The future looked bleak. As a matter of fact, it was set to be nonexistent, at least in regard to the typical high school scenario.
At this time last year, Thornridge's run as a four-year institution was scheduled to end when the 2010-11 school year concluded. The building and grounds would remain, but they would begin serving as a freshman-only academy this fall.
Those students entering their sophomore, junior or senior years in 2011 would do so at one of the other two District 205 schools, Thornton or Thornwood. For athletes, that meant having to continue their careers with strangers.
“It would have been a huge adjustment (with) your (on-field) enemies becoming your friends,” Falcons senior lineman Stephen Davis said. “It would have been crazy. I figure maybe some guys would have ended up not playing football, and that's not a good thing.”
“A lot of kids were frustrated because they didn't know the situation as far as buses and what schools they were going to have to go to,” first-year Thornridge football coach Tyrone Richardson added. “They wouldn't be able to attend a school in their community, which would have been very difficult for them.”
In a gridiron season filled with thought-to-be lasts, the Falcons managed to prosper. Sparked by the presence of future Division I running back Mika'il McCall and multi-sport standout Gary Ford, Thornridge battled its way into the state playoffs for only the second time in the past 16 years.
“We went out every week like it was our last game because we never knew if we were going to play for Thornridge again or not,” Davis said. “That was our mentality the whole year.”
“It was great motivation,” senior receiver Gene Jackson said, referring to the no-tomorrow thoughts. “We said, 'Let's ride,' and at the end of it all, we did pretty good.”
Seeing as how many school sports contracts are two-year deals and Thornridge was in the midst of several of them after moving into the SouthWest Suburban Conference, the IHSA granted it a one-year waiver. In other words, the freshman academy was still a go, but the change would be delayed until the 2012-13 school year.
That still wasn't good enough to convince former coach Mike Morrissey to remain past the 2010 season, but Richardson – who'd joined the staff from the Dolton Bears youth program and filled roles for both the varsity and sophomore squads at Thornridge – wasn't scared off by the short-term prospect.
“It was experience for me,” he said. “I would have gotten the chance to be a head coach, so I was excited about that. But there was still no guarantee, and it would have been leaving kids and their parents with a difficult decision.”
“I heard a couple incoming freshmen talking about that they didn't want to come to Thornridge because they heard Thornridge wasn't going to be a school (next) year,” Jackson said. “All I told 'em was, 'Come for that one year. See how it is to be a Falcon.'”
Just when everybody had pretty much resigned themselves to the impending switch, a life preserver was thrown to those who sought to retain the status quo.
It came in the form of a personnel shift within the District 205 school board. Three new members who opposed the idea of a freshman academy made their presence felt, and suddenly the plan was voted down and an atmosphere of uncertainty vanished.
“I'm just happy we're here,” senior receiver Jalan Pulley said. “I think this year's going to motivate us more. We've got one more year (as seniors) to show we're back and they've got years after that.
“It was very emotional for us (last year) because we wouldn't have been alumni anywhere. I know a lot of seniors were taking that to heart.”
And by tapping Richardson to fill Morrissey's vacated position, the Falcons have strengthened their link to a main source of incoming talent.
“Most of the (Dolton) Bears usually want to go to these bigger schools, like St. Rita, so he'll help us get a lot of them over here with us,” senior Terrell Deloach said of Richardson.
“We're back together and we're dogging everybody that's coming into Thornridge right after the Dolton Bears,” Davis said. “That's going to help the program.”
Of course, the current Bears are tomorrow's Falcons. Right now, there are pressing matters at hand, such as returning to the state playoffs.
Richardson's late hiring – he was officially appointed to his position earlier this summer – didn't do Thornridge players any favors, however. It meant they were still without definite direction even after talk of a freshman academy had ceased.
Deloach said several players “got conditioned and ran some basic routes that you think would be in the system,” but that still left the Falcons with plenty of work to do during July's 25 contact days.
“It was like being in school all over again,” Pulley joked. “You come here and just sit down at a desk, and (Richardson) goes over like 50 plays a day. You just try to soak it in. It was our responsibility to go home and look over plays and try to remember them, and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
“I just looked at it like, 'OK, time to adjust to something new,'” Jackson said. “I'm used to (doing) multiple things. Next year, I'm going to be in college and I'm going to have to learn it quick, too.”
Richardson praised his 15 seniors who got a taste of the playoffs last season for the leadership they've exhibited thus far. And with 80 freshmen on hand at the start of preseason practices, Thornridge's new leader is confident of brighter days beyond 2011.
"It expands my outlook," Richardson said of the settled environment. "We've got a chance to do some building and see if we can make it a powerhouse."