Blackhawks

Bolingbrook's Ivlow, Bailey look to repeat

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Bolingbrook's Ivlow, Bailey look to repeat

What was the secret to Bolingbrook's sprint to the Class 8A championship? Aaron Bailey? Overall team quickness? Superior depth? More good players than anyone else? Experienced coaching staff? Luck?

None of the above.

Coach John Ivlow credits his team's success to...peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

"Our philosophy is to keep it simple," he said. "We don't buy into supplement stuff. Our team meal is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Before the state championship game, we made them in the hallway at Urbana High School. That's our pre-game thing.

"We also push whole milk and granola bars. Our unofficial philosophy is: You can't win with fat guys. Our kids are stronger and quicker. Quickness comes from strength. Our kids lift weights. We always have quickness in our favor. We want our kids playing and reacting, not thinking."

Coming off a 5-5 season, Bolingbrook wasn't rated among the top 25 teams in the Chicago area in the preseason. "I wouldn't have rated us, either. But if you did your homework, you would have seen that we had 18 starters back from a playoff team. I always look at teams that have a lot of returning starters. They are the dangerous ones, the ones to look out for," Ivlow said.

So what about next season? No one will overlook Bolingbrook in 2012, not with Bailey and seven other offensive starters returning.

"Next year we will be better offensively," Ivlow said. "And we had a freshman lineman on the varsity, James Jacobsen, a 6-foot-1, 300-pounder, who will be as good as (Illinois-bound) Robert Bain. He is a mauler like Bain. He has great potential."

Bailey is excited, too. One of the leading prospects in the class of 2013, he hopes to come back for his final season as a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who bench-presses 300 pounds, squats 300 to 400 and shows marked improvement in his passing skills after working out in the off-season with quarterback guru Jeff Christensen. It is a scary proposition.

"I want to get bigger, faster and stronger. I can be a lot better," Bailey said. "I want to be a quarterback in college or a receiver, not a running back or defensive back. If a team needs a quarterback, I'll be a quarterback. But I'll be a receiver if they want one."

In the meantime, he plans to take a month off "to get my body back together." Then he will join the baseball team. But he also will devise a plan to provide time for football workouts.

"There is no pressure to repeat," Bailey said. "We're not trying to impress anyone. We just want to play our game and don't worry about what others say. We have to stay humble and not let (the state title) get to our head, not worry about the hoopla.

"I trust in God. All things are possible. This season wasn't a surprise. We had a lot of chemistry going in. We were dedicated in the weight room. We knew it was going to be a special season. There was something special about this team. Everyone wanted to win. We were tired of going to the playoff and being satisfied with winning a game or two."

Ivlow's job is easier when it comes to coaching Bailey. "You don't coach Bailey. You put him in a system that he will succeed in. He is a runner who can throw. He is a better thrower than people give him credit for. But the option is the first thing that comes to mind," Ivlow said.

"We just find ways to get him free. We have five or six different options. Sooner or later, it will break, like a chess game. Right now, 70 percent of the schools that are recruiting him want him as an athlete. The other 30 percent want him as a quarterback. What would I do? I'd put him at quarterback running my show in some type of option offense, a shotgun like Northwestern runs."

Ivlow, 41, prides himself as an offense-minded football coach. He learned from his father, who coached at Plainfield for 30 years. He played in the NFL for three years -- he was a fullback on the 1993 Chicago Bears and earned a Super Bowl ring with the San Francisco 49ers -- and credits his knowledge of the game to former East Leyden product Mike Shanahan, who coached him at San Francisco and Denver.

"In the NFL, you have tests," he said. "You sit in countless hours of meetings. They quiz you on every position, how to block every front. We have a lot of knowledge here. We're not cocky; we're confident. People make things too hard. We stress simplicity. Our motto is: 'Less is more.' We don't have to run the West Coast offense. Our job is to put kids in position to make plays."

A Plainfield graduate of 1988, Ivlow played football at Northwestern for two years, then played for three years at Colorado State. After his NFL career ended, he took five years off. He didn't even watch a game. Looking for a job, he became a policeman. That was 15 years ago.

Slowly but surely, he began to get back into football. He attended Bolingbrook practices. Coach Phil Acton, who was closing out a successful 24-year career, added him to his staff. After one year, Acton retired and Ivlow was hired to succeed him. Nobody was more surprised than Ivlow.

"I was thrown to the wolves," he said. "A lot of people turned the job down rather than take a pay cut. I was surprised to get the job...no experience, only one year on the staff."

But he got a lot of help from staff holdovers, including defensive coordinator Bob Corra, offensive line coach Joe Murnick, defensive line coach Greg Pluth and offensive coordinator Matt Monken. All of them have been with Ivlow since 2002. Former Bolingbrook, Michigan and NFL player Todd Howard has coached the defensive backs for the last five years.

Ten years ago, about the time he was taking over Acton's program, Ivlow became the school resource officer at Bolingbrook High School. He runs a police station within the school. He is one of two officers on duty. Since the Columbine tragedy in Colorado, every high school in the country has at least one policeman in the hallway at all times.

Like Bailey and his teammates, Ivlow and his assistant coaches are still reliving the joys of winning a state championship...before they begin preparing to win another one.

"People wonder how we accumulated all of that quickness on one team," Ivlow said. "They don't get it. There are only a few ways to get fast. You're either born with it or you learn to improve your stride length or your consistency. No matter what, you have to spend a lot of time getting stronger. More than any other exercise, you have to improve your leg strength. You have to pound the iron."

And eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

Anthony Duclair knew what kind of opportunity he had in front of him when he was traded to the Blackhawks in January. The first day he stepped into the locker room, he admitted he was a little "star-struck."

