Bears

Allegretti adds beef to Lincoln-Way East

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Allegretti adds beef to Lincoln-Way East

Nick Allegretti is the center on Lincoln-Way East's top-ranked football team, which means he is as anonymous as John Doe. Only his family knows for sure what he does on Friday nights in the fall.

But the 6-foot-4, 285-pound junior is active and bursting with energy in so many ways. He is one of the leading prospects in the class of 2014. He is one of the smartest students at the Frankfort school. He also is a state-ranked wrestler. And he carries superstitions to a new level.

"This is a special year for tackles and Allegretti has the potential to be as good an offensive lineman as Ethan Pocic (LSU), Kyle Bosch (Michigan), Colin McGovern (Notre Dame) and Logan Tuley-Tillman (Michigan). He can be an All-American next year," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network.

Allegretti has been offered by Illinois and Cincinnati. He is talking to Stanford, Boston College, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana. More offers can be expected. "The SEC would be cool," he admits.

In the wake of last Saturday's 37-13 victory over Benet in the Class 7A semifinals, as Allegretti and his teammates prepare for Saturday's championship game against Glenbard West at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, everything is cool.

"To be one of the top prospects in the state is cool," he said. "I always wanted to play in Division I. My dream is coming true. It's cool to get calls from coaches to ask me to come to their stadium to watch games. It was cool to get my first offer."

When Cincinnati defensive line coach Steve Stripling offered Allegretti in mid-October, he thought he had won the Lottery. "I was up in my room, going crazy. I didn't know what to do with myself. If I had offers from only Illinois and Cincinnati, I wouldn't know how to choose."

Allegretti said he is looking forward to receiving more offers. He knows it will make his decision even harder. He loves the Big Ten. He feels it is the best conference for offensive linemen, that Iowa and Wisconsin have reputations for producing NFL linemen.

He acknowledges that the SEC is the toughest conference for offensive linemen because it annually produces the best defensive linemen in the nation. He admires Pocic for committing to LSU and is anxious to see how he develops. "That's a tough place for offensive linemen to go," he said.

He hopes he receives an offer from Boston College so he will have an opportunity to experience an environment outside the Midwest. He thinks Stanford might be too far from home. Illinois could have an edge because his brother Joe is a freshman at Illinois.

"Joe is my role model," Nick said. "He wrestled through high school and still kept his grades up. He had a 5.1 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and ranked No. 5 in his class. He is majoring in accounting at Illinois. He played football, too, but he blew out his knee as a freshman in high school."

Nick is no slouch in the classroom. He has a 4.4 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, ranks No. 30 in a class of 560 and scored 27 on his ACT. So much for the commonly held axiom that good athletes usually aren't the best students.

"One of the things I am most proud of is to play sports and be good in the classroom," he said. "I get upset with B's. I got one last year in Spanish III honors. Now I'm getting an A in AP (advance placement) Spanish IV honors. I also take AP U.S. History, honors physics, pre-calculus and English. My goal is to have a 4.6 grade-point average after this year."

Allegretti doesn't fret over his lack of exposure. An offensive lineman has never won a Heisman Trophy and none has been named Player of the Year in the Chicago area since 1955.

"It's no big deal," he said. "I let the skill players get the media attention. We open the holes for them and they do the rest. They deserve it. I speak for all linemen. We come off a game and get six pancakes and get recognized in the team meeting.

"The games are awesome. When we run a zone trap off my butt and I hope a hole for Nick Colangelo and he scores a touchdown...well, we know we did our job. That's satisfaction enough for us."

But there isn't anything worse than giving up a sack. He hasn't permitted one this year. But last year? He remembers all too well. Against Edwardsville in his first varsity game, he was matched up against a Nebraska-bound recruit who burst past him to sack quarterback Blake Winkler.

"The coaches got all over me. They showed the film over and over and over again," Allegretti said. "I vowed I wouldn't let it happen again. That's the worst thing for an offensive lineman. Everybody in the crowd sees a sack and knows somebody in the offensive line screwed up."

There haven't been too many foul-ups this season. In fact, this could be coach Rob Zvonar's best team. The Griffins are 13-0, their most wins since the 14-0 state championship team of 2005. In his 12th season, Zvonar's teams are 115-26, an extraordinary .816 winning percentage.

The offense, directed by Northern Illinois-bound quarterback Tom Fuessel, is averaging 35.8 points per game. The defense, anchored by linebackers Kyle Langenderfer and Adam O'Grady, has allowed 125 points, no more than three touchdowns in any game and no more than one touchdown in seven games.

"Last year, we had a very athletic and talented team. We finished 10-1 and lost to Wheaton Warrenville South in the second round. We were ranked No. 1 in Class 7A," Allegretti said. "We weren't as much of a team as we are this year. We are more bonded this year. We had too much individualism last year.

"The underclassmen saw what happened last year. We realized winning isn't all talent but how you play together. We have a special bond this year than I haven't seen since eighth grade, when most of the seniors played with the Mokena Burros and the Frankfort Falcons."

But playing winning football and maintaining superior grades and bonding with your teammates often can take a lot out of a teenager. To make it all come together, Allegretti goes through an elaborate pre-game ritual that includes one superstition after another.

