Bulls

Beebe, Holecek recall pain of the game

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Beebe, Holecek recall pain of the game

Don Beebe and John Holecek played high school, college and professional football for more than 15 years. They still have their wits about them, but they vividly acknowledge how the violence of the game has tragically affected the lives of former teammates, mentally and physically.

Beebe, a wide receiver who played in six Super Bowls during a nine-year NFL career, recalls playing for the Green Bay Packers in a game in 1996 in which he sustained a dinger in the head in the first quarter, was knocked out cold in the second quarter and taken to the locker room, then returned in the third quarter and caught a 65-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre.

"If that had happened today, the Packers would have been fined by the league," Beebe said. "I suffered six major concussions. I was knocked out cold and dinged many times, severe swelling to the head, dizziness, blurred vision, waking up and not knowing where you are. But guys I know and talk to regularly are doing fine. I don't know anyone who isn't doing well.

"But I don't want to make light of what has happened, the lawsuits against the NFL, the documented cases of dementia, the deaths of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau. We need to teach kids at a young age the better techniques of tackling and not to use their heads as weapons."

Holecek, a linebacker who played in the NFL for eight years, cites a former teammate with the New England Patriots, Ted Johnson, a linebacker who played 10 years in the NFL and retired after the 2005 season after sustaining many concussions.

In 2007, it was reported that Johnson suffers from amphetamine addiction, depression and headaches related to post-concussion syndrome. He placed some blame on Bill Belichick, his former coach, for pressuring him to participate in full contact practice drills three days after suffering a concussion in an exhibition game in 2002. He shows early signs of Alzheimer's disease.

"(Johnson) was the type of guy who led with his head and destroyed blocks with his head. He used his head as a weapon," Holecek said. "He isn't doing well. I never saw anyone play more physical and use his head as a weapon. He used to break face masks. Others hated to pay against him. I'm not surprised that he has had head injury problems."

So how have those daunting experiences and memories affected their lives as head football coaches at the high school level?

Beebe, who guided Aurora Christian to the Class 3A championship last year, is preparing for his ninth season as head coach. His son Chad, a wide receiver, has scholarship offers from Northern Illinois and Illinois State. He is 5-foot-8 and weighs 165 pounds, a tad smaller than his father was when he graduated from Kaneland High School. He was sidelined for much of last season with a broken collarbone.

"If it ever got to the point where Chad was scared to play or scared of getting a concussion, I wouldn't let him play. He has no fear at all. You can't play scared. But you can play smart, especially as a wide receiver or running back," Beebe said.

"I have changed as a coach. I know what a concussion looks like. I won't let a kid practice (if he has concussion symptoms) until he is cleared by a doctor. If I see a kid in practice or a game tackling with his head and not his shoulder pads, I correct him right away, just as if his footwork was wrong on a block. You have to teach proper technique in tackling."

Beebe is very careful about being too physical in practice. His players never tackle to the ground in practice. In fact, they don't engage in much contact at all prior to games. "You don't have to have contact every day in practice. You can do what you need to accomplish by talking to a kid. You don't have to prove it every day in practice," he said.

Holecek, who coached Loyola to second place in the Class 8A playoff last year, is looking ahead to his seventh season at the Wilmette school. He acknowledges that parents are more concerned about the safety of the game. As a parent and coach, so is he.

"I came from the old-school mentality. In my day, if you got knocked out, you came to and went back into the game. Today, if you have concussion symptoms, you won't play," he said. "The game is a lot safer now. There is more knowledge available. Parents must evaluate the coaches and programs, if the equipment is safe. My son, a second-grader, wants to play football and I don't have a problem with him playing."

Holecek has changed his approach to the game. Last year, his team tackled in practice only twice. No more Oklahoma drills, no unnecessary contact, no live tackling during the summer or during the season. He still recalls, in his first season, how future Penn State running back Joe Suhey, son of former Chicago Bear Matt Suhey, was injured in a drill that Holecek later admitted didn't need to be run.

