They call themselves the eight-man army.
Homewood-Flossmoor’s sprinters were on the front lines for the boys track team all season. When the heat was on, they delivered the Vikings a Class 3A state championship.
“They were incredibly special. I think you could probably count on one hand how many teams had a group of sprinters as strong as this group was,” coach Nate Beebe said. “They were the best sprint group we’ve ever had, and we’ve had some good ones.”
All of H-F’s scoring at the state meet on May 27 came in the 100, 200 and 400-meter dashes or one of the short relays. The Vikings finished with 58 team points, 16 ahead of second-place Neuqua Valley.
“We’ve always had the pieces. We finally put them together this year,” senior Jeremiah Turner said. “It was a little bit different, but it worked out. I feel like I made my coach proud and that’s really the main thing that stuck with me.”
The Vikings were runner-up at state in both 2018 and 2019. They finished eighth a year ago. Some of the athletes on this team talked about watching Beebe do interviews after the 2022 state meet. They saw his disappointment, but remember him talking about how much talent would be coming back for this season’s run.
“Coach Beebe, those runner-ups, I know they just crushed him. Both years, it could’ve went either way,” Nelson Speaks said. “This year, it felt like a bunch of relief.”
Beebe said he knew last spring that this year’s team had the potential to win state. The Vikings were just a little short in a few key areas last year and dealt with some injuries but were returning an obviously talented sprint group.
“We had a nice, young core. On that drive home from the state meet (in 2022) we were calculating which athletes needed to be where and started from then,” he said.
Beebe said hoisting that trophy was both a relief and validation for the work he and his staff put in over the years.
“Man, (Beebe) does everything for us. He puts us first. He’ll do anything for us. I had a close relationship with Coach Beebe. No matter what, he always believed in me,” junior Andrew Mitchell said. “After the four by four, he came down and gave me a huge hug and started crying on the track. He was like ‘You just ran a great leg.’ That’s when we realized that we won.”
The 400-meter relay team led the way in Charleston. It was nothing short of dominant all season. The group of Olusoga Adeyiga, Robert Scott III, John Gore and Turner didn’t lose a race in 2023 and often won by better than a second. That’s an eternity in races that usually finish in less than three quarters of a minute.
Scott is the group’s elder. He’s run with H-F’s 400-relay squad for the last three years, winning an individual state title in 2022 and finishing sixth the season before.
“It’s almost a normal thing (to win). I expect nothing less than that,” he said. “Our coach, the team and the individual relays, we don’t expect nothing less than being the best in the state.”
The 800-meter relay team of Turner, Gore, Scott and Mitchell also stood atop the highest step on the podium with a time of one minute, 26.2 seconds. That’s two tenths of a second off of the state record.
Scott and Adeyiga each also placed in the 200. Adeyiga was second in the 100, and Speaks finished fifth in the 400.
The 1,600-meter relay team didn’t qualify for the state meet last year. Beebe said he and sprint coach Chris Korfist made it a point to get that team where it needed to be this year. Mitchell, Myles Ellis, Kyle Murry and Speaks took third in the event.
“Other than track, it’s like a brotherhood. Our chemistry is really (good). That’s really a big part of success,” Scott said. “Being a part of that eight-man army says that we’re the best of the best in the state, the best of the best on the team and we represented H-F well.”
The athletes credited some new training strategies, mostly from Korfist, with a jump in performance. The team didn’t lift weights much and spent less time actually sprinting in practice. Instead, Korfist identified each individual’s weak points and went to work on addressing them. Injury prevention was also an emphasis, especially regarding hamstrings.
Beebe said it was a huge difference maker.
“I seen a lot of changes, a lot more flexibility. That was my main problem. I ran very stiff,” Turner said. “Each person had different things to work on. There were different people on the team doing different things to improve in the places they needed to improve.”
The Vikings roster will look different next year, but Beebe thinks it will have the horses to have another special season. Adeyiga, Mitchell, Ellis and Speaks all should return. H-F also expects Sochim Ozoh, one of the top long jumpers in the state, to return. He was injured for the postseason.
“I was telling my team at the end (of the meet) that we just placed third in the four by four and I was fifth in the 400. There’s unfinished business,” Speaks said. “It’s really going to be a relief when we come out here next year, I get some first places under my name and we win the team title again.”