Blackhawks

Prospect's O'Hara finds his niche at quarterback

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Prospect's O'Hara finds his niche at quarterback

Devin O'Hara began playing football with the Arlington Cowboys in third grade. His father Les, who quarterbacked at Lane Tech and Minnesota, taught him how to play the game. He loved to throw the ball and control the game.

He dreamed of playing in the Big Ten, like his father.

Then he got sidetracked for a couple of years. As a sophomore on Prospect's varsity, he was shifted to safety. As a junior, he was moved to wide receiver. He caught 50 passes for 500 yards. But the 6-foot-5, 180-pounder wanted to be a quarterback.

"I was a quarterback my whole life," O'Hara said. "I wanted to be quarterback as a junior. It was a little disappointing. They aimed to being a running team with Sam Frasco at quarterback. After the season, I told (coach Mike Sebestyen) that I wanted to be quarterback as a senior. I wanted the job very bad. I wouldn't let anything stop me from being quarterback."

Sebestyen, coming off a 5-5 season and preparing for his second year as head coach, had O'Hara in mind. "Traditionally, we put our best athlete and leader at quarterback. Since Miles Osei left, we have made a receiver the quarterback the next year. Devin is very athletic. We had played quarterback at lower levels. We knew he could do it," the coach said.

If there were any doubts, O'Hara quickly dispelled them. In Prospect's opening 55-41 victory over Glenbrook South, O'Hara rushed for 333 yards and six touchdowns and threw a 93-yard scoring pass to Nikko Gountanis on the Knights' first play from scrimmage.

In last Friday's 35-14 upset of Glenbrook North in the opening round of the Class 7A playoff, O'Hara ran for three touchdowns and completed 8 of 10 passes for 214 yards, including a 61-yarder to Joe Gleason that set up another touchdown. Jack Tuttle rushed 22 times for 160 yards and two touchdowns.

Prospect, which has won four games in a row after a 3-3 start, will host highly rated Wheaton North (9-1) in the second round on Friday night.

O'Hara, who has a scholarship offer from Western Illinois, has rushed for 1,300 yards and passed for 1,200 in Sebestyen's spread offense that utilizes four receiver sets.

Spread? Why not the split-back veer. Sebestyen is the son of Don Sebestyen, who was head coach at Fenwick for five years and served on Frank Lenti's staff at Mount Carmel from 1987 to 2000. He currently is principal at Providence in New Lenox.

But Mike, 36, has a lot of Prospect blood in him. He was varsity assistant under Brent Pearlman for 10 years. He coached on the state championship teams of 2001, 2002 and 2005. He knows what tradition is all about -- at Mount Carmel and Prospect.

"After spending so many years with Brent, we were successful running this (spread) offense," Sebestyen said. "We run some veer out of a shotgun to make my father and Frank Lenti proud. I tried to dabble at playing quarterback and tried to throw the ball, but we run 55 times a game. I still have some Catholic League in me."

O'Hara couldn't be happier. "I feel confident in my passing skills. I know we are more of a running team. We run about 25 times a game and throw about 10. I relish that role. I have good vision when I run. I have a lot of fun running with the ball. My offensive line opens up a lot of space," he said.

He admired Osei when he was younger and watching Prospect games. He was a freshman when Osei was a senior. He was promoted to the varsity for the playoff as a freshman. They worked together and O'Hara noted how patient and poised Osei was in the pocket.

"I like to think of myself as another Osei, only four inches taller," O'Hara said. "He is the best player ever to come out of Prospect. I would love to be as good as him. But I'm not the same player. When he played, he was a great passer. He passed more than he ran."

O'Hara's favorite play is called the "speed option to the outside." It is like a quarterback sweep except O'Hara has the option to pitch to Tuttle or Steve Isteefanos.

But O'Hara also has another tough assignment against Wheaton North. As a starting cornerback, he likely will be called upon to defend against Clayton Thorson, Wheaton North's outstanding 6-foot-4 junior wide receiver.

"We have to play our best game of the year in each round of the playoff because each team will be more talented and more physical," he said.

To counter Wheaton North's explosive offense, O'Hara will rely on his four wide receivers--5-foot-9, 170-pound junior Nikko Gountanis, 6-foot, 195-pound senior Andrew Hajek, 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior Joe Gleason and 5-foot-10, 160-pound junior Luis Leguer -- and his two running backs, 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior Jack Tuttle and 5-foot-5, 145-pound senior Steve Isteefanos. Pat Costello, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior tackle, is the mainstay of the offensive line.

Defensively, Prospect is anchored by O'Hara at cornerback, Hajek at linebacker, 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior end Mike Houghton, 6-foot-4, 230-pound end Colin Olson, 6-foot-1, 260-pound tackle Shola George and 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior tackle Kevin Kern.

"Last year (5-5) was a learning experience for all of us," Sebestyen said. "We struggled at the beginning and started 1-3. But I was proud of the way the kids fought back in divisional play. We took Elk Grove to the last play and lost by three--and they got to the quarterfinals. Then we lost to Glenbard West in the first round.

"It was a good experience in the sense that our kids got to experience a playoff game. For them, those three state championship teams were a long time ago. With nine starters back, we thought they could be a good group. We only have 32 on the varsity. We feel we have overcome adversity. We are where we expected to be--playing in November."

O'Hara believes this team has succeeded where last year's team didn't.

"The overall attitude and work ethic and bond of this team is different. There wasn't a great feeling that we were playing together last year. We never got what we should have out of the season. We changed our whole attitude and vibe this year and we're starting to take off," he said.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.