Hyde Park Academy
Hyde Park Academy Thunderbirds halfback Wilhelm Lord.

Cruising into Homecoming weekend on a five game winning streak, the Hyde Park High School Thunderbirds won their sixth consecutive game on Saturday, Oct. 1. Though the team is vying for a city title and a return to the IHSA state postseason, head coach Keenan Phillips-Riley said their ultimate goal this year is "hard work and commitment."

The Thunderbirds’ season began on Aug. 27 with a blowout game against Dyett High School (34-0). Six days later, they beat the Chicago Vocational High School Cavaliers (36-6), and then the Bogan High School Bengals (50-0) on Sept. 10. Then, in their tightest game yet, the Thunderbirds clinched a narrow victory against Perspectives Leadership Academy Warriors (22-20) on Sept. 16 and went on to beat the Chicago High School of Agricultural Sciences Cyclones (20-14) on Sept. 24. Finally, last Saturday, Oct. 1, Hyde Park High School won their sixth consecutive game this season against the Dunbar Vocational Career Academy Mighty Men (44-0).

Last year, the Thunderbirds only maintained a four game streak. With each win, Phillips-Riley said, the team’s confidence grows. “Our confidence level is high but grounded. We know what's in store in the coming weeks,” he said. 

Despite opening the season streak, Phillips-Riley feels there are some noticeable areas of improvement that the team needs to prioritize. 

“The things that we need to improve on are our speed, strength and overall football IQ,” he said. “Another thing we need to improve on is depth.” 

The Thunderbirds have had three winning seasons – when a team wins the majority of its games – since 2018. Last year, the team finished 6-4 after losing to Stillman Valley High School (62-14) in the first round of the IHSA state playoffs. But, according to Phillips-Riley, this year’s team is more driven and determined.  

This year, Phillips-Riley said the team’s offensive weapon is senior halfback Wilhelm Lord, who has so far gotten 12 touchdowns, 82 carries and a total of 902 rushing yards. Other key offensive players include seniors like quarterback Rasheed Abayomi, who has over 400 passing yards and 12 passing touchdowns under his belt, fullback Jeremiah Smith and tight end Maasai “Big Tree” Gibson.   

That said, they’re a much younger team than last year. “More than 80% of our student-athletes have never played organized tackle football before,” said Phillips-Riley.  

The Thunderbirds have six active freshman players. A standout player from this group, Phillips-Riley noted, is backup quarterback Cornell “Juju” Conley.

With three games left in the regular season, the Thunderbirds have some tough competition ahead of them. On Oct. 15, they’ll face off against conference rival the King College Prep Jaguars. Though the Thunderbirds have beaten the Jaguars in four out of their five games, last season they suffered a crushing loss (32-8). Phillips-Riley said the team “has not forgotten.”

“What led our team to have an undefeated season so far is the commitment and dedication the kids have shown into what we are trying to accomplish in our program,” Phillips-Riley said. “They have bought into our system.”

The Thunderbirds hope to continue the winning streak during their game this Saturday against Richards Career Academy. Kickoff is at 1 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 8 at Amos A Stagg Stadium, 1035 W. 74th St.

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