Bears

7A: Haeffner hopes to give Glenbard West an edge

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7A: Haeffner hopes to give Glenbard West an edge

Don't you just wish that once in your lifetime, just once, a coach will look into a camera on national television and deliver a scathing scouting report on his opponent?
That team is poorly coached. Bad, bad, bad. The quarterback is vastly overrated. Is his mother writing his evaluations? The defense is small, slow and hits like a sissy. Hey, who taught these guys how to block and tackle, Elmer Fudd?
Bulletin board material, right?
Well, as they approach Saturday's Class 7A championship game in Champaign, coaches Rob Zvonar of Lincoln-Way East and Chad Hetlet of Glenbard West are more subdued--and a lot more diplomatic. This match-up of unbeaten suburban powers could be a classic.
"Lincoln-Way East is well-coached," said Hetlet. "Their quarterback (Tom Fuessel) is a candidate for Player of the Year. If not the best, one of the top three. His speed and skill is something we haven't seen. He is special. And their defense is as good as anyone we have seen."
Zvonar is equally gracious about Glenbard West. "Put them on film. I am amazed at how hard and fast and physical they play. It is championship football the way it is supposed to be. We must commit seven or eight in the box to stop the run. They do a nice job on offense in tweaking formations to get you lined up where they want you. And they are effective in the passing game. Judge the quarterback on what they do if they decided to be in a spread," he said.
Glenbard West passing? What in the name of Bill Duchon is he talking about? There was a time when throwing two passes was one too many, when a quarterback practiced handoffs in his sleep, when he didn't dare lift his arm in a throwing motion for fear of never seeing the field again.
"I grew up watching Glenbard West football games. My dream was to play for them. Now I am living that dream," said quarterback Henry Haeffner. "Sure, I knew Glenbard West had a reputation for running the ball and hardly ever throwing it.
"But as a quarterback, my biggest thing was to manage the offense, no matter what offense. He has to be the one in charge. I had no dreams of throwing the ball 30 times a game. I just do what I have to do to help my team win. My role is to be the leader and make sure we play to the fullest of our capability. And to execute if we need to throw the ball."
Haeffner, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior, has given Glenbard West's offense an added dimension. He has passed for 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns to take pressure off the Hilltoppers' running game. One of his primary targets is 6-foot-5, 210-pound Vanderbilt-bound tight end Nathan Marcus.
"No. 83 (Marcus) is one of the best high school players in the state," said Lake Zurich coach Dave Proffitt. "They use him very smartly and wisely. He is very hard to defend as a receiver. If Lincoln-Way East can slow down No. 83 or contain him, they have a good chance to win. But nobody has been able to do it."
Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg said Glenbard West is the best team he has seen in the last four years. After losing 49-7 in Week 3, he said the Hilltoppers' defense is best he has seen...speed, aggressive, physical. He said junior safety Hayden Carlson is the best defensive back he has seen all year. Carlson was voted as the defensive player of the year in the West Suburban Silver Conference.
"When the ball is snapped, they come at you full speed," Weinberg said. "They have a relentless personality on offensive, defense and special teams. And they are doing an excellent job of mixing up their offense more than ever. They were more predictable in other years. This year, they keep people guessing more than ever."
Hetlet said his team is playing its best football at the right time, especially on defense. The defensive leaders are Carlson, linebacker Joe Marconi, end Ruben Dunbar and linebacker Tyler Dayton. On offense, Marcus and guard Nick Garland are the marquee players. Garland was named the West Suburban Silver's offensive lineman of the year.
"This team is very deep. We have a lot of players who can play if called upon. But the best thing is chemistry. We're all best friends. We love each other. We can count on each other," Haeffner said.
Leaders? Lots of them, Haeffner said. He singled out Garland, Marconi, running back Joe Zito, linebacker Erik Strittmatter and offensive lineman Jake Brodner.
Haeffner got his quarterbacking education as a backup to Justice Odom last year. He started three games when Odom was injured, then played on the junior varsity. He studied the playbook, learned to read defenses and developed his passing skills. He hoped he would need them. He was right.
"There is always pressure to perform," he said. "I try not to think about it. I'm out there having fun, doing what I've liked to do for my whole life. I've put in a lot of time preparing for it. I know the tradition of the program. Football is a big deal in Glen Ellyn. I know how important it is, something you like to watch.
"It is bigger than yourself. It isn't about one player. You put work in so you can succeed but more importantly so your team and friends can succeed. Statistics aren't important to me. I'm just happy that the team has been successful. My goal was to be a contributor for the team to win football games. I'm pleased with the way I have played."
Haeffner admitted he never has been more pleased than last Saturday when he threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to senior Nathan Hokenson on the second snap of Glenbard West's 19-13 victory over Lake Zurich. He finished with 141 yards passing and two touchdowns, including a 21-yarder to Marcus.
But the TD pass to Hokenson was special. "He has been one of my best friends for a long time. He was running a deep post. That's a play I'll never forget. I'm so happy it was somebody I've known for a long time," Haeffner said.
Glenbard West is big and strong and physical and talented. But are the Hilltoppers good enough to beat Lincoln-Way East, which by all accounts also is big and strong and physical and talented?
"Lincoln-Way East is the most physical team we have played in 34 years," said Montini coach Chris Andriano after losing to the Griffins 20-14 in Week 2. "I never saw a team that hit as consistently and as hard and as fast as they did on defense. They were smothering. We have played a lot of big-name teams over the years but they just take it to you on every play," he said.
Andriano said Lincoln-Way East quarterback Tom Fuessel is special. "He is so fast. You can't contain him. He will make plays. They have great coaching and great kids. I love the way they play," he said.
Providence coach Mark Coglianese said any conversation about Lincoln-Way East starts with Fuessel. "We did a good job of containing him. Then he broke a long one. He is the quickest or fastest guy on the field. He makes plays. He is a big concern for any defense. Athletically, he is the best player I have seen this year," he said.
But Coglianese cautions not to overlook running back Nick Colangelo. "Don't ease up on him or he will hurt you," he said.
"They don't throw exceptionally well. But their defense is like Mount Carmel: fast and physical. You need to throw the ball to beat them. But you better protect your quarterback. Fuessel can make a difference, like Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic."
The key to Lincoln-Way East's defense, according to Zvonar, are the three linebackers--Mitch Murphy, Adam O'Grady and Kyle Langenderfer--and free safety Jarrett Lecas. Call them mean and lean and aggressive.
Murphy has 131 tackles, Langenderfer 112, O'Grady 111 and Lecas 110. Only 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, Langenderfer defines the Griffins' toughness. He is the defending state wrestling champion at 138 pounds. As a sophomore football player, he weighed only 135. Zvonar admits he is closer to 5-foot-6 than his listed 5-foot-8.
"He is our team leader on defense," Zvonar said. "He is as physical and as quick and aggressive as any football player we have had. His wrestling skills carry over to the football field. I compare him to Clay Matthews (of the Green Bay Packers). He is our mini-Matthews."

