Commentary

McNabb back on the Caravan

Donovan McNabb returned to his old haunt with much wisdom to impart

Originally Published: May 20, 2010
By Scott Powers | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Noon struck Thursday, and the halls of Mount Carmel High School filled with students as they flew from one classroom to their next.

Normally, the few minutes between classes are nothing to speak of. On this day, though, the short journey from one school building to another became unforgettable for one particular student, and he couldn't wait to share his tale.

[+] EnlargeDonovan McNabb
Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.com Donovan McNabb is a Chicago legend on the gridiron and hardwood.

The student quickly caught up with his friend in the hallway and exclaimed, "He was right there. I said, 'What's up, Don?' He said, 'What's up?'"

While the exchange may have been brief and certainly lacked substance, when "Don" happens to be NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, and he's just walking around his former high school on a random Thursday and is willing to return a "what's up," it's easy to understand the excitement.

McNabb's presence at Mount Carmel on Thursday set the entire school into a buzz. McNabb has been back often throughout his career since graduating in 1994, but this occasion was unique, as he had an ESPN film crew following him and shooting footage for the show "Homecoming with Rick Reilly."

"I think for everyone it's just a great experience," Mount Carmel athletic director and football coach Frank Lenti said.

Students were on the lookout for McNabb all day. When he was being filmed in Mount Carmel's old gym with members of the Caravan's varsity basketball team during the afternoon, dozens of students crammed themselves outside the gym's door and watched through a narrow window. Eventually, an administrator stepped in and dispersed everyone.

Inside the gym, McNabb shared on- and off-camera advice with the players and ran a few basketball drills. McNabb, who also starred on Mount Carmel's basketball team, was rusty in the beginning and missed his first few jumpers, but he did redeem himself as time passed.

After elevating slightly above the rim for one layup, McNabb was asked by Reilly whether he could still dunk. McNabb said he could. Reilly followed with, "Will you be dunking today?" McNabb laughed and said, "No."

Mount Carmel junior guard Tracy Abrams, who is committed to Illinois, didn't pick up any basketball pointers, as he was confident he could take McNabb one-on-one, but he did find something else to take away.

"He talked about setting goals not for yourself, but for your team," Abrams said. "That's something I'm trying to focus on as a player right now going into my senior year."

McNabb had similar advice earlier in the day for Mount Carmel's football players on the practice field. Before shooting began Thursday morning, McNabb stood in a small circle with a group of players and spoke quietly to them about setting goals, being leaders, their work ethic and the upcoming football season. He also cracked a couple of jokes.

"He's a really cool guy," Mount Carmel junior defensive back/wide receiver Mike Banks said. "It's an honor to have a future Hall of Fame quarterback talking to you."

Mount Carmel junior quarterback Chris Sujka watched McNabb closely even as he did the simplest drills. Sujka was looking for anything that might help improve his own quarterback ability.

Sujka did realize he would be despised by some of his peers for having that opportunity.

"I sense there's some jealousy," Sujka said with a laugh. "I'd be upset if I wasn't out here."

Chicago police officer Kevin Kilroy felt the same. While out shopping for his children Thursday morning, Kilroy heard that McNabb, his former high school football teammate, was in the neighborhood, and he just had to stop over.

During a short break in filming, McNabb walked over to the sidelines and caught up with Kilroy. The last time they saw each other was when McNabb was in town playing the Chicago Bears. Although McNabb has had his share of athletic feats in the NFL, there was one at Mount Carmel that Kilroy felt trumped them all.

"One of the linemen picked him up in the air, and he wiggled himself out of it and ran in for a touchdown," Kilroy said. "It was against Simeon in the playoffs in '92. I have a great memory. … He was the great athlete."

McNabb ended his day Thursday in Mount Carmel's office reading off a list of fake announcements for the show. Just as he was about to begin the shot, he asked if he was supposed to wait for the school bell. He was told it had been turned off.

McNabb smiled and said, "Good. I always hated that bell. I never made it to the classroom in time before it."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.

Scott Powers is a general reporter for ESPNChicago.com. He is an award-winning journalist and has been reporting on preps, colleges and pros for publications throughout the Midwest since 1997.