"I changed a few years ago because we didn't want to lose our best players in practice," Holecek said. "I think the information on concussions has changed everybody. It is a completely different game than 10 years ago. I don't want kids to get hurt on the practice field. We want to limit chance of injury to games only. Sure, you can't avoid everything. But I think proper teaching and technique is key. You can avoid head injuries with proper technique."

That said, Beebe and Holecek want to remind parents, media and others who rush to judgment and claim that the game is too violent and the high school version can't be compared to college and the NFL, where the participants are bigger, stronger, faster and more violent.

"Parents don't hesitate to hand their car keys to a 16-year-old. What is the percentage who get into car accidents? But of all the boys who play high school football, what is the percentage who get concussions? What is the percentage of kids becoming dysfunctional from a concussion? And how many are dysfunctional in life? Remember, very few of those kids go on to play in college and the NFL," Beebe said.

"We blow it out of proportion. Personally, I think we sensationalize the big hits and they become more publicized in the NFL and it trickles down to the high schools."

Holecek said "there is no doubt that back in the day the NFL wasn't upfront with information about head injuries, that the league didn't disclose the risk and the long-term effects of concussions and head trauma. Now it is an issue that the league must take very seriously."

As former players, however, Beebe and Holecek wonder if there isn't more to it than the physical aspect. After all, they argue, what happened to the football players who wore leather helmets? Remember Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski and Tommy Harmon? Did they suffer concussions? Did they suffer head trauma that developed into dementia? Did they consider suicide?

"Think about it," Beebe said. "You're a kid in your 20s. You are a super star, at the top of the world. You feel emotions that a normal person can never feel. Everybody wants a piece of you. Then it is taken away from you at a young age, in your early 30s. What do you do? What do you turn to?

"It has been reported that 90 percent of all NFL players who earned 15 million in their careers are bankrupt. That will cause depression. To me, that's the biggest culprit. You are the center of attention for so many years. Then it's all gone and you can't handle it emotionally. You don't know what to do with your life anymore."

Players vote Thaddeus Young, Otto Porter Jr. as Bulls captains

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USA Today

Players vote Thaddeus Young, Otto Porter Jr. as Bulls captains

CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- The tribe has spoken. In a players' only vote administered by coach Jim Boylen, Thaddeus Young and Otto Porter Jr. will be captains for the Bulls.

"They’ve demonstrated an ability to put the team above themselves and the ability to communicate with their teammates in a positive way," Boylen said. "I haven’t felt they’re worried about getting liked. They’re worried about getting it right. Something we talk about here is leadership over likership. And I think they have a great feel of that."

Young, a 12-year veteran, long has commanded respect as the consummate teammate. Porter arrived from the Wizards last season and is in his seventh season.

"It means a lot," Porter said. "Just everything I’m doing is for the team, on and off the court. I gotta represent the team right. Make sure our guys are knowing they’re leaded in the right direction. I take that seriously."

Zach LaVine has voiced desire to assume more leadership and perhaps other players, particularly relatively new ones, earning the captain title over him will be instructional and motivational. In the meantime, look for LaVine to land on Boylen's leadership committee, which he established last season. The practice, which is used more in football than basketball, raised some eyebrows around the league for its unconventional usage.

"The leadership group has not disintegrated. It’ll be structured with the help of the captains. I felt the captains was the first step to that. Captains are very important to me in my career," Boylen said. "I’ve always thought it’s big to the leadership of your team. I’m thrilled with the two players that the team voted on having as our captains. We wanted training camp to go by. We wanted everybody to get a chance to be together and see how people operate. And so we voted on it."

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It's playoff week for several 4-4 teams

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NBC Sports Chicago

It's playoff week for several 4-4 teams

While the official start of the 2019 IHSA State Football Playoffs won't be announced until Saturday night, teams that are holding 4-4 records heading into Week 9 are already in state playoff mode.

