Leonard Smith was Hubbard’s quarterback last season. He played most of his games in front of a couple hundred people at Gately Stadium.
Things will be much different on Sunday. Smith, a senior who has transferred to Phillips, will make his debut as the Wildcats’ starting quarterback in a national television broadcast Sunday on ESPN. Phillips plays nationally-ranked Pickerington Central, Oh. at 11:30 a.m.
“Yeah, it’s just a bit different,” Smith joked. “It’s going to be a pretty big stage. But I’m ready for it.”
Smith is a total unknown, even in the city. But he’s surrounded by stars. Receiver Jahleel Billingsley is the area’s first Alabama recruit in decades.
“The [Alabama] thing hasn’t gone to my head, I’m staying humble,” Billingsley said. “I’m not into talking, I’ll just show what I’m about.”
Defensive back/receiver Fabian McCray and defensive back Joseph Thompson have both committed to Illinois.
“[The Illinois fans] really love me,” McCray said. “I get messages all the time from fans. It’s fun.”
Phillips coach Troy McAllister thinks sophomore defensive tackle Dominic Bass may wind up being the most highly-recruited football player in Public League history. The 6-4, 250 pound sophomore already has offers from Auburn, LSU, Florida, Ohio State Michigan and Michigan State.
Many recruiting analysts believe the Wildcats are the most talented Public League team ever. They will open the season ranked second in the preseason Super 25. But there isn’t a team from Illinois ranked in the national top 50 in by any outlet, so they have a lot to prove on Sunday.
“I think colleges are starting to recognize there is talent in every school [in the Public League],” McAllister said. “It is just finding it. There are diamonds in the rough and bonafide stars.”
The Wildcats petitioned the Illinois High School Association to move up to Class 6A this season. They won the Class 5A state title last year.
“As a program we felt the next step in our evolution was to move to 6A,” McAllister said. “Our ultimate goal is to become a national program and the only way to do that is to keep moving up and playing better competition.”
Phillips has won two state titles in the past three seasons. That level of success and dedication has been contagious.
“The expectations get raised each year and I’ve found the level of focus, even with the young guys, has raised along with that,” McAllister said. “They know if you want to play for the premier team in the Public League and maybe even the state, you have to come in focused even at a young age. That makes a big difference.”
The Wildcats are young on the offensive and defensive lines, but the players are very talented. McAllister says that junior Demerick Morris is going to be the best offensive lineman the school has ever had.
Young lines, a new quarterback, sky high expectations and a debut on ESPN. That’s a lot to deal with, but the attitude around Phillips couldn’t be better.
“Playing on ESPN against a national program is a huge opportunity for the Phillips community, the Public League and for Chicago,” Billingsley said. “We’ll show everyone what we can do.”
Aug. 26 at Pickerington Central, Oh.
Sept. 1 at St. Louis Chaminade, Mo.
Sept. 8 vs. Simeon
Sept. 14 vs. Lincoln Park
Sept. 21 vs. Morgan Park
Sept. 28 at Curie
Oct. 6 at Lane
Oct. 12 vs. Westinghouse
Oct. 19 at Raby
More high school football stories:
- The 2018 Sun-Times Super 25 football teams
- The Top 10 running backs
- The Top 10 receivers
- The Top 10 defensive players
- Mount Carmel’s new coach on what’s ahead this season
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