Cubs

Allegretti adds beef to Lincoln-Way East

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Allegretti adds beef to Lincoln-Way East

Nick Allegretti is the center on Lincoln-Way East's top-ranked football team, which means he is as anonymous as John Doe. Only his family knows for sure what he does on Friday nights in the fall.

But the 6-foot-4, 285-pound junior is active and bursting with energy in so many ways. He is one of the leading prospects in the class of 2014. He is one of the smartest students at the Frankfort school. He also is a state-ranked wrestler. And he carries superstitions to a new level.

"This is a special year for tackles and Allegretti has the potential to be as good an offensive lineman as Ethan Pocic (LSU), Kyle Bosch (Michigan), Colin McGovern (Notre Dame) and Logan Tuley-Tillman (Michigan). He can be an All-American next year," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network.

Allegretti has been offered by Illinois and Cincinnati. He is talking to Stanford, Boston College, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana. More offers can be expected. "The SEC would be cool," he admits.

In the wake of last Saturday's 37-13 victory over Benet in the Class 7A semifinals, as Allegretti and his teammates prepare for Saturday's championship game against Glenbard West at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, everything is cool.

"To be one of the top prospects in the state is cool," he said. "I always wanted to play in Division I. My dream is coming true. It's cool to get calls from coaches to ask me to come to their stadium to watch games. It was cool to get my first offer."

When Cincinnati defensive line coach Steve Stripling offered Allegretti in mid-October, he thought he had won the Lottery. "I was up in my room, going crazy. I didn't know what to do with myself. If I had offers from only Illinois and Cincinnati, I wouldn't know how to choose."

Allegretti said he is looking forward to receiving more offers. He knows it will make his decision even harder. He loves the Big Ten. He feels it is the best conference for offensive linemen, that Iowa and Wisconsin have reputations for producing NFL linemen.

He acknowledges that the SEC is the toughest conference for offensive linemen because it annually produces the best defensive linemen in the nation. He admires Pocic for committing to LSU and is anxious to see how he develops. "That's a tough place for offensive linemen to go," he said.

He hopes he receives an offer from Boston College so he will have an opportunity to experience an environment outside the Midwest. He thinks Stanford might be too far from home. Illinois could have an edge because his brother Joe is a freshman at Illinois.

"Joe is my role model," Nick said. "He wrestled through high school and still kept his grades up. He had a 5.1 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and ranked No. 5 in his class. He is majoring in accounting at Illinois. He played football, too, but he blew out his knee as a freshman in high school."

Nick is no slouch in the classroom. He has a 4.4 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, ranks No. 30 in a class of 560 and scored 27 on his ACT. So much for the commonly held axiom that good athletes usually aren't the best students.

"One of the things I am most proud of is to play sports and be good in the classroom," he said. "I get upset with B's. I got one last year in Spanish III honors. Now I'm getting an A in AP (advance placement) Spanish IV honors. I also take AP U.S. History, honors physics, pre-calculus and English. My goal is to have a 4.6 grade-point average after this year."

Allegretti doesn't fret over his lack of exposure. An offensive lineman has never won a Heisman Trophy and none has been named Player of the Year in the Chicago area since 1955.

"It's no big deal," he said. "I let the skill players get the media attention. We open the holes for them and they do the rest. They deserve it. I speak for all linemen. We come off a game and get six pancakes and get recognized in the team meeting.

"The games are awesome. When we run a zone trap off my butt and I hope a hole for Nick Colangelo and he scores a touchdown...well, we know we did our job. That's satisfaction enough for us."

But there isn't anything worse than giving up a sack. He hasn't permitted one this year. But last year? He remembers all too well. Against Edwardsville in his first varsity game, he was matched up against a Nebraska-bound recruit who burst past him to sack quarterback Blake Winkler.

"The coaches got all over me. They showed the film over and over and over again," Allegretti said. "I vowed I wouldn't let it happen again. That's the worst thing for an offensive lineman. Everybody in the crowd sees a sack and knows somebody in the offensive line screwed up."

