Bears

All-Star games battle for nation's best

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All-Star games battle for nation's best

Originally, there was only one national high school All-Star football game. Then there were two. Now there are three, and counting.

All of which means the sponsors of the three events--U.S. Army, U.S. Marines and Under Armour--are battling for the nation's top players as if it was a month before national signing day.

Who's going to play for whom?

The U.S. Army traditionally announces its roster before anyone else. Its 2013 squad includes only one Illinois product, wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell of Crete-Monee. He has at least 19 scholarship offers, including Alabama, Auburn, USC, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska.

The Marines-sponsored Semper Fidelis game has landed commitments from Michigan-bound offensive tackles Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis and Logan Tuley-Tillman of Peoria Manual and the state's two top-rated quarterbacks, Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook and Matt Alviti of Maine South.

But USC-bound Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic, the No. 1 running back in the nation according to recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, and LSU-bound offensive tackle Ethan Pocic of Lemont, both of whom originally had committed to Semper Fidelis, changed their minds and decided to compete in the Under Armour game.

The Marines also have invited offensive tackles Jack Keeler of Barrington, who is committed to Wisconsin, Notre Dame-bound Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West and Kendall Moore of Simeon, defensive end Ruben Dunbar of Glenbard West, defensive lineman Josh Augusta of Peoria Central and Illinois-bound running back Kendrick Foster of Peoria Richwoods.

Augusta, who played on Peoria Central's Class 3A championship team, has emerged as one of the top prospects in Illinois in a relative short period of time.

The 6-foot-5, 275-pounder has 11 offers, including Illinois, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Memphis, Missouri, Nebraska and California. He also is attracting interest from Alabama, Oregon, Michigan State and Ohio State.

After heading the selection committee for the U.S. Army game for several years, Lemming knows it is important to nail down commitments as quickly as possible, even more importantly when there are three All-Star games competing against one another for the nation's best talent. He can't understand why the Marines haven't pulled the trigger faster than they have.

Sean Berry, CEO of Junior Rank Sports and founder of the U.S. Marine Corps' Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, admits the Marines' approach has been slow. But he predicts "big plans for this year." The game, which was played for the first time last year in Phoenix, is likely to move to Los Angeles this year and will be televised on NFL Network.

"We're getting the best football players, what people saw last year," Berry said. "They may not be the best ranked players (according to most recruiting services) but they are more competitive."

Berry pointed out that Lemming, chairman of the Marines' selection committee, picks players with NFL potential, not necessarily because they are ranked among the top 100 in the nation. For example, Bosch is rated as the No. 1 guard in the country based on his NFL potential.

Berry admits he is disappointed by Isaac's decision. Isaac has been involved in Berry's Junior Rank program since eighth grade. He attended the Marines' combine in Phoenix last January and Berry has a good relationship with Isaac's parents.

"Kids make decisions for a lot of different reasons," Berry said. "I don't think you'll see more than three high school all-star games. But, to be successful, you have to be that authoritative entity to say you can accumulate the best collection of players.

"How do you do that? Look at Tom Lemming's track record in terms of finding the best athletes. But some organizations throw a lot of free gear at a kid, as much as 2,000 worth. Sometimes kids are persuaded by the fact the game is being played in Florida. We think a lot of West Coast kids will be persuaded to participate in the Semper Fidelis game."

Meanwhile, Berry is planning for the future. He already is building relationships with four young and promising prospects in the Chicago area--6-foor-2, 240-pound freshman tackle Brennan Bosch, 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore wide receiver Brannon Barry and eighth-grade quarterback Justin Berry of St. Charles East and 6-foot-6, 250-pound eighth-grade tackle Eric Swenson of Downers Grove South.

Brennan Bosch is Kyle Bosch's brother, and Michigan is already expressing interest in him. Barry already is attracting interest from Oklahoma. Berry, Sean Berry's son, took an unofficial visit to West Virginia recently.

