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Reunion of Zion-Benton’s 1988 championship football team truly a blast from the past

Z-B assistant coach JustManning talks with senior JasFriedrich during Friday's game wby Ziover Mundelein. | MARK UKENA~FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Z-B assistant coach Justin Manning talks with senior Jason Friedrich during Friday's game, won by Zion over Mundelein. | MARK UKENA~FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Zion-Benton 20, Libertyville 0

Zion-Benton 42, North Chicago 6

Zion-Benton 27, Lake Forest 0

Zion-Benton 42, Mundelein 12

Zion-Benton 13, Antioch 7

Zion-Benton 27, Warren 7 (Homecoming)

Zion-Benton 43, Stevenson 0

Zion-Benton 41, Fenton 2

Zion-Benton 39, Niles North 0

Zion-Benton 31, Carmel 10 (playoff)s

Deerfield 28, Zion-Benton 7 (playoffs)


First and only Zion-Benton football team to go through the regular season undefeated.

The seniors from that team also hold the record for most wins in a two-year span with 17, having gone 7-4 as juniors.

Quarterback Gary Scott was unable to attend Thursday’s dinner. He completed 62-of-141 passes for 962 yards and 7 touchdowns that year.

Also unable to attend was Chad Hetlet, who was not a standout on the 1988 team but won a 7A state championship last year as head coach at Glenbard West. The Hilltoppers are 4-1 this season and an incredible 69-11 under Hetlet in seven seasons, a tenure that also includes a 7A runner-up finish.

Marsa Dixon led the team with 4 interceptions.

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Updated: November 1, 2013 10:07AM

Twenty-five years later, and the magic remains.

In the fall of 1988, Zion-Benton High School’s football team posted the school’s first/only 9-0 regular season (10-1 overall), and that team and its magical season were celebrated during last week’s Homecoming activities at the school.

So, what happened? The current Z-B team donned the uniforms from 1988 and then went out and beat Mundelein 34-14 for its very first win of the season.

Anybody want to bring back these 1988 guys next week, too?

Besides being celebrated at the football game, the ’88 team also joined the current squad for a team dinner at the school on Thursday. And it was there that the stories of that wonderful campaign flowed as freely as the orange juice that was being served.

LeRoy Cliff, coach of the championship team, talked about the season, sharing memories from each game as he ran through the schedule.

Players from the 1988 team shared inspirational words with current players, as well as some of their pregame motivational chants.

Afterward, those able to stick around got to watch game film from the 1988 season.

As for the most emotional moment of the weekend, it was this: In 1988, when Peter Smith went down with a knee injury, star kick returner and defensive back Donald Farmer helped pick up the load. Farmer ended up leading the team with 851 yards on 117 carries and 13 rushing touchdowns.

Farmer went on to attend college in North Dakota, then joined the Marines. In 1995, he joined the Army and in 2004, he was struck by a vehicle and died while serving in Kuwait.

Farmer’s son Da’Shaun, a student at Zion-Benton High, was an honorary captain for Friday’s game. He received a jersey with his father’s No. 7 autographed by members of the team and a DVD featuring the game film of every game from the 1988 season.

As for what those involved in the special event had to say about the weekend, here’s a sample:

Tim Borop: star linebacker and fullback; 99 carries for 529 yards and 11 touchdowns, 12 receptions for 129 yards; recruiting manager at Expiris in Waukegan; played at Wisconsin-Whitewater.

“There are so many great memories. Our first playoff game on a Wednesday night down at Carmel, I guess that would be No. 1,” he said. “The atmosphere was great. It seemed like everybody in Lake County was there, and it was obviously a good result for us. We played a really good game that evening.

“We had our weekly rituals. In those days, we played on Saturdays. We always hung out on a Friday night before a game, and we met Saturday morning at the local restaurant before we came to the stadium. The whole team was tight, and I think that’s a big part of the reason we had so much fun and we were so successful.”

Armando Alexander: played defensive end; currently works for the Waukegan Police Department; sons James and Armando Alexander are students at Zion-Benton; son Treavon (Class of 2013) played football for the Zee-Bees and his daughter Brittany (Class of 2007) played basketball and was a thrower on the track team.

“I remember before one of the games, we were getting hyped up in the old gym. We played music like ‘We Are the Champions’ and everybody was just so psyched up. That’s one of my best football memories.

“We were really fast. We had a great coaching staff that followed us up from freshmen year to senior year. Everybody shared the same mindset, and everybody got along. Nobody messed up because we didn’t want to hear it from Coach Cliff,” he laughed.

Chris Angelopulos: center and linebacker; dentist in Virginia; played at Lake Forest College.

“I flew out here (Thursday) morning with my wife and four kids, including two 10-month-olds. That’s a feat in and of itself. We talked about doing stuff likes this back when we were playing together. We had such a great four-year run together, not just the one season, so we knew back then that we’d stay in touch,” he said.

As for the city of Zion back then: “It was that movie cliche, signs in the window, wear your jersey around town type of atmosphere. Everybody would hang out at McDonalds the morning before. Everybody knows who’s on the team. I don’t know what it’s like now, but back then, it had the feel of one of those great high school football runs for sure.”

LeRoy Cliff: head coach of the 1988 team: coached the Zee-Bees for a total of 19 years over two stints; spends time in Wisconsin and Florida depending on the time of year; Cliff’s wife passed away, and he has since remarried. He attended Thursday’s dinner with his wife of seven years, Marty.

“They were little. We should have gotten our butt kicked most of the time. I had one starter over 200 pounds. In the North Suburban? You didn’t see that very often. But they were fast, and they were football players. They knew football. We tried things that year that we didn’t try before or after because they could pick it up. Their speed was a thing,” he said.

“I had a coaching staff that had been together for umpteen years. Some of them had been with me for 10 or 15 years They believed in what we were doing. Leon Muff was one of my assistants, and we thought alike. There were times when he was talking, and it was like me thinking out loud. We had a group of coaches that were all on the same page.

“There are so many memories, but the first great memory from that team was actually when they were juniors. The papers had us at something like 31- or 35-point underdogs to Palatine in the first round of the playoffs, and we won 13-6. I think that was the foundation for the next year, because they understood how to set goals and go about achieving them.”

Gary Bereiter: defensive coordinator for the 1988 team; head coach from 1996-2006; Zion made 4 playoff appearances with Bereiter at the helm, including Zion’s last playoff team in 2003.

“Those guys, even though they weren’t really big, they were smart. They were a team that when they took the field, it wasn’t ‘How are we going to win?’ but ‘We are going to win.’ They had that type of attitude in everything they did,” he said.

“They were also the type of team where, when you watched game film afterward, everybody always seemed to be in the spot they were supposed to be. You didn’t see many mistakes.”

Current Zion-Benton senior captain LB/WR Trenton Curry:

“It’s been a great learning experience. It shows that there was a good time for Zion-Benton football at one point,” he said. “It definitely energizes us. One of the things we heard a lot from them is that you want to make sure you win your Homecoming game.”

Current head coach Bob Strickland:

“Last night, we watched a clip from the documentary Boys of Fall, all about tradition. I had them walk the hallway and take a look at the football teams that are up there on the wall, because that’s what we’re playing for this weekend. It’s such a big deal to get them to understand what this is all about, what we had here, and what we’re trying to retrieve.”

Lonnie Bible, the school’s athletic director:

“It really is a blessing for us to have them here to share their experience and their accomplishments with our current athletes. That’s what makes tonight so special.”

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