Famous Hulbert is no stranger to adversity. A nationally recruited linebacker out of Proviso West, his football career at Illinois was cut short by a rare and mysterious illness. Undaunted, he graduated and pursued a coaching career at his former school. The West Suburban conference is powerful, and Proviso West has been down for some time. But progress is being made.
"We didn't make progress record wise, but we did in terms of a lot of the off-the-field stuff. We're establishing depth. We ended up having to start five sophomores and a freshman in one of the toughest conferences. We actually did it out of necessity. We were down in talent. The young guys are better than what we had. You could make the argument it was the toughest last year. We're looking for big things next year."
Proviso West historically has played second fiddle to sister school Proviso East. And several top athletes in the Proviso West school district don't attend school there.
"Proviso East is located in a predominately black neighborhood. Our district is more mixed than Proviso East. So the natural talent level is a little lower.
"At East, they get most of their better younger kids. A St. Rita starting running back should be here. And Nazareth's starting running back, a D-1 recruit (LaSteven McKinney), should be here. He lives in our district. So it's definitely challenging."
At least, Famous has one big asset drawing attention to his program. Wide receiver Kyle Prater blew up at the Army All-America Combine in San Antonio in January, and now every top school in the country is stopping by Proviso West to throw their hat in the ring for his services.
"He went down there and represented well. I knew he was gonna do well. We were surprised he got MVP, but we weren't surprised he ripped it up like he did. That was a great thing for our program as well."
Prater showed his skills at an Illinois one-day camp last June. Arriving late, Kyle missed the warmup, 40 yard dash and vertical leap tests. But he stepped onto the field and started making one catch after another. He left a lasting impression.
"He was actually tired because we had just finished up our fourth padded practice," Hulbert reminded.
Prater is unique in that he is an extremely tall receiver with the footwork and ball skills of a much smaller player. While most players' heights are exaggerated by coaches eager to help them obtain scholarships, that is not true of Hulbert's young prodigy.
"A lot of recruiters have been shocked. They think I fudged his height. He's a 6'-4 and 1/2, 6'-5" guy."
Kyle is a coach's dream.
"He's an extremely hard-working kid. He's already accepted his invitation to play in the All-American game. That takes the pressure off of me.
"For a high school kid, he has great ball hands and great ball skills. He's a better person than he is football player. That's the great thing about him. He's a kid that works hard, he's goal-oriented. He wants to be the best."
Prater looks slender at 190 pounds, although he is getting bigger, stronger and faster all the time. But even then, he looks more like a basketball player than football player. Surprisingly enough, he prefers football.
"He made the sacrifice to give up basketball because football is his ticket. He's putting his eggs in that basket, and if he works hard it will pay big dividends for him. He has a lot of natural athletic ability, and he puts the work ethic with it.
"Certain things just come naturally to him. I would describe him as being a natural route runner with great body control."
Kyle is fortunate that Famous has made a point of helping him through the recruiting process.
"He and I have already gone through everything. I went through it back in 1993. I've made myself available 24 hours a day to have multiple meetings with him. Being that filter for the family to help them make as informed a decision as they can make. I tell Kyle I will help him handle everything like he's my own son. I want him to make the best possible choice for his future."
Illinois is definitely in the mix for his services. They may even be the favorite, although there will be tough competition from dynamic programs all over the country. Illinois junior commitment Corey Cooper from Proviso East is one of his best friends, and he lives on the same block as present Illini Bo Flowers.
"If they had offered him that day (the summer camp), he probably would have accepted it. They're very high on the list. Coach Zook's already personally been here. Most of the head coaches in the Big 10 have already been through here. Illinois is on the list, they just have to win on the field and everything will take care of itself."