On Friday, he comes home from school, takes a nap, then jumps in his 2008 Jeep Commander and drives to the game, always certain to take the same route to and from school.

He stops at a BP station to get two 32-ounce bottles of Powerade. One has to be the color of that night's opponent. Then he stops at a Jimmy John's restaurant to get two sandwiches, a No. 11 (turkey, ham, cheese and mayo), also a bag of barbecue chips and a chocolate chip cookie.

At school, he eats his meal in the locker room with two teammates, left tackle Tom Plunkett and defensive tackle Scott Kresal, who also are early arrivals. He goes to the same corner of the locker room to put on his football equipment and joins Kresal to get their wrists taped. He wears the same undershirt, a 7-on-7 team version with a No. 67 that his brother wore. Long sleeves? On an offensive linemen? Are you kidding?

After pre-game walk-throughs and calisthenics, the offensive and defensive units adjourn to separate meeting rooms. Allegretti makes sure that every offensive lineman sits in the same chair every week. Before kickoff, he and Colangelo pray on the far sideline, facing the visiting crowd between the offensive line warm-up and the offensive team warm-up.

While this week's trip to Champaign is uppermost on his mind, of course, Allegretti already is thinking about the future. He wants to win a state wrestling championship at 285 pounds. He plans to work on developing into a long snapper that will attract college and NFL scouts.

"Next summer, I want to get stronger and faster," he said. "I want to work on my athleticism. I have the brute strength thing down. I want to be able to move better, to get to the second and third level blocks, to block linebackers and safeties."

This isn't flag football any more.

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

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USA Today

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

Since the Bears inserted Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback, they've had 12 drives end with a field goal — an average of two per game. Connor Barth hit nine of those dozen kicks, which had an average distance of 38.4 yards, but all three of Barth’s misses came from 45 yards or longer. 

Barth’s missed game-tying 46-yarder in the final seconds Sunday against the Detroit Lions was the last straw for someone who hadn’t been consistent in his one and a half years in Chicago. So enter Cairo Santos, who made 89 of 105 field goals (85 percent) from 2014-2017 with the Kansas City Chiefs. More importantly: Santos has made 73 percent of his career field goals from 40 or more yards; Barth made 52 percent of his kicks from the same distance with the Bears. 

(73 percent from long range isn’t bad, but it’s not great, either: Philadelphia Eagles kicker and Lyons Township High School alum Jake Elliott has made 88 percent of his 40-plus-yard kicks; Harrison Butker, who replaced Santos in Kansas City, has made 90 percent of his kicks from that distance. Both players are rookies who were drafted and cut prior to the season.)

Santos was released by the Chiefs in late September after a groin injury landed him on injured reserve (he played in three games prior to being released). The injury wasn’t expected to be season-ending, and Santos said he’s felt 100 percent for about two weeks before joining the Bears on Monday. 

“It was a long and difficult battle, but I was confident that it wasn’t going to be a serious injury, I just needed time,” Santos said. “I dealt with it in training camp, I was kicking really well, I was the only kicker in KC, and I didn’t have the appropriate time to heal. I tried to play the first three games and it got worse, so my main goal was to get 100 percent. I’ve been kicking for about a month now and finally the last week been able to come here and visit with the Bears. The muscle is in good shape to come and take a full load of a week’s practice and games, so thankful the opportunity worked out.”

For Santos, these next six weeks can be an audition for him to stick in Chicago next year. If the Bears can look optimistically at the improvements made by the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams with second-year top-drafted quarterbacks, they’ll need to figure out their kicking situation sooner rather than later. Bringing in Santos provides a good opportunity for that down the stretch. 

“He’s kicked in Kansas City, which is a similar climate,” special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said. “Their field is similar to Soldier Field. He’s played in some big games, played in some important situations and he’s, by and large, been successful in those situations.”

Another wild twist in the Derrick Rose saga

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USA TODAY

Another wild twist in the Derrick Rose saga

We may have seen the last of Derrick Rose on a basketball court. 

According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin and Adrian Wojnarowski, the point guard, who's currently recovering from ankle injury, is away from the Cavaliers organization and contemplating his future in basketball: 

The news may come as a shock considering Rose is still only 29 years old, but the Chicago native has experienced triumphant highs and depressing lows like few others in league history. Undoubtedly, that's taken a toll. 

From youngest MVP in league history to injury-prone backup, the former No. 1 pick of the Bulls has seen it all in his nine-year career. And just last season in New York, his passion for the game was called into question after missing a game without informing coaches, players or staff to attend to a family issue. 

He decided to team up with LeBron James in Cleveland last offseason -- a move that nobody could have predicted five years ago -- on a veteran's minimum contract, and averaged 14.3 points before, you guessed it, being forced to sit with injury. 

If Rose ultimately decides to step away for good, eerie parallels can be drawn to Doug Collins' NBA stint. Collins didn't have quite the upside Rose had, but he was a three-time All-Star before foot and knee injuries cut his career short at, yes, also 29. 

It's another sad twist in the Derrick Rose Story. He may be the greatest 'What if' in NBA history.