When you think of local high school football powerhouses, Chicago Hope Academy doesn’t immediately jump to mind.

The small Christian school on the city’s West Side was founded just 17 years ago but after a perfect regular season, the Eagles hope to win the city’s first Class 1A state title in 43 years and become Chicago’s first West Side program to capture a state football crown at any level.

“Even though we didn’t make it to the state championship last year, the whole team went and watched,” said senior quarterback Eddie Jenkins Jr. “I really think since then the team got the feeling of what it takes to get to the state championship game, and since then we’ve been putting in the work, playing for each other. We’ve been dedicating our lives to football.”

Hope Academy head coach Chris Mallette reached the mountain top as an assistant for Phillips High School in 2017 when his son, Judah, was the team’s 12-year-old ball boy.

“I remember it vividly. I remember after practice on Friday in seventh grade, taking my stuff off and running over to the field to be the ball boy,” Judah Mallette recalled. “It’s definitely different as a player but a lot better.”

Judah is now a senior wide receiver with offers to play at Illinois and Iowa next fall. Still, he says he is focused now on finishing a four-year career playing for dad, who took a leap of faith in 2019 to join Hope after one unbeaten season at the helm of Whitney Young High School.

“It was just the right fit,” Chris Mallette said. “For me, life is a vocational journey. I’m a faith-filled man. It’s ‘where does he want me to be?’ What’s the next step in my journey? [Whitney] Young was awesome. Phillips was awesome. Simeon was awesome. They were awesome for their time. And when the time was up, the time was up.”

“It was a lot coming into a school and helping create a new culture,” Judah said. “It takes time but now the whole program is acclimated, and this is the year we get things done and make it happen.”

Nearly one in five students at Chicago Hope Academy are a part of the football program. While the winning is great, it’s the lessons they are learning about life that will stick with them the longest.

“If you make a mistake, focus on the next play,” said senior kicker Helen Linares. “When you apply that to life, it’s that we are always going to make mistakes but what matters most is how you overcome it. How are we going to change so we don’t make that mistake again?”

“It’s a real close, tight-knit community,” Judah said of the school. “The way we support each other on and off the field or court, it’s a special experience you won’t get anywhere else.”

“On its surface, it’s all about football. But when you get involved in our program you realize this has nothing to do with football. This thing is about life,” Chris Mallette said. “Who are you going to be when you’re 20, 30, 50 years old? The greatest leadership doesn’t happen in this program on the field. Our greatest leadership moments happen off the field, in the classroom or social settings when guys are taking care of each other the way brothers should.”

Mallette’s message has struck the right chord. A program built by hope and hoping to make history a championship at the end of November. The road starts this Friday hosting Chicago Corliss in the 1A State Playoffs first round.