Phillips senior defensive tackle Amir Watts let out a hearty smile late Friday night when reflecting back on his lone season at the Bronzeville school. A year ago, Watts spent a half-season playing for De La Salle, which finished 1-8.
"Can you believe this?" Watts asked while walking out of the postgame press conference following Phillips' 51-7 triumph over Belleville Althoff in the Class 4A state championship.
The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Watts made a major impact in his only season at Phillips. Watts is one of the top uncommitted seniors in the state, with notable offers from Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, Rutgers, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
His performance in Friday's historic win can only help his stock for colleges seeking an athletic and strong defensive tackle.
Watts collected three sacks among his 5.5 tackles for loss, forced two fumbles and added a 19-yard fumble return for a touchdown to help the Wildcats become the first Public League team to win a football state title. Watts said North Carolina and Nebraska have recently shown interest in him.
"They just started texting me and started watching film on me," Watts said, "and are going to have all their coaches watch my film and get back in touch with me."
Phillips defensive tackle Chris Elmore is an emerging prospect in the junior class. The 6-0, 265-pounder compiled five tackles and one sack in the title game, but yet to receive an offer.
"I've been talking a lot with Rutgers and Bowling Green," Elmore said. "Amir, Malcolm Fox and I are planning to go to a trip to Purdue probably next week. On Jan. 22, Amir is taking a visit to Rutgers and I'm going to tag along."
In the Class 5A final Saturday, Nazareth junior running back Ivory Kelly-Martin helped himself with a monster performance in a 42-21 win over Lincoln-Way West. A year after playing a handful of plays in Nazareth's 2014 6A title-game win over Lemont because of a knee injury, Kelly-Martin rushed for 170 yards and four touchdowns on 13 carries against the Warriors. He scored on touchdowns runs of 2, 96, 19 and 17 in the first three quarters.
Kelly-Martin, who has offers from Wisconsin, Indiana State and Illinois State, admitted that he's excited to send out his junior film to college.
"I was really hot during the summer after going to a lot of camps even though I didn't have any sophomore film," Kelly-Martin said. "I think definitely with my junior film and after this big season, I'm hoping it will pick up more offers."
Montini junior running back Prince Walker is another player on the radar of a lot of colleges. Walker helped himself with 22 carries for 169 yards and three touchdowns in the Broncos' 38-15 win over Crete-Monee in the 6A championship game on Saturday.
"I've taken game-day visits to Indiana, Northern Illinois and Iowa," Walker said, "but I'm going to look at more colleges now that season is done."
Cleveland to Macomb: Hoffman Estates senior defensive end Dante Cleveland committed to Western Illinois on the eve of Thanksgiving.
The 6-3, 255-pounder had numerous offers from FBS schools, but elected to play for the FCS Leathernecks. He chose WIU over Fordham and Northern Iowa. Cleveland's commitment is a nice coup for the Leathernecks, who play at second-seeded Illinois State on Saturday in the second round of the FCS playoffs. Cleveland said former Schaumburg standout and current Western Illinois redshirt freshman wide receiver Stacey Smith helped sell him on becoming a Leatherneck.
"Western Illinois is an up-and-coming program and have a really great defensive line coach," Cleveland said. "I thought it would be a nice fit. After talking with my parents, I thought it would be a good idea."
Bob Narang is a freelance reporter for the Chicago Tribune.