But the marriage didn't last very long. 

After recording only two goals and eight assists in 23 games, the Blackhawks chose to move on from the restricted free agent by not extending a qualifying offer. Duclair later latched on with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a one-year, $650,000 "prove-it" deal.

"I wasn't surprised," Duclair said before Saturday's game against his former team. "I knew that I didn't perform as well as I did when I was there. I think I was there for only 20 games and didn't live up to the standards. As soon as I didn't hear anything from my agent I sort of got the message. But it was time to move on."

Duclair made no excuses for what went wrong in Chicago and accepted responsibility for not taking advantage of his opportunity, even though a leg injury sidelined him for the final month that prevented him from giving the Blackhawks a larger sample size.

"I just didn't perform well," he said. "It's going to be one of my regrets, to get that opportunity in Chicago and not perform in the way I did. It was something I had to look in the mirror this summer and move on obviously, but at the same time whenever a team comes next I think I'm going to take that opportunity and run away with it."

It's obvious that Duclair's got the potential to be an effective offensive player in the NHL. But we've only seen that in flashes, which is a large reason why it didn't work out in Chicago and why, entering his fifth season in the league, he still finds himself trying to play for a long-term contract.

"Just being more consistent," Duclair said. "Thats comes up a lot and my agents talks to a couple GMs around the league and it's something I'm trying to work on. It's not something you can work on in the summer, it's more preparing mentally and physically and that's what I've been trying to do."

So far, so good in Columbus.

Duclair has two goals and two assists through six games and is averaging 15:22 of ice time playing in a top-six role, on track to shatter his previous career high in that category (14:23) when he did so as a sophomore in 2015-16 with Arizona. He even made headlines on Thursday after scoring a highlight-reel goal against the Philadelphia Flyers, saying his "phone blew up quite a bit."

How he scored it is what stood out and his perspective after it is encouraging for his overall growth, as well.

"I've already put it behind me to be honest with you," Duclair said. "I'm just focused on Chicago now. I want to be consistent throughout every shift. Look at that goal, [it was] second and third efforts. That's what I want to bring to the table every shift, especially with the guys I'm playing right now. I just want to be having the puck whenever you can and being big on the forecheck."

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

1. Good games from Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. Here’s a sampling of Pro Football Focus grades for primary middle/inside/will linebackers against New England this year: 

Reggie Ragland (KC): 60.1
Anthony Hitchens (KC): 30.2
Zaire Franklin (IND): 48.6
Najee Goode (IND): 47.1
Kiko Alonso (MIA): 63.9
Raekwon McMillan (MIA): 62.5
Christian Jones (DET): 59.7
Jarrad Davis (DET): 29.8
Telvin Smith Sr. (JAX): 64.1
Myles Jack (JAX): 61.0
Bernardrick McKinney (HOU): 68.7
Zach Cunningham (HOU): 43.2

Think what you will of Pro Football Focus’ grades, but the average here is 53.2. Interestingly, though, the average grade for these 12 players over the course of the 2018 season is 51.5. So maybe the issue is the Patriots have faced a bunch of mediocre-to-bad linebackers, allowing them to take advantage of those soft spots with Sony Michel running the ball and James White catching it. Smith’s PFF grade is 62.3; Trevathan’s is 64.3, so by this measure, they’re better than any of the interior linebackers the Patriots have faced but still are the weak spot in the Bears’ defense (only Jonathan Bullard has a lower PFF grade among players with 100 or more snaps). 

How Smith and Trevathan play will be key in determining how quickly Brady is able to get the ball out (with passes to White), and how many times they get into third-and-less-than-five situations (with Michel running it). Both those factors will be critical for the Bears’ pass rush, which brings us to our next point.

2. Pressure Tom Brady without blitzing. Brady is a master of beating blitzes, completing 23 of 21 passes for 314 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and only one sack when blitzed, per PFF (that’s good for a 138.4 passer rating). When he’s under pressure, though, he has his lowest passer rating — which is still 87.2 — but the point here is that the Bears can’t afford to have to send blitzes to try to get pressure on Brady. The Bears were one of the best teams in the league at pressuring opposing quarterbacks without blitzing before the trip to Miami, and how healthy Khalil Mack really is will be a critical determining factor in those efforts. But when the Bears do earn their pass-rushing opportunities, as Akiem Hicks put it, they need to at least affect Brady and not let him comfortably sit back to pick apart their defense. 

3. Convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. This was a point Taylor Gabriel made this week about the state of the NFL in 2018: You can no longer afford to settle for three points or, worse, come away from a red zone possession with no points. Scoring is up league-wide, and the Patriots have scored 38, 38 and 43 points in their last three games. One of the biggest reasons the Bears lost that shootout in Miami was two turnovers from inside the five-yard line (Jordan Howard’s fumble, Mitch Trubisky’s interception). Stopping New England’s offense will be difficult, and the expectation should be for Sunday to be a high-scoring afternoon. If that’s the case, the Bears will have to get in the end zone every opportunity they get. The good news: New England’s defense is allowing a touchdown on 68 percent of their opponents’ possessions inside the red zone. 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Bears 27. The Bears’ defense sounded properly motivated after getting gouged by Brock Osweiler in Miami last weekend, but that only goes so far when one of the best quarterbacks of all time rolls into town. This winds up being a back-and-forth affair, but the guy with 54 game-winning drives in his regular season and playoff career makes it 55 late in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. A close loss to the Patriots wouldn’t dampen the positive vibes around the Bears, so long as they respond with wins against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in the next two weeks.