Big Ten

Bradshaw stars on, off the field at Brooks

932365.png

Bradshaw stars on, off the field at Brooks

No wonder Ahmad Bradshaw has trouble getting any attention from college recruiters. When they look for Brooks' 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior quarterback on the Internet, they often are exposed to running back Ahmad Bradshaw of the New York Giants instead.

But the high school version is rapidly making a reputation of his own. Last Friday, he ran for three touchdowns and passed for another as Brooks snapped Austin's nine-game winning streak 49-12 in the second round of the Class 4A playoff.

Coach James Brown's team is in rarified air. The Eagles (8-2), who started 1-2 with losses to highly rated Kaneland 25-24 and Rock Island 33-28, will put their seven-game winning streak on the line against Evergreen Park (8-3) this weekend in a quarterfinal match-up at Evergreen Park.

Since the Public League began participating in the state playoff in 1979, only three representatives (Hubbard, Lane Tech, Tilden) have reached the semifinals and only one (Robeson in 1982) has advanced to the championship game.

"We had a lot of adversity in the beginning of the year," Bradshaw said. "We had to jump the gates to practice on our own field. But we always come together. What I learned when we played Kaneland and Rock Island is we can play with anybody. Our goal is to be the first Public League team to win the state title."

Brown wouldn't be surprised. "This is one of the best teams I have seen. They work hard in class and on the field. We have 11 Division I players. We have kids who scored 25 on the ACT and have 3.6 grade-point averages on a 5.0 scale. I thought we'd be undefeated. But things worked out against us," the coach said.

That's because Brown heeded some advice from Hubbard coach Elton Harris, whom he assisted for six years. "Coach Harris said to schedule tough opponents early. Last year, we lost to Kaneland 44-0 and to Rock Island by 14. But we played them tougher this year. We were one play from winning both games. You've got to get tested early so it won't be a shock in the playoff," Brown said.

He thinks the strategy will pay off. Most of his players started as freshmen. "They took bumps and bruises. But they stayed together. They have a special bond. They go to the park on Sunday to work out and they watch TV together. They have worked hard for this," Brown said.

Nobody has worked harder than Bradshaw. He has a 4.39 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale with honors courses. He has scholarship offers from West Point, Illinois, Northern Illinois, Stanford, Wisconsin, Air Force, Syracuse and Fordham.

"You can't rely on football to get where you want to go," Bradshaw said. "One of my coaches is paralyzed from the neck down. A friend of mine was killed on his birthday two weeks ago. You have to take academics seriously."

Bradshaw plans to study athletic training or law or pre-med or broadcast journalism in college. He also wants to play quarterback. Some schools are recruiting him as an athlete, which spells wide receiver or defensive back.

"I could play any position but I want to play quarterback because I'm good at it and that's what I've been doing since seventh grade," he said. "I'd like to attend Michigan State, Fordham, West Point or Wisconsin or any Big Ten school that has my major and where I can fit into football."

In 10 games, he has passed for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for over 900 yards and 13 touchdowns.

"He is the trigger of this team," Brown said. "We have a lot of great kids but he's the leader on offense."

Bradshaw grew up in Bronzeville, near 44th and Prairie. He played for the Mighty Men youth football program near Dunbar. He played basketball at Beasley but his mother got him involved in football and he soon realized that he was better at football, that he had enough talent to play at another level.

"I love football more," he said. "Football teaches me to work with people, to come together with people, to overcome adversity, to never give up. It is a family oriented sport and you've got to be a family or it won't work. Everybody has to do his job or it won't work."

Bradshaw loves to pull the trigger on Brown's triple option spread offense. "I always wanted to be a quarterback. In grammar school, people looked up to me. I looked at myself as a natural leader at quarterback. I'm a dual threat. I want to get the job done, no matter whatever it takes, even if I have to throw the ball with my left hand. I played with a broken rib in one game last year," he said.

Brooks' offense, which is averaging 37 points per game, features Bradshaw, 5-foot-7 160-pound senior wingback Cleveland Clark, 6-foot, 190-pound senior fullbacksafety Josh Smith, 6-foot, 300-pound junior center Lavalle Hughes and 6-foot, 285-pound senior guard Leon Harmon.

In Friday's victory over Austin, Clark carried 22 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns while Smith rushed 15 times for 155 yards and one touchdown. In 10 games, Clark has rushed for more than 1,450 yards and 14 touchdowns. Smith, Brooks' only two-way player, has offers from Illinois and Michigan State as a free safety.

In Brooks' 49-14 romp over Payton in the opening round of the playoff, Cleveland and Smith each rushed for over 100 yards. Bradshaw scored on a 60-yard run and Clark scored on a 95-yarder to give the Eagles an early 14-0 lead. Smith also scored on a 28-yard interception return and Jackson set up another touchdown with a 90-yard interception return.

Defensively, Smith is the leader. Other contributors are 6-foot-2, 240-pound senior middle linebacker Egypt Johnson, 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior end John McCain and 6-foot-1, 170-pound junior free safety Zeriam Jackson. The Eagles are allowing 14 points per game.

