High school football notebook: Damon Walters picks Northwestern, IHSA and Public League make format changes

Pat Fitzgerald continues to keep some of Illinois’ best prep football players close to home.

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Bolingbrook’s Damon Walters (3) forces an incompletion against Homewood-Flossmoor’s Jeremiah Turner (18).

Bolingbrook’s Damon Walters (3) forces an incompletion against Homewood-Flossmoor’s Jeremiah Turner (18).

Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

Pat Fitzgerald continues to keep some of Illinois’ best prep football players close to home.

Bolingbrook safety Damon Walters is the latest rising senior to commit to Fitzgerald and Northwestern, giving the Wildcats four of the top 14 players in the class according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings.

Walters, a 6-1, 175-pounder, is a three-star prospect ranked ninth in the Illinois class of 2023. He joins Joliet Catholic offensive lineman Anthony Birsa, Naperville North quarterback Aidan Gray and Prospect receiver Frank Covey IV in Northwestern’s next recruiting class.

“He’s the perfect fit for Northwestern,” Rivals Midwest analyst Clint Cosgrove said of Walters. “He is their type of kid. He’s smart, he’s tough, he’s dependable. He’ll be a great program kid.”

Besides the intangibles, Walters has the athletic ability to play in the Big Ten.

“He’s got great range, he’s long, he’s physical,” Cosgrove said. “He checks all the boxes.”

Walters is also a part of one of the state’s most successful athletic families. Three of his siblings are or have been Division I athletes: Justin (Notre Dame football), Brandon (Army football), and Kayla (Miami, Ohio track).

Northwestern, meanwhile, continues to hold its own in in-state recruiting even as Illinois coach Bret Bielema has made inroads locally after former coach Lovie Smith took more of a national approach.

“With the new facilities, it’s just all really coming together [for the Wildcats],” Cosgrove said.

IHSA reversal

Four months after voting to expand 1-32 playoff seeding to all classes, the IHSA has switched course and will stay with 1-16 north and south brackets for Class 1A through 6A.

Rockridge principal and IHSA board president Katy Hasson cited soaring gas prices as the reason for the reversal at the June board meeting.

“In February, I was a proponent for the chance in the seeding process for the IHSA Class 1A-6A Football Playoffs,” Hasson said in a statement. “When taking into account the current fuel prices, and the fact that this change will create more travel for schools and fans, myself and several other Board members were no longer comfortable implementing the change at this time. I do expect that when fuel prices return to a more reasonable price the Board will revisit this topic.”

Public League update

Chicago Public Schools sports officials have confirmed the new scheduling format first revealed in April in the Sun-Times.

Among the highlights are delaying the start of the Public League playoffs till after the regular season and adding crossover games between the top two conferences.

CPS also announced new names for the 12 football conferences. The former Illini conferences, which are eligible for the IHSA playoffs, will now be the Red. The former Chicago conferences, which are ineligible for the state playoffs, will be known as the Blue.

The top two CPS conferences are the Red South (Brooks, Curie, Hubbard, Kenwood, Morgan Park, Simeon) and the Red North (Clark, Lane, Phillips, Taft, Westinghouse, Young). Eight of those 12 teams will be in the Public League playoff bracket to determine the CPS representative in the Prep Bowl against the Catholic League champ.

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