Big Ten

St. Ignatius' May prefers rugby to football

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St. Ignatius' May prefers rugby to football

Malcolm May doesn't want to play college football.

St. Ignatius' 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior running backdefensive end compiled an impressive resume this season. He rushed for 950 yards and scored 11 touchdowns for a 3-6 team and was designated as the Offensive Player of the Year in the Catholic League's Red Division.

"I coached Renaldo Wynn, who went from De La Salle to Notre Dame and was a first-round draft choice and played in the NFL for 14 years, and Reggie Hayward, who played at Thornridge and played in the NFL for 10 years. I'd put May in the same class," said St. Ignatius coach Pat Jennings.

But the 16-year-old doesn't want to play another football game.

"He begged me not to put his name out or send out film to college recruiters," Jennings said. "I took him off the board."

May is a rugby player.

His heroes are Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Quade Cooper, not Peyton Manning or Brian Urlacher or Tom Brady.

Who are those guys?

They are rugby players, maybe the best in the world. Carter and McCaw play for the All-Blacks in New Zealand. Cooper, May's personal favorite, plays for the Australian Wallabies.

A cousin of former college All-America lineman and NFL star and current ESPN football analyst Mark May, he is a starter on the Under-19 USA rugby team. Last summer, he played with the Under-17 USA team in England. He hopes to make tours in England and South America next spring and summer. His goals are to play in the World Cup in 2015 and the Olympics in 2016.

"At first, it is frustrating because no one understands the sport," May said. "But as long as I enjoy it, I don't care what others feel or that they think football is more important.

"I feel if you are watching football, it is more entertaining. I can't explain why rugby is more fun to play. It is a game that doesn't stop. It has a flow that football doesn't have. It is a faster game than soccer. You have to think more. In football, coaches call plays. In rugby, it's 15 kids thinking on their own."

Come to think of it, May said, most people don't know that there are 15 players to a side in rugby or what you can do, what you can't do, what the penalties are, the illegal hits. To most folks in the United States, rugby is as foreign as cricket.

"I tell them, there is more contact and hitting in rugby than football. Either you get hit or you score. There is excitement all the time," May said. "A rugby player doesn't have to be big. He has to have endurance, high resolve, big legs, long arms and broad shoulders. As long as you aren't afraid to tackle, you can play the game."

Truth be told, May didn't know anything about rugby and didn't even start playing the game until his freshman year at St. Ignatius. "I liked football. But I didn't plan to play football in high school. I didn't think I was that good. I wanted to focus on my schoolwork," he said.

May grew up on Chicago's South Side, at 85th and Kedzie, in the Evergreen Park community. He was an offensive lineman and defensive end for the Hayes Park Blitz youth football program. His mother convinced him to play football in high school. He chose St. Ignatius over St. Rita, Brother Rice and Whitney Young, primarily because his mother attended the academically inclined school. He has a 3.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and scored 26 on his ACT.

After his freshman year of football, he said he got bored. A friend suggested he should try out for rugby. He went to a practice session. "I was intrigued from then on," he said.

"Rugby is more of a culture than football is, more of a team sport. At first, I liked it because I could carry the ball. I didn't touch the ball in football until I was converted from a lineman to running back as a senior. There is a different feel to rugby. It is more relaxed but just as intense."

After suffering a broken wrist and playing only three games as a freshman, May's rugby career experienced a meteoric rise. As a sophomore, he tried out for the state team and made it. As a junior, he was invited to the USA camp and made the 75-man roster. He played in England on the Under-17 and Under-19 USA squads. His immediate goal? To stay in the USA rugby system.

It isn't easy to be a world-class rugby player when nobody in your neighborhood plays rugby. To continue to improve and keep his competitive edge, May spends a lot of time on his own, working out in a weight room and running every day.

"You've got to take a lot of mental reps and make the most of the practices you have," said May, who is considering Penn State, Western Michigan and Davenport College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a Class 1-AA school to further his rugby education.

He isn't bored any longer.

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

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USA TODAY

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

While Saturday's trip to the Twin Cities featured some more of the same for the Fighting Illini, it marked important step in Lovie Smith's rebuilding project.