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

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USA Today

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

If you squint, you can start to see the Bears forming an identity. The offense, at its best, will control the game with Jordan Howard and an offensive line that’s improving with cohesion over the last few weeks. The defense will stop the run, rarely blow assignments and — at least last week — force a few turnovers. 

Those can be the makings of a team that's at least competitive on a week-to-week basis. But they also leave out a critical segment of this group: Special teams. And that unit is obscuring whatever vision of an identity that may be coming into focus. 

Jeff Rodgers’ special teams unit ranks 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, and is below average in all five categories the advanced statistics site tracks: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns. 

Had the Bears’ just merely "fine," for lack of a better term, on special teams Sunday, they would’ve controlled a win over the Baltimore Ravens from start to finish. But a 96-yard kickoff return (after the Bears went up 17-3) and a 77-yard punt return (which, after a two-point conversion, tied the game in the fourth quarter) were the Ravens’ only touchdowns of the game; they otherwise managed three field goals. 

Rodgers didn’t find much fault with the way the Bears covered Bobby Rainey’s kickoff return — he would’ve been down at the 23-yard line had the officiating crew ruled that Josh Bellamy got a hand on him as he was tumbling over. But the Bears players on the field (and, it should be said, a number of Ravens) stopped after Rainey hit the turf; he got up and dashed into the end zone for a momentum-shifting score. 

“A lot of our players stopped, all their players stopped,” Rodgers said. “There were players from both teams who came on to the field from the sideline. So there’s a lot of people on that particular play who thought the play was over.”

That return touchdown could be chalked up to an officiating-aided fluke, but Michael Campanaro’s punt return score was inexcusable given the situation of the game (up eight with just under two minutes left). The Bears checked into a max protect formation, and no players were able to wriggle free and get downfield toward Campanaro (Cre’von LeBlanc, who replaced an injured Sherrick McManis, was knocked to the turf). Rodgers said O’Donnell’s booming punt wasn’t the issue — it didn’t need to be directed out of bounds, he said — and instead pointed to a lack of execution by the other 10 players on the field. And not having McManis isn’t an excuse here. 

“We expect everybody to play at the standard at which that position plays,” Rodgers said. “I don’t put that touchdown on one guy getting hurt, but you’d always like to have your best players on the field.”

In isolation, the special teams mistakes the Bears have made this year can be explained — beyond these two returns, Marcus Cooper slowing up before the end zone was baffling, yet sort of fluky. But while the Bears’ arrow is pointing up on defense and, at the least, isn’t pointing down on offense, these special teams mistakes collective form a bad narrative. 

“We take those players, we practice it, and like all mistakes, you admit them and then you fix them,” coach John Fox said, “and then hope to God you don’t do it again.”

Fantasy Football Fix Podcast: Midseason trade targets and who you should sell high on

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USA TODAY

Fantasy Football Fix Podcast: Midseason trade targets and who you should sell high on

Rotoworld and NBC Sports fantasy analyst Josh Norris joins the Fantasy Football Fix Podcast to discuss if Derrick Henry's time in Tennessee has finally arrived. Plus, the CSN Fantasy crew analyzes which players you should sell high on and who you should target in midseason trades.