Fire

Looking ahead to prep football in 2012

746914.png

Looking ahead to prep football in 2012

Which teams are the best bets to win Illinois high school football championships in 2012?

Can Bolingrook repeat as the Class 8A champion and the No. 1 team in Illinois?

Can Montini become the fourth school in state history to win a fourth state title in a row, matching the achievements of Joliet Catholic (1975-78), Mount Carmel (1988-91) and Providence (1994-97)?

Will Maine South bounce back after having its bid for a fourth consecutive state championship spoiled by Stevenson in last year's state quarterfinals?

Which team will be the biggest surprise of all?

Who are the leading candidates for Player of the Year recognition? Will Joliet Catholic running back Ty Isaac, last year's recipient, retain the award? Or will Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey claim the prize?

Which coaches will have the biggest impact?

Preseason practice begins Wednesday. The season kicks off on Friday, Aug. 24, with Providence of New Lenox hosting Joliet Catholic in a nationally televised attraction on ESPNU.

On Saturday, Aug. 25, Soldier Field will host three games -- Mount Carmel vs. St. Patrick, Marist vs. St. Rita and St. Ignatius vs. Whitney Young.

Two other highly entertaining opening-game matchups on Saturday, Aug. 25, are Wheaton Warrenville South at Glenbard West and Simeon at Loyola. The following week, Loyola will travel to Dublin, Ireland, to play Dallas Jesuit in a prelude to the NavyNotre Dame game.

So what else is new?

Unlike most seasons, there is little drama left in recruiting. All of the leading prospects in the Chicago area have made oral commitments except wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell of Crete-Monee. He is said to be leaning to Michigan but also is considering Illinois, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Oregon.

Isaac chose USC. Bailey picked Illinois. Offensive tackle Ethan Pocic of Lemont committed to LSU. Quarterback Matt Alviti of Maine South pledged to Northwestern. Offensive tackle Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis committed to Michigan. Offensive tackle Kyle McGovern of Lincoln-Way West will attend Notre Dame.

In all, nearly 30 seniors from the city and suburbs have committed to Division I schools. They and other members of the class of 2013 have until national signing day in February before making up their minds. Meanwhile, college coaches are concentrating on the talent-laden classes of 2014 and 2015.

"It figures to be a very good year for Illinois in 2012," said longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network. "There is outstanding depth, several national recruits, talent at every position. Peoria has three potential All-Americans. Illinois ranks among the top seven or eight states in the nation for talent."

The class of 2014 shapes up as one of the best in recent memory. It is headed by tight end Nic Weishar of Marist, cornerback Parrker Westphal of Bolingbrook, offensive tackles Shane Evans of Prairie Ridge and Jamarco Jones of De La Salle, linebackers Clifton Garrett of Plainfield South and Nyles Morgan of Crete-Monee, defensive tackle Enoch Smith of Mount Carmel and quarterbackathlete Tommy Mister of Richards.

There are some rules changes that need to be observed as the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), in the wake of recent issues that stirred up a firestorm of protest, seeks to create a safe and respectful environment.

In an effort to provide information on hazing, bullying and inappropriate relationships to more high school coaches, school administrators and the general public, the NFHS is offering an online course called "Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment" for free on the NFHS Coach Education website.

The course provides education for coaches on the critically-important topics of inappropriate relationships, hazing, bullying and cyber-bullying and the appropriate use of technology when interacting with players and the public. It also provides examples of court cases involving these issues and suggests appropriate actions that coaches should take when these types of issues arise.

"This course is about getting the coach's attention and saying "You will be held responsible for inappropriate actions and for not taking appropriate steps when these situations occur," said Tim Flannery, NFHS director of coach education.

Flannery said recent revelations at Penn State and Florida A&M make it imperative that more coaches and school administrators become educated on these important topics that negatively affect young people.

"Many individuals who accept a coaching job are ignorant of the laws and policies by which they are required to abide," Flannery said. "This course will assist athletic programs by providing standardized training for coaches, which will result in a permanent record that can be assessed and verified by the school."

In addition, the NFHS and the Illinois High School Association, ever more aware of the controversy over concussions, has ruled that any high school football player must sit out one play if their helmet comes off while the ball is in play.

"The football rules committee made this rules change after reviewing data from multiple states regarding the frequency of helmets coming off during live-ball play," said Julian Tackett, chairman of the football rules committee and commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

"It is the committee's hope that this serves notice for schools to properly fit players with helmets to reduce the incidence of these situations and remind the players not to take steps that alter the fit."

The NFHS is re-emphasizing the importance of risk minimization, specifically through two of its free online courses: "Concussion in Sports -- What You Need to Know" and "A Guide to Heat Acclimatization and Heat Illinois Prevention."

"Concussion in Sports" provides a brief overview of how a person can recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion. "A Guide to Heat Acclimatization and Heat Illness Prevention" provides critical information designed to minimize the risk of activity-related heat illness and heat stroke among high school athletes.

Another significant change will be a new interpretation of a legal catch. Beginning this season, a receiver will be required to establish possession of the ball and contact the ground inbounds while maintaining possession -- regardless of the opponent's action.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

joao-1118.jpg
USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16