Cubs

Bret Curtis: Glenbard South's version of Butkus

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Bret Curtis: Glenbard South's version of Butkus

Bret Curtis wears No. 51. Some high school athletes wear Nos. 23 or 34 or 77 or 18 or 32 because famous professionals wore them. If you have to be told that Dick Butkus once wore No. 51, you have never played football.

Curtis has been wearing that number since second grade.

"When I was playing with the Lombard Falcons youth football team, my dad showed me who Butkus was and I saw him on film. I wanted to be like him," said Glenbard South's 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior middle linebacker. "I used to be a defensive end but the coach moved me to linebacker as a sophomore. He thought I had athletic ability. I liked defensive end but I like linebacker more because I have more control over the game."

Like Butkus did.

Curtis is the Metro Suburban Conference's defensive player of the year. He is Glenbard South's leading tackler. He has recorded 11 sacks. He has interest from Illinois, LSU, South Carolina, Toledo, Northern Illinois, Illinois State and Western Illinois. As a senior, he has straight A's in Advanced Placement (AP) courses. He wants to study aerospace engineering.

"He isn't a blue chipper," coach Jeremy Cordell said. "But he is a special kid, our leader, our catalyst. He works hard. He is very aggressive. The way he flies around the ball gets other kids excited."

Curtis' message to college recruiters? "I'm not looking for a Division I school or a chance to play in the NFL. I just want to play in college. I'm probably not the best athlete and I'm probably not that fast. But I'm a good pass rusher. I can hit, I like to get dirty, I'm good at stopping the run and I love the game. I'm just a football player," he said.

In his third year, Cordell has built a competitive program at the Glen Ellyn school. Last year's team was 2-3 and finished 7-4, losing to Class 6A champion Prairie Ridge in the second round of the playoff. This year's team also started 2-3 but has rallied to win its last four games in a row.

In last Friday's 41-28 victory at Rock Island, quarterback Alex Jeske completed 8 of 13 passes for 122 yards and running backs Justin Gjerazi and Zach Smith each rushed for 117 yards and one touchdown. Sophomore linebacker Jack Curtis returned an interception for a touchdown.

"It was an exciting 2 12-hour bus trip home from Rock Island," Cordell said. "We beat a state-ranked team and we won convincingly in all three phases of the game. We're starting to get in a playoff mode."

On the way home, the coaches and players tried to figure out who their first-round opponent would be. They thought they would play Lake Forest. But the Raiders will meet St. Patrick at Hanson Stadium on Saturday night in the opening round of the Class 6A playoff.

"Our motto is: take the next step. We want to go beyond where we went last year," Cordell said.

"Coach Cordell is bringing a new mindset to the team and we want to put Glenbard South on the map. We want to make it a football school. We want to establish our own identity," Bret Curtis said.

"He (Cordell) can make a difference. He had a rough time in his first year (4-5). He preached to the choir. But we took steps forward last year and got momentum going. I like the work he puts in, more than other coaches. He likes hard-nosed football.

"The defense has stepped up since last year. We have more speed. We like to fly around. At quarterback, Jeske has a great head on his shoulders and makes great decisions. We don't have a lot of Division I players and we aren't big but we have good athletes who do the job and like to play football."

On defense, Bret Curtis is surrounded by 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior linebacker Matt Loos and 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior lineman Darnell Barrett.

The offense, which has averaged 48.5 points in its last four games, features Jeske, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior; Gjerazi, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior; Loos at running back; Smith, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior; and 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior running back Clark Gary. Gjerazi has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last four games and Jeske has passed for over 1,300 yards.

"How do I explain averaging 48.5 points in our last four games? We haven't made any changes in the lineup or installed any new plays or come up with any gimmicks," Cordell said.

"Our offensive line has improved, our backs are doing a better job of seeing the holes and we're getting better as a football team. Our formula has been to get better as a team. Our kids have committed to the process. They want to get better."

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

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USA TODAY

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

“Sometimes, you got to lay your marbles out there,” Jon Lester said Sunday night inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse, before the Cubs flew home from Los Angeles down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series. “And you get beat.”

