CHATHAM — Simeon senior Raphe' Gross feels all of Chicago behind him and his Wolverines heading into the football program's first state semifinals appearance.
The team seeks to accomplish what no city Public League team has: win a state championship.
"It's the whole city. Everybody is rooting for us," said Gross, whose Wolverines battle Homewood-Flossmoor at 7:15 p.m. Saturday at Gately Stadium in an IHSA Class 8A semifinal.
"We just want to make history and be remembered," added Gross, 17, of Chatham. "That's what we want."
That's exactly what the Wolverines will accomplish with a victory over the Vikings. Only one other Chicago Public League football team at any level — the 1982 Robeson Class 5A state runner-up squad — has reached a championship game. Simeon and Phillips (11-1), which faces Coal City in a Class 4A semi at Gately before Simeon's game, are just the seventh and eighth CPL teams to even make it this far, and neither school has ever competed in the Final Four.
Gross has been a key facet of the 11-1 Wolverines' success. He's played well at cornerback, wide receiver and backup quarterback, and as a kick and punt returner. While the program doesn't keep track of individual player stats, Gross said he's scored at least six touchdowns, including three as a returner.
"Raphe' gives us a lot of depth at quarterback and receiver, and he's one of the hardest-working players we have on the team," head coach Dante Culbreath said.
Football is not even Gross' best sport. He's a better baseball player, starting as a 7-year-old and becoming a "park legend" for the Washington Park Devil Rays. The 5-foot-11 Gross, an outfielder and pitcher, is the left-handed ace for Simeon.
For the last five years, he's also been a standout performer for the White Sox Amateur City Elite (ACE) travel program, which has placed several inner-city players in Division I universities and professional organizations.
"He is a throwback athlete, someone who is great at everything," said Kevin Coe, director of the White Sox program and a McKinley Park resident.
"Baseball is his best sport because his athleticism helps him stand out when he is on the field," said Coe, who believes Gross will either play at a junior college next season or get drafted by a Major League team.
Gross, who prefers the college route, said his parents — both South Shore High School graduates — have driven him to succeed in different ways. His mother, Michelle Lowe, started as a cafeteria cook, and over the last two decades worked her way up to food service manager at Michele Clark Magnet High School on the Far West Side. And Gross dedicates each game with a prayer to his late father, Robert Gross, who died of heart failure at age 40 when Gross was just 11.
"Before he died, he just told me to be humble and just work hard in everything you do," Gross said. "And, with my mom, it's all about never settling for less, and always getting yourself up when times are hard."
Lowe described her son as feeling "super geeked" in anticipation of Saturday's game. Gross said his squad is simply trying to "shock the world."
"It would mean everything getting to the state finals," he said.
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