Freshman quarterback Cam Thomas, a Marian Catholic product, saw action for the first time in his collegiate career, Smith busting out a new option at the game's most important position. Thomas threw a nasty pick six, but he did lead Illinois in rushing in a 24-17 loss at Minnesota.

Thomas only made four throws, completing two of them and landing a third in the hands of a Minnesota defender, but his play injected a bit of excitement into what's looking like another dreadful season of Illinois football, with Smith's team falling to 2-5 through the first seven games of his second season at the helm of the program. Thomas mostly starred with his feet Saturday, rushing for a team-high 79 yards in the defeat.

His first appearance came following the first of the Illinois' defense's three takeaways. Thomas ran for a nine-yard gain on his first carry, and the Illini tied the game with a touchdown on the next play. Thomas was interchanged with starting quarterback Jeff George Jr. from there on out.

While the Illini defense kept the Gophers at bay for much of the day thanks to those three takeaways, P.J. Fleck's team had no trouble racking up rushing yardage, finishing with a whopping 292 rushing yards. Minnesota engineered a 12-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter exclusively running the ball to break a 10-all tie and go up 17-10.

Thomas threw a pick six on the very next play from scrimmage, sending the Gophers up 24-10 to effectively seal the deal. George led an Illinois touchdown drive on the next possession, but the Illini couldn't make up the suddenly big gap in the limited amount of time.

Illinois finished with only 282 yards of offense. George was 18-for-23 for 128 yards and a touchdown. Ra'Von Bonner carried the ball 18 times for 57 yards and a touchdown.

The defeat dropped the Illini to 2-5 on the season and 0-4 in conference play. One of just two teams without a Big Ten win (Indiana is the other), Illinois faces off against a top-10 Wisconsin team next weekend.

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bobby Portis publicly issued an apology to Nikola Mirotic for the punch that broke two bones in Mirotic’s face and caused a concussion earlier this week.

Portis was suspended eight games by the NBA while Mirotic will be out 4-6 weeks after he goes through concussion protocol, following an incident in Tuesday’s practice where the tensions boiled over between the two power forwards.

“I'm wrong for what I did. I want to publicly apologize to Niko,” said Portis outside the Bulls locker room at the United Center, hours before the home opener against the San Antonio Spurs. “I feel like I let my fans, the Bulls organization, and most importantly my teammates down. This is not who Bobby Portis is.”

Sticking to clear talking points, repeatedly saying “we were competing” as a way to describe the incident, it was a more toned down version of Portis. Portis is usually colorful and engaging when talking to the media.

Saturday, he was muted, almost robotic in a sense. And he didn’t want to go into the incident in detail, one that many sources have said was instigated by Mirotic as the two were going back and forth physically during several possessions.

The play before, things intensified, causing assistant coach Randy Brown to step in and break things up. The next time downcourt, Mirotic apparently charged at Portis and Portis responded with one punch that sent Mirotic to the floor.

Gently choosing his words, Portis said, “We were competing and kinda went back and forth and things happened.”

When asked if he was shoved, Portis reiterated the two were competing although numerous accounts say Mirotic did push him leading up to the direct incident.

“Yes I was surprised by my own action,” Portis said. “That's not who I was, as I first stated. I'm a competitor at the end of the day but I never meant to hurt my teammate.”

Portis and Mirotic have not yet spoken, although Portis said he’s called and texted Mirotic with no response. It hasn’t been determined whether Mirotic will take legal action on Portis.

“Not concerned with that at this point,” Portis said. “At this point I’m just trying to publicly apologize to Niko and my teammates, and that I’m real sincere about the situation.”

Portis will be allowed to practice during his suspension, having returned Friday and Portis believes things can be mended with he and his teammate.

“Going forward I want to make sure that me and Niko are cool and we can be teammates again,” Portis said. “I'm pretty sure we can. We just have to repair this relationship.”

Justin Holiday said the issue will have to be addressed head on as opposed to being swept under the rug or letting the element of time naturally heal things. Whether that conversation is initiated by teammates or the coaching staff or front office, as long as both are wearing a Bulls uniform, it will be necessary.

“It hasn’t been arranged, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have to talk it out,” Portis said. “And I’m pretty sure it will be a gentle conversation. I’m pretty sure we can get past this.”