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Defense stuffs offense in state football finals

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Defense stuffs offense in state football finals

I used to enjoy covering the state high school football championships at Illinois State's Hancock Stadium in Normal and at Illinois' Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Walking the sideline in cold weather and sometimes rain was part of the atmosphere. Sitting in the press box just wasn't the same.
But I've discovered that watching the state finals on television, eating hot turkey sandwiches and pumpkin pie, from the comfort of my den is even more enjoyable for someone who covered the most memorable state final of all, the first one, Glenbrook North's thrilling 19-13 overtime victory over East St. Louis in 1974.
Ever notice how many schools have been there before, how established and tradition-rich programs make frequent appearances in the state finals, how rare it is for a first-time qualifier to make the trip to Champaign?
My expectations for the 2012 finals? I couldn't wait to see how Mount Carmel's defense would attempt to contain Glenbard North's Justin Jackson. I was eager to see the duel of unbeatens in Class 7A, Glenbard West vs. Lincoln-Way East. How good is Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell? Could Montini win four in a row?
I couldn't imagine that 2012 could generate as much excitement as 2011. Who could surpass the spectacular offensive performances of Joliet Catholic's Ty Isaac, Montini's Jordan Westerkamp and John Rhode, Bolingbrook's Aaron Bailey, Rochester's Wes Lunt and Zack Grant, Aurora Christian's Anthony Maddie and Dakota's Jake Apple?
There were more turnovers and penalties than highlight clips last weekend. But there were plenty of heroes. Every championship team needs at least one difference-maker and the winners on Friday and Saturday had them, especially on defense.
Simeon's Jabaree Winston, Maroa-Forsyth's Jack Hockaday, Mercer County's Zach Nelson and Devin Morford, Aurora Christian's Brandon Mayes and Joel Bouagnon and Rochester's Austin Green and Garrett Dooley.
Montini's Dimitri Taylor and Fred Beaugard, Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell, Marcus Terrell and Nyles Morgan, Glenbard West's Hayden Carlson, Ruben Dunbar and Henry Haeffner and Mount Carmel's Don Butkus, Draco Smith and Justin Sanchez.
It was punishing and unrelenting defense, not high scoring offense, that proved to be the difference-maker for Montini, Crete-Monee, Glenbard West and Mount Carmel. Montini, Glenbard West and Mount Carmel each allowed only one offensive touchdown.
Have you ever seen a more physical game than Glenbard WestLincoln-Way East? Have you ever seen a more devastating tackle than Hayden Carlson's crushing stop of Tom Fuessel that preserved Glenbard West's victory in the closing seconds? How many times do you think that tape will be replayed?
What drama! Fourth-and-10 at Glenbard West's 13 with two minutes to play. Fuessel, a Northern Illinois recruit and the Chicago Sun-Times' choice as the best quarterback in the Chicago area, appears headed for a game-winning touchdown until he is flipped helmet over shoulder pads and out-of-bounds by the 6-foot, 180-pound Carlson at the 6. It was the last of Carlson's 14 tackles for the game.
A few days ago, while offering a scouting report on Glenbard West and praising the Hilltopper defense as "the best I've seen," Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg said junior safety Hayden Carlson was the best defensive back he had seen all year. And he offered proof, a prelude to the Fuessel hit.
"He knocked (Northwestern-bound) Matthew Harris out for three weeks on a clean hit," Weinberg said. "He is a great football player. He covers a lot of ground."
The state finals offer an interesting contrast, from small schools to large schools, from schools with enrollments of only 300 students to schools of more than 2,000. Small schools emphasize fundamentals. Large schools take advantage of athleticism.
Glenbard West, which emerged as the No. 1 team in the state in the wake of its 10-8 victory over Lincoln-Way East, rode its "Hitters" mentality to a 14-0 season and its first state championship since 1983.
It wasn't unexpected. In his preseason evaluation, coach Chad Hetlet said the 2012 squad "should be one of the faster teams we have had, a skilled team with a lot of speed, good size up front on both sides of the ball and not a lot of highlight players but good players at all positions, no below average players at any position."
"Potentially," he said, "it could be the best team we have had."
At Glenbard West, it is all about being physical. Bill Duchon started the "Hitters" tradition in the 1960s and Jim Covert, his handpicked successor, maintained the same philosophy. When Hetlet arrived in 2007, inheriting a program that was 1-8 the year before, he picked up the torch that Duchon and Covert had left behind.
Hetlet, 40, learned under Bob Bradshaw, who coached for 25 years at Woodstock and eight at Johnsburg. "I learned the old-school method of football. I listened to coaches talk and kept my mouth shut," he said.
"I learned running the ball with a physical presence up front and stopping the run on defense. You might have less talent but if your kids are more physical and play harder, you have a chance to win. When kids buy into being physical, they are tough to stop."
Hetlet spent one year as defensive coordinator at Hinsdale Central, where he got a good look at Glenbard West. When the head coaching position opened up, he researched the history of the program. When he was hired, he knew exactly what his game plan was going to be.
"The selling point for me was they always were a smash-mouth style of football team," he said. "You want to go into a program that is familiar to what you know. It was a perfect marriage for me."
He retained the Hitters program that Duchon had established. He got instant approval from former Glenbard West players who still lived in Glen Ellyn. Duchon and Covert were very supportive. The school administration and the community, too. Everybody wanted to see the program return to the way it was.
After a 6-5 start in 2007, Glenbard West has taken off. In the last five years. Hetlet's teams have posted a 59-5 record with one state championship and one second-place finish.
"What we talk about all the time and remind the kids is they come from a long line of great physical football players," Hetlet said. "It started with them making a name for themselves. Duchon had gold helmets. Covert had 100-percent helmets. They had their own thing. They were hitters, all of them, a bunch of tough kids.
"I believe in that. That's what we have to do to be successful. It isn't the only way but it's the only way I know. We won't finesse people. We will be successful as long as we are physical and stop the run."
Hetlet's thing is a green G on the side of the helmet. The players don't earn it until they go through the off-season workouts. Parents are invited to the ceremony.
"It goes with the tradition, who we are," Hetlet said. "We don't want to pretend that we are the Duchon or Covert era. We want people to think we want to replicate what they did. We don't want to steal what they did. We want people to talk about us."
After Saturday, everybody is talking.