In his fifth year as head coach at Brooks, Brown has plenty of experience. At 43, this is his fourth head coaching job. He was an assistant to John Wrenn when Homewood-Flossmoor won the state title in 1994. He won 22 games in two years as head coach at Westinghouse and also was head coach at Corliss for two years before going to Brooks.

The way things are going at the South Side school, it won't take long for college recruiters to figure out who the real Admad Bradshaw is.

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

1021-cam-thomas.jpg
USA TODAY

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

While Saturday's trip to the Twin Cities featured some more of the same for the Fighting Illini, it marked important step in Lovie Smith's rebuilding project.

Freshman quarterback Cam Thomas, a Marian Catholic product, saw action for the first time in his collegiate career, Smith busting out a new option at the game's most important position. Thomas threw a nasty pick six, but he did lead Illinois in rushing in a 24-17 loss at Minnesota.

Thomas only made four throws, completing two of them and landing a third in the hands of a Minnesota defender, but his play injected a bit of excitement into what's looking like another dreadful season of Illinois football, with Smith's team falling to 2-5 through the first seven games of his second season at the helm of the program. Thomas mostly starred with his feet Saturday, rushing for a team-high 79 yards in the defeat.

His first appearance came following the first of the Illinois' defense's three takeaways. Thomas ran for a nine-yard gain on his first carry, and the Illini tied the game with a touchdown on the next play. Thomas was interchanged with starting quarterback Jeff George Jr. from there on out.

While the Illini defense kept the Gophers at bay for much of the day thanks to those three takeaways, P.J. Fleck's team had no trouble racking up rushing yardage, finishing with a whopping 292 rushing yards. Minnesota engineered a 12-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter exclusively running the ball to break a 10-all tie and go up 17-10.

Thomas threw a pick six on the very next play from scrimmage, sending the Gophers up 24-10 to effectively seal the deal. George led an Illinois touchdown drive on the next possession, but the Illini couldn't make up the suddenly big gap in the limited amount of time.

Illinois finished with only 282 yards of offense. George was 18-for-23 for 128 yards and a touchdown. Ra'Von Bonner carried the ball 18 times for 57 yards and a touchdown.

The defeat dropped the Illini to 2-5 on the season and 0-4 in conference play. One of just two teams without a Big Ten win (Indiana is the other), Illinois faces off against a top-10 Wisconsin team next weekend.

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bobby Portis publicly issued an apology to Nikola Mirotic for the punch that broke two bones in Mirotic’s face and caused a concussion earlier this week.

Portis was suspended eight games by the NBA while Mirotic will be out 4-6 weeks after he goes through concussion protocol, following an incident in Tuesday’s practice where the tensions boiled over between the two power forwards.

“I'm wrong for what I did. I want to publicly apologize to Niko,” said Portis outside the Bulls locker room at the United Center, hours before the home opener against the San Antonio Spurs. “I feel like I let my fans, the Bulls organization, and most importantly my teammates down. This is not who Bobby Portis is.”

Sticking to clear talking points, repeatedly saying “we were competing” as a way to describe the incident, it was a more toned down version of Portis. Portis is usually colorful and engaging when talking to the media.

Saturday, he was muted, almost robotic in a sense. And he didn’t want to go into the incident in detail, one that many sources have said was instigated by Mirotic as the two were going back and forth physically during several possessions.

The play before, things intensified, causing assistant coach Randy Brown to step in and break things up. The next time downcourt, Mirotic apparently charged at Portis and Portis responded with one punch that sent Mirotic to the floor.

Gently choosing his words, Portis said, “We were competing and kinda went back and forth and things happened.”

When asked if he was shoved, Portis reiterated the two were competing although numerous accounts say Mirotic did push him leading up to the direct incident.

“Yes I was surprised by my own action,” Portis said. “That's not who I was, as I first stated. I'm a competitor at the end of the day but I never meant to hurt my teammate.”

Portis and Mirotic have not yet spoken, although Portis said he’s called and texted Mirotic with no response. It hasn’t been determined whether Mirotic will take legal action on Portis.

“Not concerned with that at this point,” Portis said. “At this point I’m just trying to publicly apologize to Niko and my teammates, and that I’m real sincere about the situation.”

Portis will be allowed to practice during his suspension, having returned Friday and Portis believes things can be mended with he and his teammate.

“Going forward I want to make sure that me and Niko are cool and we can be teammates again,” Portis said. “I'm pretty sure we can. We just have to repair this relationship.”

Justin Holiday said the issue will have to be addressed head on as opposed to being swept under the rug or letting the element of time naturally heal things. Whether that conversation is initiated by teammates or the coaching staff or front office, as long as both are wearing a Bulls uniform, it will be necessary.

“It hasn’t been arranged, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have to talk it out,” Portis said. “And I’m pretty sure it will be a gentle conversation. I’m pretty sure we can get past this.”