Bears

David Lenti has his own identity at Mount Carmel

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David Lenti has his own identity at Mount Carmel

The process of organizing Mount Carmel's football team for each season begins in the summer when the brothers Lenti, Frank and David, discuss personnel. Who will play offense? Who will play defense? Who fits into Frank's split-back veer offense? Who can fill spots in David's 5-2 defense?
Mention Mount Carmel football and three things immediately come to mind--Frank Lenti, winning (nine state championships, a state-record 325 victories) and the split-back veer triple option offense.
David Lenti speaks for the defense. And his message is loud and clear. His defensive unit always is an intimidating presence.
"We have a unique and great relationship," Frank said. "He can be upfront about what I need to hear without hurting my feelings and vice-versa. Nobody is going to outwork him or out-prepare him. I never worry about what our defense will do. He always has a plan. He does his homework. He knows what the other team will do next. His kids are fundamentally sound and play with tenacity."
This year, while Frank's offense has averaged 38.8 points per game, David's defense has allowed only 110 points. The Caravan has shut out five opponents, held nine to one touchdown or less and permitted only two to score more than 15 points.
"It will be a smash-mouth game against Glenbard North (in the Class 8A final)," said Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg, whose team lost to Mount Carmel 45-10 in the quarterfinals. "Their defense is extremely disciplined. They never are out of position, always in the right spot. They have a lot of good players and they are well-coached. They play hard and are physical. They don't make mistakes."
Frank is the oldest of the six Lenti children. David is the youngest. He graduated from St. Francis de Sales in 1980. At DePaul, he managed Hall of Fame coach Ray Meyer's team that included Mark Aguirre, Terry Cummings and Clyde Bradshaw.
After graduating in 1984 with a degree in education, he served as a student teacher at Mount Carmel under football coach Bill Barz. When Barz left for Illinois Benedictine, Lenti was hired full-time and taught math for 14 years. For the last 15 years, he has been vice-president of institutional advancement. Translated, that means he is in charge of fund-raising.
When Frank became head coach in 1984, he hired David, who coached at the sophomore level for two years, then assisted on the varsity for three years before becoming defensive coordinator in 1989. They have been together for eight of Frank's nine state championships.
"He coaches the offense and I have the defense," said David, 51. "He trusts me to run the defense. We put a game plan together on our own, me and my assistants."
What does he look for in a defensive player?
"Every position is different, of course, but speed is the first priority, a kid who likes to stick his nose in there, who likes to tackle and hit people," David said. "You have to run to the ball. You have to have kids who can run. Everything is built around speed for us, fast and physical."
A defensive lineman must have good size and strength and exceptional quickness. A linebacker must have a lot of grit--"football moxie," David said--and run real well. The best athletes are earmarked for linebacker and defensive back. A solid defense starts with them, the brothers agree.
But the game plan has changed over the years. In 1989 and 1990, for example, when opponents ran 80 percent of the time, the outside linebackers were fast defensive linemen. Now, to combat the spread offenses, they are more physical defensive backs.
"You need more speed on the edge to control the spread. You have to be more athletic at the linebacker position," David said. "You looked for more run stoppers before. Now you look for kids who can stop the run and rush the passer. We try to put more pressure on the quarterback."
Don't forget the defensive backs, especially in this era of pass-happy spread offenses.
"The defensive back always plays pass first. We look for a kid who is smart and can read offenses, someone who can determine whether a play is a run or a pass," Lenti said.
He isn't ready to declare that this year's defense is the best he has produced, not until after Week 14. He compares it to 1992...no stars, no standouts, just a lot of kids with great chemistry, great resilience and a don't-give-up attitude.
He reminds that the 1992 defense, nicknamed the "Ninja Turtles" because they were so undersized, also hoisted a state championship banner. The biggest name was future NFL star Simeon Rice, who wasn't highly recruited out of high school but blossomed at Illinois.
This year's unit features two Division I recruits in the line, 6-foot-3, 260-pound junior Enoch Smith and 5-foot-11, 285-pound junior Steven Richardson. Other key contributors are 6-foot-1, 212-pound senior lineman David Denne, 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior linebacker D.J. Romero, 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior strong safety Justin Sanchez and 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior free safety Deontae Brown.
Romero is the team's leading tackler despite missing six weeks with a foot injury. He returned for the playoff. 
"These kids aren't worried about who gets his name in the newspaper or who gets publicity or who is being recruited," Lenti said. "They just want to get the job done."
For Lenti and his defensive assistants--Pete Kammholz, Mark Antonietti and Bill Nolan--the job of preparing for Saturday's state championship game against Glenbard North began after the semifinal victory over Neuqua Valley. The two finalists arranged for a film exchange.
At 8 a.m. Sunday morning, the coaching staff met at the school. They broke down three films of Glenbard North. Frank Lenti and his offensive coaches met in one room and David Lenti and his assistants met in another. The meeting didn't break up until about 5 p.m.
"We analyze all the offensive plays, the tendencies, their favorite plays, plays that could pose problems, what they like to run in certain situations, what they like to exploit, how they will attack your defense, their best athletes, best linemen, best pass plays, best run play," David said.
They begin the agonizing process of putting together a game plan, then go home, do more homework and finalize the game plan in a series of telephone conversations. When the staff arrives at school at 7 o'clock on Monday morning, it is all finalized.
At exactly 7:02, the coaching staff meets the players in the media center. Frank outlines the practice schedule for the week and a brief rundown of the bells and whistles that go into Thanksgivingchampionship week, which is a new experience for this team. Mount Carmel traveled to Champaign in 2005, 2006 and 2010 but hasn't won a state title since 2002.
"There is some motivational stuff. Mark Antonietti introduces the game plan for the kicking game. Then the offensive players go to one classroom with Frank and the defensive players stay in the media center to go over the defensive game plan with me, Pete, Mark and Bill."
Playing on Thanksgiving weekend and taking a bus to and from Champaign on Saturday for the state championship game is a new and thrilling experience for the players. For Frank, David and Pete, who has been on the staff for 31 years, it is a familiar theme.
"You come across a different group of kids every year," David said. "It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them, their first time, maybe their only time. We appreciate it we are playing in a state final. We used to take it for granted. But we appreciate it more now.
"Every year is as meaningful as the year before. It's all about the kids. These seniors have never been to Champaign before. It is the juniors' first experience. We like to take the approach that it is more about us playing to our standard rather than the school we are playing."

