CPS vs. suburbs: Previewing Saturday’s tripleheader at Gately Stadium

Three of the Public League’s top teams take on suburban powers on Saturday at Gately Stadium.

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Kenwood’s Kahlil Tate (11) and Oamrion Lewis (13) celebrate Tate’s touchdown against Simeon last season.

Kenwood’s Kahlil Tate (11) and Oamrion Lewis (13) celebrate Tate’s touchdown against Simeon last season.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

There wasn’t a Public League team ranked in the preseason Super 25. COVID and a strike-disrupted season seriously hammered Public League football, and it has been a challenging road back.

A record 24 Public League teams qualified for the Illinois High School Association playoffs last season, but that doesn’t indicate the conference’s true level of play. The first-round results might have: Public League teams went 3-21.

Morgan Park, Phillips and Clark were the winners. Only Phillips, playing in Class 4A, won its second-round game.

Even the best Public League teams were unable to compete with above-average suburban teams. Kenwood lost to Notre Dame 25-7 in the Prep Bowl.

‘‘We are just trying to get back to where we were,’’ Simeon coach Dante Culbreath said. ‘‘COVID set the Public League back. I think we are digging out finally, but I know for a lot of teams that it is still a task just getting athletes to participate. Numbers are low in most of the city.’’

Before the pandemic, Simeon and Phillips consistently beat some of the top teams in the area. The Wildcats’ victory against Loyola in 2017 at Gately Stadium was a statement for Public League football.

There are reasons for optimism this season. Kenwood, Simeon and Morgan Park have multiple Power Five prospects. Wolverines senior Malik Elzy is one of the most talented and exciting players in the state.

But high-level prospects aren’t enough for state-playoff success. Good high school football teams need 20 to 30 capable players. The top Public League teams have sizable programs and, for the most part, had a full summer of camps and practices.

We should get a good indication of where things stand right out of the gate in Week 1. The Public League has set up a fun three-game slate Saturday at Gately. Three suburban teams, including two ranked squads, will play Public League powers.

Here’s a look at the three games:

No. 17 Glenbard North vs. Kenwood, 11 a.m.

Kenwood is stacked with talent. The Broncos were the one Public League team seriously considered for the preseason Super 25. 

Defensive back Kahlil Tate (Iowa), receiver Logan Lester (Western Michigan) and linebacker K’Vion Thunderbird are all top prospects in the Class of 2023 in Illinois.

Defensive lineman Marquise Lightfoot (6-5, 215 pounds) is one of the top 100 players in the nation. He has scholarship offers from Auburn, Cincinnati, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Mississippi, USC and several other schools.

Glenbard North will provide a stern test. The Panthers have quarterback Justin Bland and receivers Johnnie Robertson and Zamari Robinson back from a team that went 8-4 last season and lost to Lockport, the eventual Class 8A champion, 28-22 in the state quarterfinals.

Wheaton-Warrenville South vs. Simeon, 3 p.m.

Elzy is one of a handful of players in the area who’s worth buying a ticket to see. The 6-3, 198-pound Cincinnati recruit is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

‘‘You might see Elzy anywhere on the field,’’ Culbreath said.

Culbreath said he is expecting big things from his quarterback, junior Keshaun Parker.

‘‘If Parker is on his game, we can compete with anybody,’’ Culbreath said.

Wheaton-Warrenville South has new faces on both lines but has quality players returning at the offensive skill positions (receiver Braylen Meredith, running back Grant Rylander) and at linebacker (Zach Choromokos, Hunter Almada).

The Tigers went 5-5 last season but are traditionally a very strong program.

No. 4 Batavia vs. Phillips, 7 p.m.

Batavia will be a massive test for Phillips. The Bulldogs are one of the favorites to win Class 7A. Their defense is led by two excellent linebackers, Tyler Jansey (Wisconsin) and Jack Sadowsky (Iowa State).

‘‘We know we are going to have our hands full,’’ Phillips coach Joe Winslow said. ‘‘It’s going to be important that we don’t turn the ball over.’’

The Wildcats have seven starters back on defense, led by lineman AJ Phillips (6-3, 260) and defensive back Terrence Collins.

‘‘I’m excited about the defense,’’ Winslow said. ‘‘They are big, strong, fast and aggressive.’’

Center Keeven Blanton anchors the offense, which features two strong senior receivers in Ryan McDonald and Dakwan Phillips. Winslow’s son, Joe Winslow Jr., takes over at quarterback. 

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