Peoria High School’s football program has done some great things on and off the field since head coach Tim Thornton’s arrival, most notably winning the IHSA Class 5A state championship in 2016. But yesterday’s trip to the Riddell football equipment facility in Des Plaines, IL, might come in a close second.
Riddell has been awarding grants to deserving high school football programs through the years. This year, according to Thornton, Riddell decided to to pick just one nationwide winner for its Smarter Football awards program and make a big impact on that team. And man, did the Lions football program hit the jackpot! And even more impressive, the Lions program didn’t ask for this or apply to win it. They were recommended for it by the Riddell equipment rep that handles Peoria High’s needs.
Thornton and his coaching staff and players boarded buses provided by Riddell bright and early yesterday morning to travel to Des Plaines in suburban Chicago. While the players did some team-building exercises on the main floor, Thornton went upstairs for an unplanned, 20-minute filmed interview with NFL legend Peyton Manning, a Riddell Brand Ambassador. Manning had studied up on the Lions unique style of play: Up tempo, no huddle, no punts, only 2 points conversions, only 2 days of full pads, etc., and asked appropriate questions to coach Thornton, telling him at the end, “I wish my high school coach was like you.”
Peoria High’s program was chosen, Thornton believes, not only for its successful, non-traditional style of play, but also for the things the Lions staff does for the players off the field, helping players with training table meals and study time. The Lions try to provide structure and help borderline kids off the field,sometimes financially with clothes, for instance. Riddell called the team its “Team of the Future.”
Thornton and Manning walked downstairs to join the team. That’s when Riddell rolled out the gear, thousands of dollars of new Riddell equipment! The Lions program received 55 new helmets, painted up specifically for the Lions. A dozen players had their heads fitted and scanned for new NFL-style Precision Fit helmets that cost about $1,700 each. 60 new shoulders pads, 115 girdles, alternative jerseys, practice gear, travel bags, sweat suits, pants for the freshman team, etc. Here’s a link to Dave Eminian’s PJ Star story
Hear my interview with Thornton below. Congratulation to Peoria High’s football program. We look forward to seeing the new gear this fall on our 9th season of Red Zone High School Football coverage.