White Sox

Competing for title is biggest reward of Motta's life

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Competing for title is biggest reward of Motta's life

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The ups and downs Zeke Motta has experienced in four seasons at Notre Dame will be validated by the final game of his college career.

The senior free safety of the 12-0 Irish has been through a 6-6, bowl-less campaign, a high-profile coaching change, he has switched positions and also watched this season as his secondary was crushed by injuries.

So as he prepares for the Jan. 7 BCS Championship Game against Alabama -- the programs first national title game appearance in 24 seasons --- Motta knows he has been more than repaid for an already-enjoyable four years in South Bend. As if the chance to play for a national title isnt enough already, Motta also gets to play in Miami, a little more than two hours from where he grew up in Vero Beach, Fla.

I dont think Ive had a better reward in my life at this point, Motta said. Being able to say that I played at Notre Dame, my senior year 12-0 and now I have a chance to compete for the national championship -- its the biggest reward that Ive had. So yeah, its pretty awesome.

Members of the Irish staff have used the same superlatives this season to describe Mottas play.

Coach Brian Kelly singled Motta --- who has 61 tackles, two passes defended and a fumble recovery --- out in a press conference earlier this month for his incredible play and leadership in the secondary. When you consider the turmoil caused by injuries its easy to understand why.

Expected starter junior Lo Wood hasnt played a down at cornerback after he ruptured his Achilles in preseason camp while Jamoris Slaughter tore his Achilles in the teams third game. Those injuries forced KeiVarae Russell, who never played corner before August, and Matthias Farley, a converted wide receiver, to take starting roles in the secondary. Corner Bennett Jackson, another convert, also is in his first season as a defensive starter.

The inexperienced group has led Motta, who had played in 38 games through his first three seasons, to modify his game.

Jamoris had been the guy that had kind of driven the engine back there and made a lot of the decisions and communication, safeties coach Bob Elliott said. And Zeke really worked off Jamoris. When Jamoris went down, Zeke had to assume that role. He did a really good job of that, getting our guys lined up, making the right checks. Zeke really came a long way in that respect.

Motta attributed much of the way he adapted to previous seasons to when he played alongside Harrison Smith, who now plays for the Minnesota Vikings. He also enjoys how the secondary has developed from inexperienced bunch full of question marks to a strong suit.

I realize these guys are out here and they need somebody to communicate and be on the same page, Motta said. Thats kind of the role I accepted and it was great to see how our players on the back end competed and shook off all the negative hype and stuff like that and came to work each day ready to play.

Motta has done the same throughout his career. He began as a linebacker in 2009 and rotated between there and safety for Charlie Weis squad. Weis was fired after the 2009 season and Kelly took over. Even though he accumulated 16 starts over his first three seasons, Motta didnt get a full-time opportunity until this season. As far as Motta sees it, its all part of the journey, one he has enjoyed thoroughly.

To be a part of this program for the past four years, its been so memorable, Motta said. I couldnt ask to come to a better place, especially to see the evolution and the way things have kind of progressively gotten better and better since Ive been here. Theyve brought in all great coaches and great chemistry and everybody has pretty much the same mentality. That has helped shape me into the person I am and the player I am and Im a better man for it.

Dane Dunning left minor league start with 'moderate' elbow strain

Dane Dunning left minor league start with 'moderate' elbow strain

Dane Dunning has been nothing but consistent since joining the White Sox organization in the Adam Eaton trade before the 2017 season.

He has performed well at three different levels in the minor leagues and has stayed healthy. That second part is currently in question after he left a start for Double-A Birmingham on Saturday with elbow soreness.

Dunning left in the fourth inning in what was developing into one of his worst starts of the season. He had four strikeouts, but also walked four and gave up two runs (one earned). The four walks matched a season high.

Here is how things went down on his final pitch:

It's too early for a full diagnosis, but Dunning is expected to have an MRI in the next few days. White Sox manager Rick Renteria talked about Dunning's injury before Sunday's game against the Athletics.

"I think everybody considered it a very moderate strain," Renteria said. "Nobody is at this point too concerned. They still have to re-evaluate more. We won’t know more until they get further evaluation and at that point everybody will know where he’s at. Right now he still has to be re-evaluated."

Dunning, 23, began the season at Single-A Winston-Salem where he posted a 2.59 ERA in four starts with 31 strikeouts against three walks in 24 1/3 innings. The Florida product then was promoted to Birmingham where he has a 2.76 ERA. In 11 starts with the Barons, Dunning has 69 strikeouts and 23 walks in 62 innings.

Dunning is one of the top pitching prospects in the White Sox farm system along with Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen.

Chris Kuc contributed to this report.

61 Days to Kickoff: Maine West

61 Days to Kickoff: Maine West

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting July 30, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: Maine West

Head coach: Jason Kradman

Assistant coaches: Steve Piha (Def. Coordinator), Mike O'Brill (DB/ST Coordinator), Tony Manicke (LB/Head JV Coach), Dan Wilson (OL) Russ Swenson (TE) Ryan Willett (QB) Matt Boswell (DL) Trent Greco (WR) Kyle Prater (WR) Mike Smith (Head Frosh Coach) Joe Duszynski (Frosh Asst.) and DJ Frey (Frosh Asst.).

How they fared in 2017: 7-3 (4-1 Central Suburban North Conference). Maine West made the Class 7A state football playoff field. The Warriors lost to Benet Academy in opening round action.

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 vs Mundelein

Sept. 1 @ Fenton

Sept. 7 vs Elk Grove

Sept. 14 @ Hersey

Sept. 21 vs Glenbrook North

Sept. 28 @ Maine East

Oct. 5 vs Vernon Hills

Oct. 12 vs Highland Park

Oct. 19 @ Deerfield

[MORE: 65 Days to Kickoff - Elmwood Park]

Biggest storyline: Will history repeat itself? Can the Warriors post back-to-back IHSA state playoff appearances? If so, it'd be a first for the Des Plaines high school.

Names to watch this season: RB/LB Jake Bellizzi, FB/LB Krystian Garbicz and WR/DB Ely Grimmer

Biggest holes to fill: The Warriors will need to replace standout TE Matt Kentgen (now at Butler). He was a multi-year starter and team leader last fall.  

EDGY's Early Take: Maine West, coached by Jason Kradman, has been one of the area's better success stories. Kradman took over the Warriors program in 2014 and guided the Warriors to their first state playoff appearance since 2002. With 13 returning starters back from a season ago (seven offense, six defense) and a program-wide boost in overall numbers and excitement, look for the Warriors to have a good shot at playoff football once again this October.