Promising start turns ugly as Bears drop another one to an NFC North rival

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USA TODAY

Promising start turns ugly as Bears drop another one to an NFC North rival

Oh, it all started so promising.

The Bears looked like a well-oiled machine early Sunday, looking like the kind of team bouncing back from a gut-wrenching loss to the Green Bay Packers a week prior. But with another NFC North rival in town, this time the Detroit Lions, things turned ugly in a hurry — and the result ended up the same.

The Bears lost for the seventh time in 10 games this season, falling to the Lions by a 27-24 score on the shores of Lake Michigan.

An offense that has struggled to put points on the board much of the year — and couldn’t match a Packers offense led by backup quarterback Brett Hundley last weekend — started strong, with three scoring drives in its first four possessions. Mitch Trubisky led scoring drives of 70, 55 and 73 yards, producing 17 points and had the Bears ahead by 10 midway through the second quarter.

The lone Lions points came after a rare miscue by the offense in the opening 20-plus minutes when Trubisky fumbled a snap, only for D.J. Hayden to run it back 27 yards for a touchdown. But still, the Bears looked the superior team on both sides of the ball.

It was then, though, that Matt Stafford flipped a switch and started picking apart the Bears’ defense. Backed up at his own nine-yard line after an offensive pass-interference penalty, Stafford marched the Lions down the field, rattling off completions of 17, 40 and 28 yards, the last a touchdown pass that took advantage of a badly burned Marcus Cooper.

