Bears

Ernst sees light at Lincoln-Way West

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Ernst sees light at Lincoln-Way West

Trying to establish himself as a first-year head coach and striving to build a program at a school that is only four years old, Dave Ernst said he could see "the light at the end of the tunnel" in the last five weeks, since the second half of a 15-7 loss to Thornton.

"We lost but I saw things were coming together," Ernst said. "Our kids fought to the end. We reached their one-yard-line with 18 seconds left but a holding call brought the ball back. It was such a disappointment after fighting to get back into the game. We didn't want to feel that way again."

The setback left Lincoln-Way West at 3-3. But the Warriors have won four games in a row since then, including last Friday's 35-0 rout of Rochelle in the first round of the Class 5A playoff. They'll face their biggest test of the season against top-seeded and unbeaten Kaneland on Saturday in New Lenox.

Ernst, 47, isn't surprised by Lincoln-Way West's early success, which is rare for a start-up school. A 1983 graduate of Lincoln-Way (Central), he coached under Matt Senffner at Providence for 12 years, then coached with current Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar under Rob Glielmi at Lincoln-Way Central for eight years before joining Mark Vander Kooi's staff at Lincoln-Way West. When Vander Kooi became athletic director at Lincoln-Way East, Ernst got his chance.

"A lot of the stuff that Glielmi was teaching at Lincoln-Way Central rubbed off on Zvonar and me. In the 1990s, his program dominated the south suburbs among the public schools," Ernst said. "We have a lot of tough kids who want to win and are willing to do what they have to do to win.

"We have some talented kids--like tackle Colin McGovern, who is committed to Notre Dame, the best player I've been around in 24 years of coaching--but the biggest thing is their willingness to fight and claw and scratch and do everything they have to do to win."

Adam Slattery, a 6-foot-2, 167-pound senior who is a three-year starter at wide receiver, may not be headed to major Division I school but he is typical of the "fight, claw and scratch" type of player that has turned Lincoln-Way West into a winning program.

"It's cool to be part of a program that is so young, only four years old," Slattery said. "When we came in, we knew we were the ones who would start a tradition. We took it upon ourselves to make it the best we could. Winning makes everything right.

"We turned it around right away. We were overmatched without seniors. We were thrown into the fire right away. We found out how hard it is to win and how hard you have to work. The standard now is to win, make the playoff and establish ourselves as a state championship contending team.

"We want to set an example for others to follow. We want to show what it takes to win. We work hard in practice and in the summer and in the off-season. We are committed. Eighty percent of the team had 100 percent attendance for off-season lifting."

Slattery and the first class of graduates know it isn't easy to start a tradition. But he pointed out that Joliet Catholic and Lincoln-Way East had to start sometime. So he argues that there is no better time for Lincoln-Way West to start its tradition.

"That is the attitude of the first class to graduate," Slattery said. "How bad do you want to win? Like Joliet Catholic and Lincoln-Way East, we don't accept losing. Coach Ernst has done a great job. He knows how to win. He is the real deal. I wouldn't want any other coach."

Slattery is Lincoln-Way West's all-time leading receiver with more receptions for more yards and more touchdowns than anyone in school history. But he acknowledges that four years is hardly a record book, especially in a program that prefers running to passing.

"I wouldn't be opposed to seeing us throw 30 passes a game. But whatever we're doing, we're winning. I'd rather block or do whatever it takes to win," he said. "Until my freshman year, I thought of myself as a baseball player. But I like the atmosphere of football in high school, the team concept. How could you not want to be a part of that?"

Slattery, who grew up in Lansing, was a quarterback while playing for the New Lenox Mustangs and New Lenox Junior Knights from second through eighth grade. As a freshman at newly opened Lincoln-Way West, he was shifted to wide receiver. He was moved up to the sophomore team, then to the varsity.

Last year's team finished 7-3, losing to Joliet Catholic in the first round of the playoff. With five returning starters on offense and five on defense, Ernst was optimistic about 2012. As a Class 5A school in a Class 7A league, however, he understands the odds aren't in his favor.

Perhaps it is a good thing that Ernst believes in luck. "From all my years with Senffner at Providence and Glielmi at Lincoln-Way Central, one of things you see is luck. You have to stay healthy. At Lincoln-Way Central, we lost 11 starters one year after thinking we'd make a run (at the state title)," he said.

"I believe in luck. Sure, you make your own luck most of the time. But luck is involved in winning a state title and making a long run in the playoff. The football bounces in weird ways sometimes. The whole idea is not to get distracted."

Ernst believes he has what it takes to contend with a Kaneland team that has lost only twice in the last three years. A key factor is 5-foot-9, 160-pound junior running back Javier Montalvo, who has rushed for 600 yards in the last three games. He ran for 203 yards and two touchdowns against Rochelle.

