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Defense stuffs offense in state football finals

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Defense stuffs offense in state football finals

I used to enjoy covering the state high school football championships at Illinois State's Hancock Stadium in Normal and at Illinois' Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Walking the sideline in cold weather and sometimes rain was part of the atmosphere. Sitting in the press box just wasn't the same.
But I've discovered that watching the state finals on television, eating hot turkey sandwiches and pumpkin pie, from the comfort of my den is even more enjoyable for someone who covered the most memorable state final of all, the first one, Glenbrook North's thrilling 19-13 overtime victory over East St. Louis in 1974.
Ever notice how many schools have been there before, how established and tradition-rich programs make frequent appearances in the state finals, how rare it is for a first-time qualifier to make the trip to Champaign?
My expectations for the 2012 finals? I couldn't wait to see how Mount Carmel's defense would attempt to contain Glenbard North's Justin Jackson. I was eager to see the duel of unbeatens in Class 7A, Glenbard West vs. Lincoln-Way East. How good is Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell? Could Montini win four in a row?
I couldn't imagine that 2012 could generate as much excitement as 2011. Who could surpass the spectacular offensive performances of Joliet Catholic's Ty Isaac, Montini's Jordan Westerkamp and John Rhode, Bolingbrook's Aaron Bailey, Rochester's Wes Lunt and Zack Grant, Aurora Christian's Anthony Maddie and Dakota's Jake Apple?
There were more turnovers and penalties than highlight clips last weekend. But there were plenty of heroes. Every championship team needs at least one difference-maker and the winners on Friday and Saturday had them, especially on defense.
Simeon's Jabaree Winston, Maroa-Forsyth's Jack Hockaday, Mercer County's Zach Nelson and Devin Morford, Aurora Christian's Brandon Mayes and Joel Bouagnon and Rochester's Austin Green and Garrett Dooley.
Montini's Dimitri Taylor and Fred Beaugard, Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell, Marcus Terrell and Nyles Morgan, Glenbard West's Hayden Carlson, Ruben Dunbar and Henry Haeffner and Mount Carmel's Don Butkus, Draco Smith and Justin Sanchez.
It was punishing and unrelenting defense, not high scoring offense, that proved to be the difference-maker for Montini, Crete-Monee, Glenbard West and Mount Carmel. Montini, Glenbard West and Mount Carmel each allowed only one offensive touchdown.
Have you ever seen a more physical game than Glenbard WestLincoln-Way East? Have you ever seen a more devastating tackle than Hayden Carlson's crushing stop of Tom Fuessel that preserved Glenbard West's victory in the closing seconds? How many times do you think that tape will be replayed?
What drama! Fourth-and-10 at Glenbard West's 13 with two minutes to play. Fuessel, a Northern Illinois recruit and the Chicago Sun-Times' choice as the best quarterback in the Chicago area, appears headed for a game-winning touchdown until he is flipped helmet over shoulder pads and out-of-bounds by the 6-foot, 180-pound Carlson at the 6. It was the last of Carlson's 14 tackles for the game.
A few days ago, while offering a scouting report on Glenbard West and praising the Hilltopper defense as "the best I've seen," Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg said junior safety Hayden Carlson was the best defensive back he had seen all year. And he offered proof, a prelude to the Fuessel hit.
"He knocked (Northwestern-bound) Matthew Harris out for three weeks on a clean hit," Weinberg said. "He is a great football player. He covers a lot of ground."
The state finals offer an interesting contrast, from small schools to large schools, from schools with enrollments of only 300 students to schools of more than 2,000. Small schools emphasize fundamentals. Large schools take advantage of athleticism.
Glenbard West, which emerged as the No. 1 team in the state in the wake of its 10-8 victory over Lincoln-Way East, rode its "Hitters" mentality to a 14-0 season and its first state championship since 1983.
It wasn't unexpected. In his preseason evaluation, coach Chad Hetlet said the 2012 squad "should be one of the faster teams we have had, a skilled team with a lot of speed, good size up front on both sides of the ball and not a lot of highlight players but good players at all positions, no below average players at any position."
"Potentially," he said, "it could be the best team we have had."
At Glenbard West, it is all about being physical. Bill Duchon started the "Hitters" tradition in the 1960s and Jim Covert, his handpicked successor, maintained the same philosophy. When Hetlet arrived in 2007, inheriting a program that was 1-8 the year before, he picked up the torch that Duchon and Covert had left behind.
Hetlet, 40, learned under Bob Bradshaw, who coached for 25 years at Woodstock and eight at Johnsburg. "I learned the old-school method of football. I listened to coaches talk and kept my mouth shut," he said.
"I learned running the ball with a physical presence up front and stopping the run on defense. You might have less talent but if your kids are more physical and play harder, you have a chance to win. When kids buy into being physical, they are tough to stop."
Hetlet spent one year as defensive coordinator at Hinsdale Central, where he got a good look at Glenbard West. When the head coaching position opened up, he researched the history of the program. When he was hired, he knew exactly what his game plan was going to be.
"The selling point for me was they always were a smash-mouth style of football team," he said. "You want to go into a program that is familiar to what you know. It was a perfect marriage for me."
He retained the Hitters program that Duchon had established. He got instant approval from former Glenbard West players who still lived in Glen Ellyn. Duchon and Covert were very supportive. The school administration and the community, too. Everybody wanted to see the program return to the way it was.
After a 6-5 start in 2007, Glenbard West has taken off. In the last five years. Hetlet's teams have posted a 59-5 record with one state championship and one second-place finish.
"What we talk about all the time and remind the kids is they come from a long line of great physical football players," Hetlet said. "It started with them making a name for themselves. Duchon had gold helmets. Covert had 100-percent helmets. They had their own thing. They were hitters, all of them, a bunch of tough kids.
"I believe in that. That's what we have to do to be successful. It isn't the only way but it's the only way I know. We won't finesse people. We will be successful as long as we are physical and stop the run."
Hetlet's thing is a green G on the side of the helmet. The players don't earn it until they go through the off-season workouts. Parents are invited to the ceremony.
"It goes with the tradition, who we are," Hetlet said. "We don't want to pretend that we are the Duchon or Covert era. We want people to think we want to replicate what they did. We don't want to steal what they did. We want people to talk about us."
After Saturday, everybody is talking.

