Cubs

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.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.