White Sox

Foreman's Daniels makes his mark

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Foreman's Daniels makes his mark

After his sophomore year at Foreman, following his first full season of football competition, Johnny Daniels approached coach Peter Grazzini with an intriguing question.

"Have you ever produced a Division I player?" Daniels asked Grazzini.

"Yes, in volleyball," Grazzini said. "But not in football."

"I'll be your first football player," Daniels said.

The question captivated Grazzini. Had Foreman ever produced a Division I football player? The coach did some research. No, as far as anyone knows, the school has never sent a football player to a Division I program.

Daniels could be the first. He came to Foreman to play basketball, but Grazzini took one look at the chubby, 287-pound freshman marching in a ROTC class and projected him as a big-time lineman.

College coaches think so, too. They have never made Foreman a must stop on their recruiting trips into Chicago in the past. But Daniels, now a 6-foot-5, 240-pound junior, is attracting attention like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

"He is the best kept secret in the city of Chicago," Grazzini said. "He isn't on anybody's top 30 list. But I wouldn't expect anyone to know anything about Foreman football because we haven't done anything yet. Our job is to put (Daniels) on the map."

From the moment Grazzini discovered Daniels in an ROTC class, he has been grooming the youngster for stardom. "I liked his physique. He was more built for football than basketball. He is very strong and very athletic. As a defensive tackle, he will be a nightmare for everybody," he said.

Daniels quit playing football in seventh grade. He aspired to be a basketball player. Coaches told him he had potential to be a basketball player. But Grazzini persuaded him to try out for the sophomore football team. Soon he was starting on the varsity as a defensive end. As a junior, he forced 13 fumbles.

"He got some interest when people saw his size. I invested in some Huddle software and began sending his highlight film to a lot of colleges," the coach said. "Northern Illinois liked what they saw, came in to see him and then everybody came...Big Ten, MAC, Ohio Valley.

"They like his size and explosiveness and his good feet. He has the wingspan of someone who is 6-foot-11 14. He is being recruited as an offensive tackle and defensive tackle. Class 1-AA schools don't think they can get him. They think he is above them. It's a big process for us, finding the right fit."

Daniels has no scholarship offers yet, but he has strong interest from Northern Illinois, Toledo and Eastern Illinois. Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern and South Dakota State also have shown interest. Toledo visited Foreman four days in a row with four different coaches.

"Offers should be coming by the end of the month," Grazzini said. "At the moment, he is enjoying the process of being recruited. This isn't a race; it's a process. Our goal is to get him to 270 pounds to go to college. Now it's all about homework, nutrition and lifting weights."

Daniels has taken an unofficial visit to Northern Illinois. He liked the campus and the coaching staff and is anxiously looking forward to attending the Huskies' summer camp. "They want to see him go up against other big-time players, the kind of competition he doesn't get in the Public League," Grazzini said.

"I like Northern Illinois a lot," said Daniels, who also plans to attend camps at Northwestern and Illinois. "I hope they will offer. I felt comfortable there. I'd like to play closer to home. But my family understands I will go anywhere to play."

In fact, Daniels has two dream schools--Miami (Florida) and Michigan. They haven't shown any interest to date but the youngster hopes they'll be among the major Division I programs that figure to evaluate him during his senior year.

"I was always a Miami fan growing up," he said. "Once I understood the game, I liked Miami's style of play. And the stadium at Michigan is so big. Tom Brady went there. He's my favorite player. I can throw the ball pretty good. In 7-on-7 games, I play quarterback. I can throw the ball more than 50 yards. And everybody knows I like the New England Patriots."

"Johnny wears jersey number 52," Grazzini said. "But he'd wear number 12 (Tom Brady's number) if he could."

Grazzini, 33, is preparing for his second season as Foreman's head football coach. Last year's team was 7-3, losing to Glenbard South in the first round of the state playoff.

A 1997 graduate of Morton in Cicero, he played and coached volleyball before he took a liking to football. He didn't want to play baseball in high school but his father said he had to do something so he chose volleyball. His high school team finished fifth in state on one occasion and lost twice in the supersectional. At Eastern Illinois, he played club volleyball for four years.

After graduation from EIU in 2005, he was an assistant football coach at Foreman for two years, then got out of coaching to pursue a career in the restaurant business for two years. All the time, he was a full-time teacher at Foreman. When the pizza business went bust, he returned to coaching and became head football coach last year.

"I was always interested in football but I was more schooled in volleyball," Grazzini said. "It is more fun coaching football than volleyball. The dynamic of taking 11 kids to make one play successful makes it one of the most intriguing sports I've ever been a part of. It builds character and toughness."

Daniels might not be the only Division I player that he will produce. Kentral Brown, a 2011 graduate, is a highly promising safety at Butte Junior College in Chico, California, the same school that produced Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Brown red-shirted last year after beating out 100 other players for a spot on the 50-man roster.

Now it is Johnny Daniels' turn. "I'm still not successful. The coach always says nothing is good enough. I always try harder until it is good enough. I want to learn the game better," he said.

