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By Rich Mayor
Phillips QB Quayvon Skanes is the Tribune/WGN-9 Athlete of the Month for November

Football in Chicago may never be the same again. Doubt was replaced by hope, excuses by evidence.

At Wednesday’s raucous pep rally at Phillips, Mayor Rahm Emanuel compared these Class 4A state-champion Wildcats to the 1957-58 Marshall basketball team, which solidified Chicago as a basketball powerhouse. Phillips, as he sees it, will do the same for city football. On this day, there wasn’t a dissenter present.

Many people had hands in the Phillips turnaround — from 3-6 in 2010 to undefeated in 2015 — none of whom rank ahead of program-builder Troy McAllister. But to ask the sixth-year head coach who he deemed responsible for etching the Wildcats into Public League lore, is to hear two names: Quayvon Skanes and Amani Jones.

“Those are the two main cogs, the cornerstones that have caused this program to get where it is,” McAllister said Tuesday in the Phillips library. “These young guys, to have guys like Quayvon and Amani, to see what they do on a daily basis is incredible. We’re talking about 3.5-plus GPAs and Division I talents, but their work ethic is second to none. For a young player and a young man, there’s nobody better to look up to than Quayvon and Amani.”

Jones, a senior linebacker committed to Iowa, was the leader of a historically stingy defense until he tore a knee ligament during the second play of Week 5’s 62-0 win against Vocational. Upon learning he wouldn’t be able to return this season, Jones told only senior defensive end Amir Watts and Skanes. The fellow cornerstone, an understated and humble quarterback, made an uncharacteristic guarantee.

“The first thing Quayvon said when I told him I couldn’t play again, he said ‘I got you,'” Jones said. “‘I got you. We’re going to win the state championship.'”

From that moment Skanes, November’s Chicago Tribune/WGN-9 Player of the Month, took the Phillips reins. The Wildcats rode his sterling state-final performance — 141 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns, including three scores of more than 30 yards, plus a touchdown pass — to a 51-7 blowout of Belleville Althoff.

The 6-foot, 170-pound Skanes finished with 1,458 rushing yards (10.49 per carry) and 36 touchdowns, plus 504 passing yards and 13 more scores. He also returned punts and kicks and held on kick attempts. For good measure, Skanes says he has a cumulative 3.7 GPA, and hit 4.3 as a junior.

“After Althoff’s first touchdown, when we were down right away, he knew his team needed him,” McAllister said. “He’s very soft-spoken. He became a more vocal leader this year. He recognized the situation, the magnitude of the game. He basically just said, ‘It’s my time.’ That’s what the special players always do.”

McAllister has known Skanes since the quarterback was in sixth grade. That year his team, led by Skanes, won the fifth/sixth grade elementary CPS title. As the coach remembers it, Skanes had a 96-yard touchdown run in the championship game. It was his first season playing football.
Tribune Athlete of the Month: Phillips quarterback Quayvon Skanes

‘Do something positive’

“I think I just kind of have (a good work ethic),” Quayvon Skanes said. “And seeing people without a good work ethic basically pushes me to do better. I kinda kind of feed off negativity, so when I see something negative, I try to do something positive.

“(Quincy), he’s kind of a big role model, especially as far as my football career. To just see him do negative stuff, to see him go down like that, is just pushing me to become a better person.”

Quayvon Skanes passed up Big Ten offers — Illinois and Northwestern among them — for a 900-mile trek east to Connecticut, where he hopes to major in engineering. Fenwick graduate and current UConn freshman cornerback Aaron Garland helped hook Skanes on the Huskies, but the facilities and scenery didn’t hurt.

“Being from around here, you get used to this environment,” Skanes said. “But out there, it was way different. Not being around the city, it just felt good. I saw trees.”

‘I don’t like bragging’

Skanes essentially floats around Phillips these days. Teammates referred to him as “Legend” this week, and freshmen write letters in gym class about how he’s their role model. For someone who has considered himself a quiet “oddball” since grade school, this season was his coming-out party.

“I’m a humble person, I don’t like saying or bragging about anything,” Skanes said. “I just let stuff come to me, just do what I have to do to succeed.”

McAllister always knew Skanes was special, but remembers the moment he realized Skanes was on a different level. In Week 7 of his sophomore season, the Wildcats led late against Raby. Their offense sputtering, they faced third-and-long at midfield, with a first down needed to keep the clock running and ice the victory.

McAllister called quarterback Dewayne Collins over to ask what he wanted to run. Collins, a Tribune First Team All-State player last season, hesitated. Skanes sensed the window. He walked over mid-conversation, interrupting it with a play of his own. It was called “Just throw me the ball.”

McAllister and Collins looked at each other, shrugged, and called it.

“That being a big game, against a big rival, I was just locked in,” Skanes said. “I wanted to get that first down, keep the clock running…”

How’d that play end?

“Yeah, I scored a touchdown,” he said laughing. “Think I broke three tackles and scored.”