It will be extremely difficult for the Cubs to win four of the next five games against the Dodgers, starting Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs had the, uh, marbles to win last year’s World Series and have developed the muscle memory from winning six playoff rounds and playing in 33 postseason games since October 2015.

There is a cross section left of the 2015 team that beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and silenced PNC Park’s blackout crowd in a sudden-death wild-card game. While 2016 is seen in hindsight as a year of destiny, those Cubs still had to kill the myths about the even-year San Francisco Giants, survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Dodgers and win Games 5, 6, 7 against the Cleveland Indians under enormous stress.

There is at least a baseline of experience to draw from and the sense that the Cubs won’t panic and beat themselves, the way the Washington Nationals broke down in the NL Division Series.

· Remember the Cubs pointed to how their rotation set up as soon as Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in last year’s World Series: Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks would each give them a chance to win that night. The Dodgers will now have to deal with last year’s major-league ERA leader (Hendricks) in Game 3 and a Cy Young Award winner (Arrieta) on Wednesday night in Game 4.

“Obviously, we know we need to get wins at this point,” Hendricks said. “But approaching it as a must-win is a little extreme. We've just got to go out there and play our brand of baseball.

“Since we accomplished that, we know we just have to take it game by game. Even being down 3-1 (in the World Series), we worry about the next game. In that situation, we didn’t think we had to win three in a row or anything like that. We just came to the ballpark the next day and worried about what we had to do that day.”

· The history lessons only go so far when the Dodgers can line up Yu Darvish as their Game 3 starter instead of, say, Josh Tomlin. There is also a huge difference between facing a worn-down Cleveland staff in late October/early November and a rested Dodger team that clinched a division title on Sept. 22 and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round. Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez aren’t walking through that bullpen door, either.

“We’ve done it before. We’ve been there before,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “But this year’s a new year. That’s a different ballclub. We’re definitely going to have to bring it.”

· Outside of Kenley Jansen, can you name anyone else in the Los Angeles bullpen off the top of your head? No doubt, the Dodger relievers have been awesome in Games 1 and 2 combined: Eight scoreless innings, zero hits, zero walks and Anthony Rizzo the only one out of 25 batters to reach base when Jansen hit him with a 93.7-mph pitch.

But the Dodgers are going to make mistakes, and the Cubs will have to capitalize. Unless this is the same kind of synthesis from the 2015 NLCS, when the New York Mets used exhaustive scouting reports, power pitching and pinpoint execution to sweep a Cubs team that had already hit the wall.

“Their bullpen is a lot stronger than it was last year,” Kris Bryant said. “They’re really good at throwing high fastballs in the zone. A lot of other teams try to, and they might hit it one out of every four. But this team, it seems like they really can hammer the top of the zone. And they have guys that throw in the upper 90s, so when you mix those two, it’s tough to catch up.”

· Bryant is not having a good October (5-for-28 with 13 strikeouts) and both Lester and Jose Quintana have more hits (one each) than Javier Baez (0-for-19 with eight strikeouts) during the playoffs. But we are still talking about the reigning NL MVP and last year’s NLCS co-MVP.

Ben Zobrist is clearly diminished and no longer the switch-hitting force who became last year’s World Series MVP. Kyle Schwarber doesn’t have the same intimidation factor or playoff aura right now. But one well-timed bunt from Zobrist or a “Schwarbomb” onto the video board could change the entire direction of this series and put the pressure on a Dodger team that knows this year is World Series or bust.

“We need to hit a couple balls hard consecutively,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we’re able to do that, we’ll gain our offensive mojo back. That's all that’s going on.

“I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience. So you’ve got to be patient right now. You’ve got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you.”

· Maddon is a 63-year-old man who opened Monday’s stadium club press conference at Wrigley Field by talking about dry-humping, clearly annoyed by all the second-guessers on Twitter and know-it-all sports writers who couldn’t believe All-Star closer Wade Davis got stranded in the bullpen, watching the ninth inning of Sunday’s 1-1 game turn into a 4-1 walk-off loss.

By the time a potential save situation develops on Tuesday night, roughly 120 hours will have passed since Davis threw his 44th and final pitch at Nationals Park, striking out Bryce Harper to end an instant classic. Just guessing that Maddon will be in the mood to unleash Davis.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?