Stafford then led a 73-yard touchdown drive, once again picking apart the Bears’ secondary and giving his Lions a lead right before the half, a sudden turn of events considering the Bears had a double-digit lead not long before.

After an uneventful third quarter, the Bears tied the game with five minutes remaining on a stellar touchdown run by Tarik Cohen. But Stafford marched the Lions right down the field immediately afterward, and the Lions cashed in with a 52-yard go-ahead field goal.

Trubisky led the Bears downfield and put them in position for a game-tying field goal, but Connor Barth’s attempt was way off the mark, sending the Bears to another upsetting defeat.

Tarik Cohen gets back in the game

After earning much social-media scorn the last few weeks, the Bears’ coaching staff brought Tarik Cohen back with a vengeance.

The rookie running back proved himself a dangerous offensive weapon early in the season, but he had been largely absent for weeks, combining for just five rushing attempts and three receptions in the previous three games against the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and aforementioned Packers.

Well, the Bears’ coaches must have heard all that criticism and heavily involved Cohen, who finished with nine rushes for 44 yards and four catches for 15 yards. He was targeted a total of six times.

And Cohen came up with a huge play late in the game, taking a shovel pitch from Trubisky, running to the pylon and flipping his way into the end zone, extending the ball in midair to make sure it was a touchdown. That score tied the game at 24 with five minutes left.

Banged-up Bears

The Bears’ defense — already well bothered with injuries — added a couple more to the list Sunday.

None seemed more significant than the one to Leonard Floyd, who was taken off the field on a cart in the fourth quarter after Kyle Fuller crashed into Floyd’s right knee. Floyd spent a good deal of time on the ground before the cart came out.

Fuller suffered a wrist injury on the same play, with TV cameras catching the sight of an awful lot of blood.

At various points, defensive linemen Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman left the field with members of the training staff. And on the offensive side, wide receiver Josh Bellamy was announced as being in the concussion protocol after a play in the third quarter.

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

On two consecutive Saturday evenings the Blackhawks were looking for a little more offense. On two consecutive Saturday evenings they got some from Gustav Forsling, whose shots got through to either tie a game (vs. Carolina) or take a lead (vs. Pittsburgh).

Forsling isn’t the big go-to guy when it comes to points but he’s nevertheless getting them for a Blackhawks team that’s starting to find its offense again. But this is more about Forsling’s overall game which, not long after he made the Blackhawks roster last fall, plateaued. This season he’s been more consistent and more confident from the start, and he and Jan Rutta have formed a pair that coach Joel Quenneville trusts and has kept together for most of this season. The 21-year-old defenseman talked of working on the mental side of his game entering this season and said he feels the difference.

“I’ve been working on it this summer and I feel a little bit better,” he said. “[Just] more confident with the puck and confident in myself and pretty much everywhere.”

Quenneville has seen the difference.

“I think he’s getting better with his reads,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a better gap. [Being] quicker all over the ice is part of that and nice to see him pound one that goes through because his shot can be a lot heavier than it’s been and we want him to use it a little bit more, too.”

Forsling says he feels comfortable playing with any of the Blackhawks’ defensemen but there’s no doubt he and Rutta have been good together. The two clicked immediately, and at times they’ve been the Blackhawks’ second pair.

“I think we’re thinking the same way out there on the ice. We have a great conversation out there and everything’s worked out fine,” Forsling said. “He’s a funny guy and we get along well.”

Forsling’s offensive contributions are welcomed but so is his defense. When the Rangers were looking for the game-tying goal late in the third period on Wednesday, Forsling was on Corey Crawford’s left side to prevent David Desharnais from scoring it. Seventy-six seconds later, Artem Anisimov’s goal gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead.

“Great play by him,” Crawford said. “For us, we want to cover the short side there and it’s great or him to get over quick and get his stick there. Definitely a great stop by him.”

Forsling’s playing with more confidence. He’s added a little early offense. The Blackhawks wanted Forsling to reach another level this season and so far, he’s doing that.