High school sports: Troy McAllister’s new challenge in Sandburg
Sandburg Men’s Sports have filled many trophy crates over the years.
Five different programs combined to win 14 crown titles: five in wrestling, four in volleyball, three in soccer, and one each in baseball and cross country.
Former Eagle Lukas Verzbicas has won multiple national cross country titles and holds the US high school record in the 2 mile.
But one sport that lags behind the others is soccer. The Eagles enjoyed a final winning season in 2015, also the last time they made the IHSA playoffs. Their most recent playoff victory dates back to 2010.
Now Troy McAllister aims to change that.
After a historic 11-year run at Phillips that included state titles in 2015 and 2017 – the first two in Public League history – McAllister is rising to the challenge of making Sandburg football relevant again.
His reputation preceded him and created a buzz that is not usually associated with the Eagles.
“With the arrival of a new trainer, especially [one] like Coach McAllister there is obviously a lot of excitement, ”said junior quarterback Christian Evans. “The last two years for Sandburg have been difficult for football. But I feel a lot of people are excited for this year to see a change. “
Senior linebacker Luke DeVito appreciates the passion McAllister brings to his new job.
“It’s definitely a change for Sandburg to have a guy like that,” DeVito said. “In the past, we haven’t had a lot of coaches with the motivation and attention that he brings to the program.
McAllister knows a thing or two about reclamation projects. Twelve players showed up for their first practice at Phillips in 2010. His debut was a 48-20 loss to TEAM Englewood – “we got spanked” – the start of a 2-7 season which is his only year loser as head coach.
The Wildcats made the IHSA playoffs the following year and soon after began a six-year run that included both state titles, a runner-up, a semifinal berth and two quarterfinal appearances.
Along the way, McAllister resigned in May 2014 to take on the role of Evergreen Park. But that didn’t work and a few months later he returned to Phillips for the state titles and seven more seasons.
He doesn’t regret any part of the trip. The move follows the unexpected death in January of Mike Larson, McAllister’s longtime defensive coordinator and best friend.
“I think the spring season has been a good one for, in particular, the senior class and our coaching staff at Phillips,” said McAllister. “It was really good to be there… they had a lot of healing.”
McAllister and Larson had a deal to stick with Phillips and see what they could accomplish. It was more than any public league football program during the state’s playoff days.
“And then, life changes,” McAllister said. “And when [Larson] past, it just made you step back and think, “What was the next step?” For me, that was it.
Like Phillips on his arrival, Sandburg poses a challenge. Besides the recent lack of success, there’s the fact that the Eagles are playing in what McAllister considers the best public school conference in the state: the SouthWest Suburban Blue.
Lincoln-Way East is the area’s most dominant public school program, while Bolingbrook and Homewood-Flossmoor are also perennial powers, and Lockport is a growing team.
But McAllister appreciates the perks of this Sandburg squad that his Phillips clubs don’t: a changing room and a stadium right across from the school parking lot, among others. When the Eagles host the next IHSA playoff game, they won’t have to fight for a favorable time slot at Gately Stadium like Phillips did.
“I don’t think a lot of people, unless you’re from CPS, get it – the little extra details you need to have mapped out because anything… can be anywhere,” McAllister said. “So it’s nice to be able to handle some of these little things. “
This leaves McAllister and his staff to focus on training. Don’t expect him to change a winning formula.
“How we organize practice and how I train, I don’t really change that,” said McAllister. “We tried to take what worked at Phillips and bring it here. …
“It’s going to be a learning curve and we’re going to have our difficulties. But the plan is over time, we start to build success. “
If this sounds like McAllister’s last stop, those trophy crates in Sandburg will be a lot fuller on the road.