Midwest BOOM shines national spotlight on Illinois high school football players

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CHICAGO – Eight years ago, J.R. Niklos and Elliot Ivory put their heads together to try to figure out how more high school football players in the Midwest could catch on with college recruiters.

“We sat down and we had this idea to come up with this 7 v 7 team,” explained Ivory, who played football at Proviso West and Western Illinois.

“We really felt like the athletes in the Chicago-area were slept on given the opportunities that most football states like Texas, California and Florida we’re getting. So we started BOOM,” noted Nikos.

The name “BOOM” is no coincidence. It stands for what they believe in.

“We knew we had to make an impact to get these college coaches to notice.

“Even the colors. We say what is in the dark shall be brought to the light. The purple represents the dark and the yellow represents the light. All the work we put in on Sundays, when no one‘s watching, that’s what we want to do so when the lights come on on Friday night, our kids shine.”

Their goal was to give big talent from small schools exposure and that’s exactly what they got. Over 500 of their athletes received Division I offers.

“They got their first offer before they even played varsity football because of the exposure and the development that we offer. They’re more prepared to go to these camps. They’re used to top-end speed from all over the world,” added Niklos.

“I really wasn’t getting contacted by any colleges before,” remarked Cameron Pickett, a junior wide receiver from Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy. “I’ve gotten emails and messages from certain Ivy League schools. I’ve been talking to Yale.” 

BOOM churns out college-ready athletes with a tried and true process: Fine tune a player’s skillset, match them up with the best talent from across the country, and add a professional touch to their highlight reel – a major part of the recruiting process, especially with no IHSA games being played this fall. 

“It’s what I’ve mastered over ten years of having a recruiting business and understanding what college coaches want to see,” Ivory explained.

“They can hear about you all they want but if they can’t see how you play and how you play versus other people, then it doesn’t really matter,” said Pickett.

Critics say playing football during a pandemic puts kids at risk. BOOM’s founders believe it’s time-sensitive for their future.

“I see all the things that they are being stripped from and what it’s doing to them. We’re taking away their identity. Depression, anxiety, addiction is all happening with our kids right now because we’ve put them on the back burner. I don’t think people really realize, unless you have a kid of your own, what it’s doing to them. It makes it 100% worth it. Whenever someone’s telling me I shouldn’t be doing it, I remember that. I remember the smiles on the kids faces. I keep pushing forward.”

Midwest BOOM has pushed its way to the top of the 7-on-7 world, amassing 70 championships in less than a decade, including eleven national titles.

“That’s the amazing thing about starting BOOM. It puts a bunch of different kids together from different cultures and backgrounds, who all have the same mindset and make the best versions of themselves. Iron sharpens iron.” 

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