In the business of all-star football games, like recruiting, it is never too early to evaluate talent.

Unfinished Bears job a 'bitter pill' for John Fox, but the legacy lies beyond just the W-L record

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USA TODAY

Unfinished Bears job a 'bitter pill' for John Fox, but the legacy lies beyond just the W-L record

When John Fox succeeded Marc Trestman in 2015, neither he nor the Bears were looking at the situation and Fox as any sort of “bridge” hire – a de facto interim coach tasked with winning, but just as importantly, developing and getting a team turned around and headed in a right direction.

The heart of the matter is always winning, but in the overall, the mission statement also includes leaving the place better than you found it. Fox did that, which is very clearly the sentiment upstairs at Halas Hall as the Bears move on from Fox to Matt Nagy.

“It would’ve been nice to see it through,” Fox said to NBC Sports Chicago. “That’s kind of a bitter pill but you sort things out and move forward.

“I do think it’s closer than people think. We inherited a mess... but I felt we were on the brink at the end. I think that [Halas Hall] building is definitely different; they feel it. I do think that it was a positive.”

(Fox is probably not done coaching at some point, but that’s for another time, another story, and anyway, it’s his tale to tell when he feels like it. Or doesn’t.)

One measure of the Bears change effected: Virtually the entire Trestman staff, with the exceptions of receivers coach Mike Groh and linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, was jettisoned along with Trestman. By contrast, Nagy has retained not only virtually the entire Fox defensive staff under coordinator Vic Fangio, but also arguably the single most important non-coordinator offensive coach by virtue of position responsibility – Dave Ragone, the hands-on mentor of quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

Obvious but extremely difficult decisions are coming, as to shedding personnel and contracts – Josh Sitton, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young being among the most difficult because of tangible intangibles that no organization wants to lose.

“Bridge” results

Fox was never intended as a bridge coach but the results point to that function having been served. To exactly what end remains to play out under Nagy and the quarterback whom Ragone and Fox’s handling began developing.

Rick Renteria was one of those “bridge” guys for the Cubs, intended to be part of pulling out of or at least arresting the slide into the Mike Quade-Dale Sveum abyss, and leaving something for Joe Maddon. The late Vince Lombardi effectively served as that, at age 56 and for an unforeseen one-year for a Washington Redskins organization that’d gone 13 years without a winning season before Lombardi’s 1969 and needed a radical reversal. The culture change was realized over the next decade under George Allen and Jack Pardee, much of the success coming with the same players with whom Washington had languished before the culture change.

The Bears were in that state after the two years of Trestman and the three years of GM Phil Emery, certain of whose character-lite veteran player acquisitions (Martellus Bennett, Brandon Marshall) and high-character launchings (Brian Urlacher) had left a palpable pall over Halas Hall. A Fox goal was to eradicate that, which insiders in Lake Forest say privately was accomplished even amid the catastrophic crush of three straight seasons of 10 or more losses, and with injuries at historic levels.

What happens next is in the hands of Nagy and GM Ryan Pace, after a third John Fox franchise turnaround failed to materialize. Or did it? Because much of the core, from Trubisky through the defensive makeover, came on Fox’s watch, like him or not.

“You wish some things would’ve happened differently obviously,” Fox said, “but there was a lot positive that happened.”

Blackhawks ban four ejected fans from future home games

Blackhawks ban four ejected fans from future home games

The Blackhawks have banned the four fans — who were ejected from Saturday's game against the Washington Capitals for their racist remarks towards Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly — from future home games.

On Monday, a Blackhawks spokesperson released this statement:

We have contacted the select individuals involved in the incident on Saturday to notify them that they are no longer welcome at our home games. Racist comments and other inappropriate behavior are not tolerated by the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks also wanted to remind fans that they can alert security at the United Center by texting the following to 69050: UCASSIST <SPACE> followed by the seating section, row and a brief description of the issue.