Since the Chicago Public League began participating in the state football playoff in 1979, its representatives rarely have been considered serious contenders to win a championship.
In fact, only one Public League team--Robeson in 1982--has advanced to the state final. And only five others--Lane Tech in 1980, Tilden in 1983, Morgan Park in 2004 and Hubbard in 2000 and 2005--reached the semifinals.
But Morgan Park's 2007 squad is best of all. Coach Lexie Spurlock, like most coaches who know a good thing when they see it, prefers to dance around the subject and is reluctant to toss out bouquets with so much of the season still to be determined. But his Mustangs are the real deal.
I have been observing Public League football since 1968. I saw Robeson's 1982 state runnerup. And the 1982 and 1983 Tilden teams with Dempsey Norman. And the good Lane Tech teams of Al Manasin and Sam Bronswick. And Carl Bonner's 1973 Phillips team. And Bernie O'Brien's outstanding teams at Vocational. And the recent powerhouses at Morgan Park and Hubbard.
But none of them was more impressed than Morgan Park in Thursday's 27-7 dismantling of Hubbard at Gately Stadium. The Mustangs are big, quick, strong, physical, deep, talented and balanced. They are hostile, mobile and agile.
Afterward, Spurlock said: "They can still do better." That's a scary thought. When pressed if he had ever seen a better defense in the Public League, he said his 2003 defense was great "but this team could be better."
How much better? Against Hubbard, Morgan Park recorded 17 negative-yardage plays. The Mustangs allowed 14 net yards in the first half and minus seven in the second half. The defense has permitted only one touchdown in the last five games.
College recruiters who evaluate Morgan Park's film will like what they see. Defensive end Craig Drummond, a 6-5, 250-pound junior, is fast emerging as one of the leading prospects in his class. Defensive end Jeremy Johnson, a 6-2, 245-pound senior, is another standout.
Other seniors who are Division I prospects are wide receiver Desmond Powell, who is being compared to former Morgan Park star Chris James, 6-1, 210-pound linebacker Jonathan Ridgner, 6-0, 210-pound linebacker Ernest Leonard and free safety Antwain Windmon.
Morgan Park is two-deep at quarterback. Senior Jelani Eddy usually gets the starting call but Spurlock opted for junior Victor Scott against Hubbard. Scott, who has a strong arm, responded by completing 10-of-23 passes for 125 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown pass to Powell on fourth-and-12.
The running attack is keyed by junior tailback Dominique Bell. He runs behind a big offensive line anchored by tackles Jazzano Barrios, a 6-3, 320-pound sophomore, and William Sargent, a 6-4, 350-pound senior, guards Terrance Allen, a 6-4, 315-pound junior, and Joshua Bryant, a 6-2, 275-pound senior, and junior center Jason Simmons, a 6-0, 250-pounder.
How good is Morgan Park's defense?
The only one I can recall that impressed me as much was Glenbrook North's undersized but quick defense that stopped favored Evanston at the goal line to win its first-round game in 1974, then went on to stun heavily favored East St. Louis 19-13 in overtime for the championship.
The East St. Louis team featured three future NFL players, including Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow. Glenbrook North was led by all-state linebacker Jack Moller, who went to Stanford, running back Greg Woodsum and 180-pound lineman Gary Rockoff. It still stands as the greatest upset in the history of the state playoff.