White Sox

Will McGovern be the next Steinbach or Munoz?

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Will McGovern be the next Steinbach or Munoz?

Colin McGovern, a 6-foot-7, 292-pound offensive tackle at Lincoln-Way West in New Lenox, never dreamed that college recruiting would be like choosing a date for the prom.

By his own admission, McGovern was "blown away" when he received a scholarship offer from Wisconsin. He was impressed when Alabama coach Nick Saban also extended an offer and invited him to attend the annual spring game in Tuscaloosa.

Then he decided to visit Notre Dame.

It wasn't supposed to be anything special, just another unofficial campus visit. He and his father had already visited 10 schools, including Michigan and Northwestern. After Notre Dame, they planned to visit Ohio State and Wisconsin. Stanford was about to become the 15th school to offer.

"In the beginning, I didn't have a game plan. We weren't expecting this to blow up like this," McGovern said. "Once all the attention started to come in, we adapted to it and picked up a game plan. I was surprised by all the attention. I didn't know what to expect.

"Then I went to Notre Dame and fell in love with the place. I wasn't planning to commit when I showed up on the campus. I'm not sure there was one thing that convinced me. It was everything together...education, tradition, beautiful campus, how they set you up for a major, the fact that kids were staying for an extra year rather than getting drafted in the NFL."

He met a group of offensive linemen, his future teammates. A bunch of stand-up young men, he thought to himself, easy to get along with. Later, during a casual conversation, coach Brian Kelly asked McGovern if he could imagine himself playing at Notre Dame.

"I said I wanted to commit," McGovern said.

"I was surprised that he committed. It was his first trip to Notre Dame," said Dave Ernst, Lincoln-Way West's first-year coach. "But he has a good head on his shoulders. He has been very focused on recruiting since the season ended. He wanted a great academic institution and a great football program. And that's what he got."

Perhaps what was most surprising was how fast McGovern developed into a blue-chip prospect. Ernst projects him as "the next Eric Steinbach," comparing him to NFL lineman whom he coached at Providence. His dream is to be an offensive left tackle in the NFL, maybe the next Anthony Munoz, a Hall of Famer who is universally regarded as the best ever at the position.

As a sophomore at Lincoln-Way Central, he played in one varsity game. It wasn't a pleasant experience. "I didn't play too hot. I was sloppy. I didn't dominate anyone. I wasn't impressive. I didn't want to keep that film," he recalled.

Last year, he transferred to Lincoln-Way West. Prior to his junior season, he put in a lot of hard work over the summer. For the first time, he began to take the game more seriously. He enjoyed playing for his new coaching staff. He took on a whole new work ethic. He didn't miss one practice or one weight-lifting session in the off-season.

McGovern finally realized how good he could be, how much potential he had and what he could do with it, during Game 4 against Andrew.

"That's when it clicked," he said. "On the last two drives of the game, we ran behind me on every single play. I blocked for the game-winning touchdown. I realized I could do something with football. Until then, I never thought I'd have an opportunity to play on the major Division I level. Then the offers came in."

But Ernst and former Lincoln-Way West coach Mark VanderKooi already had seen how good McGovern was going to be.

"He was as good as any offensive lineman I saw (in 2011)," VanderKooi said.

It took only one play, the very first one of his junior year, for Ernst to predict future stardom for the youngster.

"Because he played in only one varsity game as a sophomore, people didn't know who he was as a junior. But in his first game against Joliet Central, he did some incredible things," Ernst said.

"On the first play, he knocks his guy off the ball about 10 to 15 yards and chases down the tailback. Here's a 6-foot-7 lineman running stride for stride like a high school tailback, looking for other people to block. We started sending tapes early."

On the first day that colleges could extend scholarship offers, Northwestern assistant Adam Cushing was at the door. "It took off from there. He got 14 offers. If he had waited, he would have received more. But he decided that Notre Dame was it," Ernst said.

"The No. 1 thing is you are happy for a guy like him because he is who he is, a great person, humble. He hasn't changed with all this stuff. He is the same kid he was when he walked in the door last June.

"What gives him an edge over other kids? His athleticism. He is a big guy who can move. He is very flexible in his hips. He is a knee-bender. He can move quickly from a power position with a wide base. I think he is the next Eric Steinbach. Eric was a 6-foot-7, 220-pound defensive end and tight end at Providence. He ate himself into an offensive lineman at Iowa. But Colin is 6-foot-7 and 292 pounds. He is ahead of Eric at this stage as an offensive lineman."

McGovern has been on a training table for the last several months. He weighed 278 pounds when the 2011 season ended. Now he weighs 292 but he is thinner and leaner and stronger. He squats 525 pounds. He has 5.1 speed.

"He can do about anything he wants," Ernst said. "In my opinion, he was a Big 10 or SEC player as a junior."

