Photos | Oak Park vs. Lyons

An Oak Park coach reacts in the background as Simmie Cobbs (37) escapes a tackle and attempts to remain in-bounds. (Genna Ord, Chicago Tribune / October 12, 2013)

There is no discomfort in Simmie Cobbs' body language. There's no hint of bitterness in his voice.

The Oak Park senior is open about his father's death. His lack of a relationship with his mother and two sisters. His grandmother's struggle to raise him. The circumstances that forced him to transfer from Oak Park to Montini and back.

He fits in well with his friend Robert Spillane's parents and three siblings, who took him in as one of their own two years ago.

Cobbs wasn't ashamed. The Spillanes had nothing to hide.

But their honesty almost backfired.

"It was a real catch-22," said Gretchen Spillane, Robert's mother.. "He couldn't attend Oak Park anymore because they recognized his grandmother as his legal guardian and she moved out of district.

"But Montini considered Oak Park his residence because he lived with us, so he was ineligible to play last year. The great part is it worked out, and being honest did pay off."

Cobbs, a 6-foot-4 wide receiver, will attend Purdue on a football scholarship next season. The road there was about as rocky as they come.

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Cobbs sits on a stool at the kitchen counter of the Spillane's home in Oak Park talking fondly about his year at Montini.

Transfer rules prevented him from playing a down of football at the Lombard school because he lived in the district of the public school from which he transferred, even though Oak Park considered him out of district.

This was a significant recruiting setback because junior year is crucial in prospect evaluation. Cobbs still considered the time there crucial to his development.

He walked over to the refrigerator and pulls off a report card to illustrate his point: Four B's, two A's.

"My freshman and sophomore year, I didn't think about the big picture," Cobbs said. "I wasn't taking school seriously. I felt bad, but I wasn't mature enough to stand up and do it. Being in a new school with a bunch of people I didn't know, all you can do is focus on school.

"As I did that I thought about the bigger picture and said, 'Hey, you need to get yourself on track here. All you're doing is digging yourself a hole.' "

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Cobbs' parents split up when he was young, and he said he hasn't seen his mother since he was 5.

He moved in with his grandmother, Velta Cobbs, and her brother when his father, Simmie Cobbs, died in 2005. As he got older he said he started to feel like a burden.

The Spillanes are used to large families — Gretchen has seven siblings and her husband, Mike, has 10 — and were happy to accommodate Cobbs' increasingly frequent sleepovers with Robert, a football standout at Fenwick who has accepted a scholarship to Western Michigan.

During Cobbs' sophomore year at Oak Park, the Spillanes offered to let him stay for good, provided he followed their rules. The transition, they said, was seamless.