There haven't been too many foul-ups this season. In fact, this could be coach Rob Zvonar's best team. The Griffins are 13-0, their most wins since the 14-0 state championship team of 2005. In his 12th season, Zvonar's teams are 115-26, an extraordinary .816 winning percentage.

The offense, directed by Northern Illinois-bound quarterback Tom Fuessel, is averaging 35.8 points per game. The defense, anchored by linebackers Kyle Langenderfer and Adam O'Grady, has allowed 125 points, no more than three touchdowns in any game and no more than one touchdown in seven games.

"Last year, we had a very athletic and talented team. We finished 10-1 and lost to Wheaton Warrenville South in the second round. We were ranked No. 1 in Class 7A," Allegretti said. "We weren't as much of a team as we are this year. We are more bonded this year. We had too much individualism last year.

"The underclassmen saw what happened last year. We realized winning isn't all talent but how you play together. We have a special bond this year than I haven't seen since eighth grade, when most of the seniors played with the Mokena Burros and the Frankfort Falcons."

But playing winning football and maintaining superior grades and bonding with your teammates often can take a lot out of a teenager. To make it all come together, Allegretti goes through an elaborate pre-game ritual that includes one superstition after another.

On Friday, he comes home from school, takes a nap, then jumps in his 2008 Jeep Commander and drives to the game, always certain to take the same route to and from school.

He stops at a BP station to get two 32-ounce bottles of Powerade. One has to be the color of that night's opponent. Then he stops at a Jimmy John's restaurant to get two sandwiches, a No. 11 (turkey, ham, cheese and mayo), also a bag of barbecue chips and a chocolate chip cookie.

At school, he eats his meal in the locker room with two teammates, left tackle Tom Plunkett and defensive tackle Scott Kresal, who also are early arrivals. He goes to the same corner of the locker room to put on his football equipment and joins Kresal to get their wrists taped. He wears the same undershirt, a 7-on-7 team version with a No. 67 that his brother wore. Long sleeves? On an offensive linemen? Are you kidding?

After pre-game walk-throughs and calisthenics, the offensive and defensive units adjourn to separate meeting rooms. Allegretti makes sure that every offensive lineman sits in the same chair every week. Before kickoff, he and Colangelo pray on the far sideline, facing the visiting crowd between the offensive line warm-up and the offensive team warm-up.

While this week's trip to Champaign is uppermost on his mind, of course, Allegretti already is thinking about the future. He wants to win a state wrestling championship at 285 pounds. He plans to work on developing into a long snapper that will attract college and NFL scouts.

"Next summer, I want to get stronger and faster," he said. "I want to work on my athleticism. I have the brute strength thing down. I want to be able to move better, to get to the second and third level blocks, to block linebackers and safeties."

This isn't flag football any more.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 49th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 49th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 49th homer of the season came with a runner on 1st and one out, when Oriel Hershiser served up a high fastball that Sammy belted 415 feet into the last few rows in left-center field. 

Sosa would later start the game-winning rally in the bottom of the ninth, scoring the game-tying run on a Henry Rodriguez single through the right side of the infield. Jose Hernandez would step in the next at-bat and walk it off with a base hit that scored Mark Grace, as Sammy and the Cubs bested the Giants 6-5. 

Fun Fact: A 33-year-old Barry Bonds would hit home run No. 25, finishing the season with 37 homers. He would finish the next season with 34 dingers but would string five consecutive seasons with at least 45 home runs, of course hitting a record 73 home runs in 2001. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Michael Kopech prepares for The Show

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Michael Kopech prepares for The Show

Pete McMurray, David Haugh and Ben Finfer join David Kaplan on the panel and discuss the long-awaited arrival of Michael Kopech for the White Sox, Yu Darvish's short rehab start and Mitch Trubisky's second preseason game.

Plus, they discuss new NFL rules and when Eloy Jimenez could get his call up.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: