The sun has set on a warm summer night in Chicago, and a long line of football players from Simeon (Chicago)
begin to head out from the locker room and across the street to Chatham Park to finish a day of practice and sessions that began nearly 10 hours previously.Jordan Diamond
, a 6-foot-6 senior offensive lineman who has been a captain at Simeon since his sophomore season, is among them. He'd be hard to miss, this giant among young men who would like nothing better than to lead his school to its first state title in football.
"We're here to play football and win state and do something different," Diamond says.
Chatham Park is a small sandlot-type field on the south side of Chicago that has football sidelines laid down next to an all-dirt baseball infield. There is no artificial turf. No bleachers. No light standards over the field like all the big suburban schools have — just a light on a street pole that gives barely enough light around a goalpost area to conduct a few special teams drills after the sun has gone down. This is basic grassroots football in the middle of the city at a school that is known nationally for basketball, but last year won the coveted Chicago Public League football championship with an explosive offense equaled by none.
Simeon plays its home games, and several of its away games, at Gately Stadium, a facility on Chicago's south side that is shared with other city schools. Few players have become so dominant from this humbling setting as Diamond has.
"It's amazing, the way this kid came in for these four years and did absolutely everything that we asked him to," coach Dante Culbreath said. "Great kid, great family background. Mom and dad did a wonderful job. I can't take any credit for that kid."
At 6-foot-6 and 289 pounds (down from almost 350 pounds when he was younger), Diamond is one of the top senior linemen in the country and has approximately 30 Division I scholarship offers. He has visited 11 of those schools on unofficial visits, with his five official visits still to come.
Diamond is the No. 41 recruit in the nation
, according to MaxPreps.com/CBS recruiting expert Tom Lemming. He is ranked as the seventh-best offensive lineman in the nation and is among five of the Top 10 linemen who have not yet verbally committed to a college.
"When you do it the right way, you know, it goes the right way. He does it the right way," Culbreath said. "All the things that are happening for him, I'm not surprised."
Diamond's college choice is still months away from fruition. Simeon begins its season Aug. 29 against Chicago Mt. Carmel of the city‘s powerful Catholic Blue League in a game to be played at Soldier Field, home of the NFL's Chicago Bears, and Diamond simply will not allow college recruiting to interfere with a high school season in which he hopes the Wolverines "finish the job" with a state title.
"I'm not going to bring recruiting here to Simeon," Diamond said. "I'm not going to use that as a distraction to my teammates. I'm not even going to deal with it during the season, it's going to be after the season."
Where Diamond winds up collegiately can only be a guess at this point, especially since he says he hasn't even whittled down his official visits to five. Fan boards have him going anywhere from Michigan to Iowa to Ohio State, and a recent visit to the University of Arkansas campus resulted in high marks from his family. It won‘t hurt Arkansas that the Razorbacks have already offered a scholarship to Diamond's senior teammate at Simeon, quarterback Robert Gregory
. The two often chat about attending the same school.
"That's what we talk about all the time," Gregory said.
That, and, of course, a state championship.
Mention Simeon Career Academy, and it is not long before the name of Derrick Rose comes up. Rose played on two state championship basketball teams at Simeon and went on to become the NBA's top draft choice in 2008 with the hometown Chicago Bulls. Even now, led by sophomore sensation Jabari Parker, the Wolverines won their second consecutive Illinois Class 4A title this past March.
Diamond wants the same thing in football, which would be an incredible feat of magic considering that no Chicago Public League school has ever won an Illinois state championship in football and only one (not Simeon) has ever made it to a state title game.
"That‘s been our dream since we've been here, the first Simeon team to win a (football) state title," Gregory said.
"It's about that time to make history, it's about that time to make a change," Diamond said. "Last year was a phenomenal year, but we didn't finish out. So we've got to finish out this year. That's going to be it, just finishing out."
The Wolverines came close to that history in 2010. The Wolverines won their first 11 games, easily captured the Chicago Illini Red Bird Conference championship, and piled up 50 points or more four times. Simeon's unbeaten run ended in a 17-14 loss to Lake Zurich in the Class 7A quarterfinals, just one week after a 55-50 win over Schaumburg in an offensive battle.
Diamond, playing at left tackle, was a big part of setting up that offense up front. And in 2010, it certainly helped that one of his linemates was Chris Bryant, a 330-pounder who graduated in 2011 and is now a freshman offensive tackle at the University of Michigan.
"I'm a three-year starter at Simeon," Gregory said, "And I've never been sacked on my back side."
Culbreath is hoping for big things in 2011, with his two stars.
"Both of them are very intelligent about the game of football," Culbreath said. "They know how to read defenses. We've been teaching them a lot, him and Robert, so they know what they're looking for. They believe in one another."
It is often that Diamond that will line up in practice, or in a game, and get that fearful look from the other side of the line. The image evokes a hearty laugh.
"It used to happen at practice," he said. "As we compete and as we move forward during the season, I'm making my teammates better."
Chicago Public League teams are used to Diamond's size by now. What they're likely to see this year, though, is a quicker Diamond. It is what he is hoping to work on as his college years draw closer.
"Definitely, speed," he said. "Speed is going to be a key asset to me going into college because the game is much faster at that level. Explosiveness can just make my game even better."Paul Bowker, an online and newspaper sports journalist for 25 years and the author of two Major League Baseball books, covers the Chicago area for MaxPreps. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.