 37 kids in the program,” James said. “It’s fun to see my school back to where it should be. I remember I told [Warren] when he was a freshman that things would look a lot different eventually. He was a puppy then, and now he’s our guy.”

Warren and Griffin opened eyes during the spring season. Big things also are expected from senior cornerback/receiver Donta Hayes Jr., sophomore cornerback/receiver Chris Durr and senior lineman Devan King. Two transfers — junior cornerback Kiwaun Davis (Brother Rice) and defensive tackle Jaylin Adams (Thornwood) — should make immediate impacts.

Morgan Park coach Chris James looks on during practice.

Morgan Park coach Chris James looks on during practice.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

The Mustangs open Aug. 27 at Fenwick. They’ll face Curie, Taft, Kenwood and Simeon in a four-week midseason stretch. The game against the Wolverines on Oct. 9 could be the biggest Public League football game of the season.

“The Simeon game means a lot to me,” James said. “It’s like Duke vs. North Carolina. They are right down the street. And I beat them a lot when I played here. They have had a ton of success. So you have to go beat them. We know when we see them, it’s a big deal. We’re under the radar a little now, and that’s OK. We have to earn it. And with our schedule, we will have the opportunity.”

James thinks Jovan Clark, a 6-foot, 207-pound freshman, is a future five-star recruit. He plays multiple positions and will be a varsity starter.

“[Clark] would be a varsity starter at any school he went to,” James said. “He’s the most physically gifted freshman out there. Everybody is excited about him. He was just physically born with some different things that most people don’t have. He has a chance to be the top-ranked player in his class.”

Junior linebacker Keyth Williams, the team’s vocal leader, doesn’t have any reservations about going back to school. He can’t wait.

“I’m one of those kids that likes learning and likes school and likes interacting with other people,” Williams said. “That was the biggest thing the last year, missing that. We couldn’t do so many things with COVID on our back. I’m going to have fun at school and win some football games.”

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