The game plan for the remainder of the summer is clear. He has begun a 7,000 calories-a-day diet that includes a lot of protein, carbohydrates, meat and chicken. He squats 300 pounds and power cleans 225. His goal is to lift 185 pounds at least 20 or more times. His personal goal is to weigh 260 pounds before the season opener.

And he wants to do more pushups than his coach. "I want to get stronger. The coach can do 80 pushups. I can only do 45. My goal is to beat him by the end of the year," Daniels said.

"I feel good about myself," he said. "This has been a blessing. The coach said if you put in hard work, you'll get noticed and colleges will want you if you stand out and perform. For the colleges to tell him that I'm good enough to play for them...well, that is amazing, a dream. I never knew how far football could take me. As a kid, you only dream about going to the NFL."

Will he play offense or defense in college? "He is very physical and disruptive. He has a mindset to be a nightmare on defense. He will snap a lot of heads back with his initial punch. He likes to get after the quarterback and chase running backs," Grazzini said.

"I love football. It's unexplainable. I love everything about it," Daniels said. "But I prefer defense. My work ethic is pretty good for defense. I love playing violent. When college coaches ask me which position I prefer, I say defense. I have more passion for defense than offense."

Would potential bargains like Mike Moustakas or Carlos Gonzalez make sense for White Sox?

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USA TODAY

Would potential bargains like Mike Moustakas or Carlos Gonzalez make sense for White Sox?

The 2017-18 baseball offseason continues to be, well, the 2017-18 baseball offseason, even with spring training games being played in Arizona and Florida.

A bunch of names remain on the free-agent market, including All-Star players who thought they would be in for big multi-year contracts. But as teams continue to deny the wishes of guys who expected to get big deals, the suggestion that those players might end up needing to take one-year offers if they want to play during the 2018 season is becoming a more common talking point.

So with potential bargains to be had for some pretty big-name players, do the White Sox jump into the waters and try to lock up a potential future piece on the cheap? Though they aren’t expected to contend this season, the White Sox have been mentioned in a pair of recent reports surrounding a pair of All-Star position players: Mike Moustakas and Carlos Gonzalez.

MLB.com's Jon Morosi wrote last week that the White Sox are a potential fit for Moustakas, who has sat and watched as former Kansas City Royals teammate Eric Hosmer received a huge contract from the San Diego Padres. Moustakas set a new Royals record last season with 38 home runs but has yet to find a team.

The White Sox, connected to Baltimore Orioles star Manny Machado earlier this offseason, seem to have a current big leaguer or highly ranked prospect locked into almost every position on the diamond for the foreseeable future, but third base isn't necessarily one of them. Jake Burger was last year’s top draft pick, though there’s speculation he could slide over to first base. The team still envisions him as a big league third baseman, for what it’s worth.

Moustakas is 29 and already has seven big league seasons under his belt, including a pair of All-Star appearances and a pair of trips to the World Series, including the Crowns’ championship back in 2015. His 38 homers and 85 RBIs in 2017 were both career highs. He slashed .272/.314/.521, the final of those three numbers the best mark of his career.

Moustakas has rarely hit for average or reached base at too high a clip, though those recent power numbers would be intriguing at a hitter-friendly park like Guaranteed Rate Field, where he has 10 career dingers, 26 career RBIs and a .249/.308/.456 career slash line as a visitor.

Certainly Moustakas would be a buzz-worthy addition, and if the White Sox could get him for a good value thanks to this slow-moving market, that adds incentive to bring him aboard. A short contract would have even more incentive for the rebuilding White Sox, who would have the option to either sign him to a long-term deal or deal him away in a deadline deal depending on his immediate production levels.

But for fans hoping the White Sox will spend big on a third baseman in one of the next two offseasons — Machado is a free agent next winter, and Colorado Rockies star Nolan Arenado is set to hit the market the winter after next — slotting in an outside addition at the hot corner now could impact those plans.

Gonzalez is a completely different story, a three-time All Star during his 10-year big league career who is just three seasons removed from a 40-homer campaign in 2015. The 32-year-old Gonzalez also has a trio of Gold Gloves to go along with his 215 career home runs. FanRag’s Jon Heyman listed the White Sox as a possible landing spot for CarGo this weekend.

But his walk year in Colorado was not a very good one by his standards. In 136 games for a Rockies team that ended up in the playoffs, he slashed .262/.339/.423, all those averages way down from his usual level of production. And his power numbers plummeted to 14 homers and 57 RBIs after he combined for 65 homers and 197 RBIs in 2015 and 2016.

The good news for the White Sox is that down year makes Gonzalez far more affordable. Should he command only a one-year contract, the White Sox could take a flier, stick him in the outfield — which still has an unresolved spot with few strong offensive options for center field — and trade him should he bounce back in a big way. Or, at 32, perhaps he’s a guy the White Sox could opt to keep around should he prove valuable and the rebuild continues to move along ahead of schedule.

Gonzalez seems the less risky move at this point, as Moustakas could still be looking for a multi-year contract. But the White Sox have plenty of financial flexibility and flexibility in their decision-making should they add either guy and he proves worthy of a midseason deal or a long-term look.

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”