But McGovern thinks he can be even better. "I'm looking to improve my running and pass-blocking technique. The most fun I have in football is being able to line up across from somebody and hitting him," he said.

Unlike many offensive linemen who count pancake blocks (how many defenders they knock on their behinds) as a measure of their ability, like running backs count touchdowns, McGovern thinks it is more important for an offensive lineman to have good footwork and athleticism.

"A guy might have a lot of pancake blocks but he might not be a good Division I lineman," he said. "An offensive lineman can always have size and a good frame and can add muscle. But you must be able to move and have good feet under you when you are moving. That's what I have going for me."

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

GLENDALE, AZ --  There’s a different Tim Anderson at White Sox spring training this year.

You can see it on his face  You can hear it in his voice.

“I’m busting out of the shell. I’m talking more,” he said as he sat down for an interview with NBC Sports Chicago (in the video above).

It’s not the new Tim Anderson. It turns out, it’s the real one that’s been there all along.

“This is me. It’s always been me. I never knew how to express myself. I feel like I’m being a lot more open,” Anderson explained. “That’s what I want to give to fans. Let them know the real me. You’re cheering for me. Why not know me? I’m being open and kind of let fans into my life.”

The White Sox shortstop has learned a lot about life in the past year. It all started in May when the White Sox were in Baltimore to play the Orioles. Anderson received a phone call at 4 a.m. It was news from back home.

It was the worst phone call of his life.

His best friend Branden Moss had been murdered in the parking lot of a Tuscaloosa, Ala., bar after helping the victim of a fight.  

The two were like brothers. Anderson is the godfather to Moss’s young daughter. Moss was the godfather to Anderson’s 2-year-old daughter.

“It was heartbreaking,” Anderson said.

While Anderson grieved, playing baseball seemed like it would be a perfect escape for his pain. Only it wasn’t. Far from it.  Baseball might have made things even worse.

In fast-paced sports like football and hockey, players don’t have much time to think. It’s react, react, react. Whatever might be happening off the field feels like a million miles away.

Not in baseball.

The game moves at a much slower speed. There’s plenty of time for your mind to wander. Thoughts kept going back to Anderson’s lost friend, taken from him in an instant.

At 23, he didn’t have the tools to deal with the emotional pain and excel at baseball at the same time.

“The year was rough. I wasn’t having fun in between the lines. I was making the game harder than it was. I was thinking too much. I was feeling sorry for myself and the list can go on. When my friend died it definitely took a lot out of me. I had a dark moment,” Anderson said. “Some days I didn’t feel comfortable coming to the ballpark because I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

Making matters worse, there were many nights when Anderson didn’t sleep. Not a wink. Still, he dragged himself to the ballpark and somehow tried to play.

The results weren’t pretty. On June 22, Anderson already had 16 errors at shortstop, most in the majors. At the plate, he was hitting .256/.284/.374 with six home runs and 19 RBIs.

He knew he was better than that. He also knew something else: He needed help.

In July, Anderson started meeting with a therapist who was able to unlock the pent up thoughts and emotions that he was burying inside him.

The therapist would write down everything that Anderson was feeling on paper and then read it back to him.

“Just going in and talking and pouring everything out of you. It lets you hear what you’ve been going through,“ Anderson said. “When she did it, it was a lot. I took what she read to me, balled it up and threw it away. I got lighter. It was a brightening. Those counseling sessions definitely helped me.”

Soon, Anderson was back to being himself both on and off the field.

In the month of August, he had 8 doubles, 5 home runs and 16 RBI.

“Woof. I was hot,” he said after hearing those stats. “That’s Tim. That’s more Tim that we need to see.”

In September, he batted .327 with 3 home runs and 9 stolen bases.

“We need a lot of that this year. That’s the way I want to go. That’s the way I want to go about it. Get back to what got me here.”

There was still an issue with his plate discipline. He had 32 strikeouts and only 1 walk in September.

“We play a tough sport as it is. They’re going to come,” Anderson said about the walks. “I mean, when I walk more, what are you going to tell me? ‘Start swinging more?’ It’s one of those things. It’s a give and take. We’ll see what happens.”

In 2017, Anderson received a crash course in adversity. What did he learn from all that pain and misery?

“Tough times happen, but they don’t last forever.”

Now that he’s survived the personal storm from last season, he wants “another shot at it. I feel like last year went left. This is new season.”

So, what does he envision for himself in 2018?

“Having fun, smiling a lot, picking up my teammates, hugging on the coaches and players. A lot of love, more so than stats,” Anderson said. “I’m fired up. I’m excited. I feel like I’m ready to lead this pack. We got a great group of guys. We’ve got a chance to do something special.”

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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USA TODAY

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.