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

Ozzie Guillen and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Wednesday's podcast. After Tuesday's game-winning hit and second self-inflicted Gatorade bath the guys wonder if anyone has more fun on the field than Yolmer Sanchez. Jim DeShaies joins the conversation and brings Javy Baez to the table.

Plus, Manny Mania continues to swirl in Chicago. Finally, what should be the White Sox plan for calling up their top prospects?

Listen to the full Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast right here:

Kevin White, Bears focusing on the present and not his unlucky past or uncertain future

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USA Today Sports Images

Kevin White, Bears focusing on the present and not his unlucky past or uncertain future

Kevin White had little interest in engaging with reporters on Wednesday, the first time he was made available to the media since suffering a season-ending broken scapula in Week 1 of the 2017 season. His answers weren’t combative, but they were short and terse. 

Then again, how was he supposed to handle yet another round of questions — none of which were unfair — about his star-crossed past or his uncertain future? He did offer up this quote-worthy line when asked what he’s learned about himself after all the adversity he’s faced since being drafted with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 Draft:

“Built Ford Tough.”

If White would rather live in the present than in the past or future, that’s fine. It’s actually ideal if the Bears want to get something out of him in the final year of his rookie contract. And it’s also the mindset preached to him by wide receivers coach Mike Furrey, his fourth position coach in four years in the NFL. 

“We sat down from Day 1 and I said listen, I don’t know anything about your past, I don’t want to know anything about your past,” Furrey said. “From here on out it’s just going forward and just doing everything that we can control day in and day out and that’s it. I won’t talk to you anything about tomorrow, I’ll only talk to you about what we’re doing today and how we’re building today.”

If the Bears hope to get anything out of White in 2018 — and if White hopes to revive his career without job security beyond this season — that narrow mindset is a good starting point. It’s even more important during OTAs here in late May, with there still being about two months until the Bears’ first padded practice and two and a half months before preseason play begins. 

The Bears insulated themselves from needing White to produce this year by adding targets for Mitch Trubisky in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and Anthony Miller over the last two months. The spotlight is off White, in a sense, and he’s okay with that — “I don’t need attention,” White said, “I just come here and do my job.”

But in another sense, there’s an immense amount of pressure on White to prove himself worthy of a roster spot not in 2018, but in 2019. Not many receivers with White’s numbers — 21 catches on 40 targets, 193 yards, no touchdowns in five games — are able to hang around the league for long without being a special teams ace (like Josh Bellamy, for instance). Neither the past nor future for White is particularly rosy. 

So that’s why White said he doesn’t have any specific goals for the season: “Doesn’t matter,” he said, “As long as I’m out here.” 

All White can do is show up to Halas Hall and, eventually, Olivet Nazarene University ready to practice with a narrow mindset on that day, and that day only. If he sticks with that approach — and doesn’t suffer another horribly-unlucky injury — eventually, he’ll arrive at Lambeau Field in September for the season opener, finally given the opportunity to prove himself. 

But that’s a long ways away. For now, White’s well within his rights to not want to entertain any thoughts about what happened in the last three years or what lies ahead. 

“I don’t know the past and I don’t want to know the past,” Furrey said. “Everything from here on out is going to be everything in the future. We’ve kind of established that and that kind of allows him to relax a little bit and not be judged and to have all these things said about him — because I don’t know. I don’t want to read it, I don’t want to hear about it, I don’t even want to know. 

“All I want (is for) him to be comfortable and be able to learn a new system and be able to learn it as fast as he can so he can go out there — and everybody sees it, he’s very gifted. He’s very powerful, lower body powerful. He can run, he’s got a great catch radius. He has all those intangibles and that’s exciting, but it’s really what you do with those every day. So we’ll just continue to have the daily routine and hopefully get better every day and then be able to put it together when we gotta go.”