"We had three tailbacks playing and Montalvo started to get more carries beginning with the Thornton game," Ernst said. "He has made a big impact. He is a wrestler and he doesn't like to get tackled. He has emerged as our go-to running back."

Montalvo runs behind McGovern, a 6-foot-7, 297-pound senior, 6-foot-2, 250-pound junior tackle Brennan Mulroe and 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior guard Derrek Gurnea. Quarterback Justin Keuch, a 5-foot-9, 150-pound junior, has passed for 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns.

Ernst said McGovern is "as good an offensive tackle as I've seen. He is fast, quick and intelligent. You see a lot of big kids but he is an athlete." Mulroe is back after missing two weeks with a torn ACL.

The defense features 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior tackle Matt Sorganan, 6-foot, 190-pound senior linebacker McKenna Wychocky, 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior tackle Josh Hilt, 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior linebacker Jake Bohne, 5-foot-7, 150-pound senior cornerback Andy Hensel and Alex and Andrew Gray, a pair of junior safeties who are 6-foot-3, 180-pound identical twins.

Sorganan was on the prep team last year. He saw only five snaps during the entire season. He was only 6-foot-1 as a junior. "But he had a great off-season. Now he is one of the best players on the team. His father played in the NFL. He is a late developer. His best days are in front of him," Ernst said.

The same can be said for Lincoln-Way West.

Bears reportedly signing former Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos

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USA TODAY

Bears reportedly signing former Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos

After Connor Barth's critical missed field-goal try in Sunday's loss to the Detroit Lions, it appears the Bears are moving on to a new option at kicker.

Multiple reports Monday morning indicated the Bears are signing former Kansas City Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos.

Santos, a Tulane product who the Bears met with just last week, spent parts of the past four seasons with the Chiefs, including three games earlier this season. Santos has made 89 of his 105 field-goal attempts in his career and 125 of his 130 extra-point tries.

Santos was waived by the Chiefs earlier this season after being placed on injured reserve with a groin injury. He was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals and a perfect 6-for-6 on extra points in the three games he played with the Chiefs earlier this season.

Barth's accuracy has been a problem throughout his season and a half with the Bears, but perhaps no miss was bigger than what happened Sunday. After Mitch Trubisky drove the Bears into position for a game-tying field goal, Barth's 46-yard attempt with eight seconds left was far right, and the Bears lost the game 27-24.

In his second season with the Bears, Barth has missed 10 field-goal tries in 26 games. He’s 11-for-16 so far in 2017 after going 18-for-23 in 2016.

Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano are on this year's Hall of Fame ballot

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AP

Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano are on this year's Hall of Fame ballot

Two of the Cubs' greatest starting pitchers are among the 33 names on this year's Hall of Fame ballot.

Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano, both longtime fixtures in the North Side starting rotation, landed on the ballot for the first time. Legendary Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa is on the ballot for the sixth year.

Wood accomplished one of baseball's all-time most impressive feats, striking out 20 Houston Astros on May 6, 1998, in just his fifth start in the big leagues. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1998 and was a two-time All Star in his 12 seasons with the Cubs.

Wood was a member of that stellar starting rotation in 2003, helping the Cubs to their first-ever NL Central title with a 3.20 ERA and a baseball-leading 266 strikeouts in 32 starts. Injuries, however, plagued Wood throughout his career with the Cubs, and after making those 32 starts in 2003 and 22 more in 2004, he started just 14 games for the remainder of his career.

Still, Wood is one of the most recognizable and celebrated pitchers in franchise history, No. 3 on the team's all-time strikeout list. Only 13 pitchers have appeared in more games with the Cubs than Wood.

Zambrano was also a part of that 2003 team in his third season in the majors. He spent all but one season of his 12-season big league career with the Cubs, making 282 starts and three All-Star teams. He finished in the top five in NL Cy Young voting three times: in 2004, 2006 and 2007. The 2004 campaign was Zambrano's finest, as he posted a 2.75 ERA in 31 starts for a Cubs team that nearly made a repeat trip to the postseason.

Zambrano had a famously hot temper and earned as many cheers for his on-field antics as he did for his pitching prowess. While some of those memorable blow-ups might resonate with fans a little more in the long run, he's one of the franchise's greatest pitchers ever, No. 2 on the team's all-time strikeout list, behind only Fergie Jenkins, and No. 15 on the wins list. Only seven pitchers have started more games in a Cubs uniform than Zambrano.

Statistically, Sosa seems like a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame, No. 9 on baseball's all-time home runs list with 609 dingers and the only player ever to have three 60-homer seasons. But it has been difficult for him to get votes from the writers. He received just 8.6 percent of votes last season. To be elected to the Hall of Fame, a player needs to appear on 75 percent of ballots.

Two other ex-Cubs, Fred McGriff and Jamie Moyer, are also on this year's ballot.