By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
For the first time in history, two Chicago Public League teams have made it to the semifinal round of the state football playoffs, ensuring they will bring home a trophy.
Wendell Phillips Academy defeated Lemont 15-3 last weekend to advance in 5A, while Al Raby High School trounced Dixon 38-13 in 4A. The wins are historic in a number of ways but for Raby, the victory means it will be the first West Side CPS school to advance this far in the playoffs in history. With a win over Morris this coming Saturday at 4 p.m. at Hanson Stadium, the Raiders would head to the championship game at the University of Illinois Thanksgiving weekend, against either Rochester or Highland.
Raby Head Coach D’angelo Dereef spoke exclusively with the Crusader earlier this week as he was preparing his team for their game against Morris. He said it has been a 10-year work of love to bring the program at Raby to this point. Raby is known primarily for prep basketball. Dereef, who is originally from South Carolina, said getting people to buy into the program has been the toughest part because there was no football tradition when he took over as coach.
“My philosophy is you have to have grades and a work ethic so when people see us out there with 26 kids compared to the other teams’ 70, I tell them I only take the kids who are committed to the football program philosophy,” Dereef explained. “We have a points system where a kid must accumulate 10,000 points in order to play. They can accumulate points with grades, playing other sports, community service, exercising and other ways. I don’t add kids after spring practice unless they are a transfer student and the school and parents have bought into what we are doing. So the kids who make it, they form a brotherhood.”
Dereef credits his administration and Principal Dr. Femi Skanes for supporting everything he has tried to do with the program. Great athletes with a supportive administration, school body, and parents are the key to success Dereef believes. He also said getting help from suburban schools like Bolingbrook and Glenbard South has been instrumental in growing the program. He said suburban schools have donated tons of equipment, which has kept costs down, and Raby players have participated in off-season training programs with kids from wealthier school districts. The networking is paying off for Raby.
“The Chicago Bears stepped in this year and got us a grant for new helmets and shoulder pads,” Dereef said. “You have to be a good person, and not burn your bridges in life. It’s a lesson I teach the players. Working around people who want to see your kids succeed is such a great blessing.”
Phillips is going for its second title in three years after being the first CPS team to win a state title in 2016. The Wildcats have produced several Division I football players under coach Troy McAllister and this year’s team is no different, loaded with talent. Fabian McCray was too much for Lemont in their quarterfinal game at Gately Stadium. He had a pair of touchdown receptions among his eight catches for 108 yards, and two of the four interceptions for the Wildcats defense, which held Lemont to 64 total yards in the game. Phillips improved to 12-0 on the season and will travel to Sterling for its semifinal game at 2 p.m.