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

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USA TODAY

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

The Bears placed Leonard Floyd on injured reserve Thursday morning, ending the second-year outside linebacker’s season following a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions. The Bears haven’t revealed the full extent of Floyd’s injury, but coach John Fox did confirm this week the 2016 first-round pick didn’t tear his ACL. 

That’s potentially good news for Floyd’s recovery timetable, even if he won’t return in 2017. The Bears can probably hope to have Floyd back for, at the least, training camp next year, if not possibly OTAs in six months, thought that’s more speculative than concrete. 

Still, with Floyd on injured reserve, the Bears’ current outside linebacker depth chart consists of two veterans (Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho) and two practice squad signees (Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones). These final six games of the 2017 season could serve as auditions for all four players for roles on the 2018 Bears. 

If every team needs at least three good pass rushers, the Bears can count on Akiem Hicks and Floyd for 2018, provided Floyd comes back healthy. But who’s the third?

The Bears could save about $7.5 million in cap space if they release McPhee in 2018; if they were to cut ties with Willie Young, who’s on injured reserve right now as well, it would provide $4.5 million in cap relief. McPhee will be 29 in December, while Young will turn 33 next September. 

The Bears won’t necessarily need the cap relief next year, and could certainly decide to keep both players, who’ve shown they’re still productive when healthy. But even if both players are back, the Bears may need to add another outside linebacker via free agency of the draft — remember, the team could’ve began the season with Floyd, Young, McPhee, Acho and Lamarr Houston as their outside linebackers; an injury Houston suffered in the fourth preseason game ended his time in Chicago. 

Needs at wide receiver and cornerback are pressing, but outside linebacker may need to be in that same conversation. If the Bears have a top-10 pick for the fourth consecutive year, plus some cap space, they perhaps could have the ability to address all three needs in March and April. 

That may be looking a little too far into the future, though. The best-case for the Bears is McPhee finishes the season strong and Irving and/or Jones shows something in the opportunities they receive in these final six games (Jones, for what it’s worth, had five sacks as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015). But the worst-case — and perhaps the most realistic — is that the Bears go into the offseason needing to fill at least one pass-rushing spot. 

The fight for which national team Bastian Schweinsteiger's kid will play for is on

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USA TODAY

The fight for which national team Bastian Schweinsteiger's kid will play for is on

Whenever a famous couple in the world of soccer has a child, there are always jokes about what national teams the kid could play for.

The latest such addition to the gossip columns is the announcement from Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ana Ivanovic that they are expecting a child.

Ivanovic, a former tennis pro who won the 2008 French Open champion, announced the news on Twitter with a sponsor-heavy photo.

Schweinsteiger, who played with the Fire this past season, also took to Twitter to share a photo and the news.

Schweinsteiger's future with the Fire remains unclear, but him and Ivanovic seemed to be happy living in Chicago, making various appearances at sporting events in the city. If he returns and the child is born in Chicago, does that mean we could one day see a Schweinsteiger repping the U.S. national team in 20-something years? Maybe the men's team won't be a national embarrassment by then, but then again, if it's a girl she'd be able to pick between the only multiple-time World Cup winning nations (U.S. and Germany).

Perhaps the child would take after Ivanovic and hit volleys with a racket instead of a foot, or maybe he or she will not take after the professional athlete parents.

In all seriousness, congratulations to both Schweinsteiger and Ivanovic.