Several familiar names are in search of big Week 9 wins just to get into the playoff field. 

Marist (4-4) has been a Class 8A regular yet the Redhawks and head coach Ron Dawczak will need to beat Loyola Academy (6-2) on Saturday in Wilmette just to find a place in the playoffs this year. So how difficult has the Redhawks road been so far in 2019? Marist four losses (Notre Dame/Brother Rice/Mount Carmel and Nazareth Academy) have a combined 28-4 record and beating Loyola on Saturday in Wilmette should count for more like two wins.

Naperville Central (4-4) entered the 2019 season ranked by everyone, yet after a 0-3 start the Redhawks have been able to settle down and win four of its last five games to get into position to land its fifth win Friday night in Naperville. The Redhawks can undoubtedly make a case for having one of the state toughest schedule. Its four losses (Hinsdale Central, Lincoln-Way East, Pickerington Central OH and Neuqua Valley) are a combined 29-3. So who's the Redhawks Week 9 cupcake? None other than the state's top ranked team in East St. Louis (8-0). And much like Marist a win over the Flyers this Friday should count for much more than one win. 

New Trier (4-4) and head coach Brian Doll has made the IHSA state playoff field for the past 16 seasons and 23 out of the last 24 years, yet the Trevians need to beat longtime rival Maine South (6-2) at home tomorrow night to keep it's state playoff streak alive. 

The DuKane Conference has been full of surprises in 2019 and both St. Charles North (4-4) and Wheaton North (4-4) are looking to seek wins on Friday to remain alive. St. Charles North was also highly ranked to begin the season but has dropped three straight games and will need to beat Wheaton South (5-3) at Red Grange Field to advance.  Wheaton North has won two straight games including a big 24-19 win last Friday over St. Charles East (6-2), but now a Friday night showdown against Batavia (6-2) in Batavia looms for the Falcons. 

The North Suburban conference has a ‘Win To Get In Bowl’ Friday night as Stevenson (4-4) travels to Lake Forest (4-4). Libertyville (4-4) needs a wn on Friday night against Zion-Benton (3-5) and the Wildcats will be keeping a close eye on the playoff pairings show since they are low (30) on playoff points. 

The Southwest Prairie East is, well, a mess. Plainfield South (4-4/3-1) and Plainfield East (4-4/3-1) are seeking a win to get in, yet even with wins both Plainfield schools could lose the conference title and automatic bid to Joliet West (3-5/3-1). Joliet West and head coach Bill Lech holds a tie breaker if all three teams win on Friday night and that looks more and more a possibility. Plainfield South will host Romeoville (1-7), Plainfield East travels to Joliet Central (1-7) and Joliet West will travel to Plainfield Central (1-7). 

Both East Aurora  (4-4) and Elgin (4-4) square off on Friday at Elgin's Memorial Stadium for a chance at getting into the state playoff field...and just let that statement sink in. East Aurora. Elgin. State Football Playoffs. Needless to say not too many outside of those programs expected to be playing a meaningful in Week 9 especially with so much on the line. A win for East Aurora would be the Tomcats first state playoff bid since 1982 and for Elgin it would be the Maroons second state playoff appearance since 2001.

Looking for more drama? The West Suburban Silver conference will feature Lyons Township (4-4) and first year head coach Dan Hartman in search of its fifth win on Friday night. All the Lions and Dan Hartman has to do is travel to Hinsdale Central (7-1) and beat Hartman's former team from  a season ago in Hinsdale. Also Oak Park-River Forest (4-4) has a tall task looking to get an upset win over Glenbard West (8-0) in Oak Park on Friday night. 

While several of these on the bubble teams have some tall task this week, never say never especially when teams are playing for their playoff lives and if the 2019 season has taught us anything, it's that anything can happen on any given Friday night/Saturday in IHSA football.