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Female HS football coach in D.C. title game

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Female HS football coach in D.C. title game

From Comcast SportsNet

WASHINGTON (AP)Natalie Randolph is a novelty no moreat least not in these halls. Shes something even better: A winner.

Twenty months ago, the national media swarmed into a classroom at Coolidge High School to observe a curiositya press conference to announce the hiring of a female high school varsity head football coach, believed to be only one in the country. The special guest was the mayor, who happened to be running for re-election.

Last Friday, students flocked to the schools gymnasium for a celebration. Randolph has led the Colts to an 8-2 record and a berth in the most puff-your-chest-out, school-pride game of them all in the nations capitalthe Turkey Bowl city championship on Thanksgiving Day. The pep rallys noteworthy guest was longtime NFL receiver and Coolidge graduate Jerry Porter, visiting from his California home.

I got word Coolidge was in the Turkey Bowl and I was like, Yeah, Ive got to come check it out, Porter said. Its huge. Because when I was here, we didnt have very many winning seasons. We mostly watched the Turkey Bowl.

And the fact that Randolph is a woman is so yesterday. She could be the Man (or Woman) from Mars if it meant being on the field for that 11 a.m. Thanksgiving kickoff. When Coolidge faces Dunbar (8-3) on Thursdaya rematch of a game won by Dunbar in overtime earlier this monththe last thing on Randolphs mind will be the games sociological impact.

People have kind of forgotten about it, so that makes it nice, Randolph told The Associated Press in an interview in one of the schools locker rooms. But its always been about football. Its never been about gender or whatever, at least not for me.

Other people, I dont care what they think, but its always been about the kids.

School officials adamantly denied that Randolphs hiring was a publicity stunt. She was more than qualified, they pointed outa city native, a former University of Virginia track star, a receiver for six years with the D.C. Divas of the National Womens Football Association, an assistant coach for three years for the football team at rival H.D. Woodson.

The only questions seemed to be would the players respect her and could she win.

For a while, it didnt look good. She lost her first five games.

Last year, I think, was overwhelming, said Shedrick Young, the Colts defensive coordinator last season. It was overwhelming for all of us. That first game was something we never experienced, with all the cameras and stuff on the field, and media. Were not used to that, so when it calmed down and the media wasnt around, thats when the team started to jell. We started to play well.

The fifth loss came after the Colts allowed a 99-yard winning touchdown drive in the final minute. Afterward, Randolph gave a long, blistering speech to her playersa defining moment in the season.

The kids kind of realized they dont want that feeling anymore, Young said. After that, they believed in what we were doing. Instead of individual accolades, they played for each other. We didnt baby em anymore. Shes probably got the worst mouth on the field sometimes. Shell let em know.

The Colts won their next four and backed into the playoffs, finishing with a 4-7 record. The momentum carried into this season, when Randolph was able to coach her first practice and first game without the distraction of all those cameras and reporters. She never much cared for all the attention anyway.

Im not one to be all out in the open, she said. Im not a person that really enjoys being out in the public eye, and when I have something to do, I want to do that. I dont want to be bothered.

What she wants to do is teach and coach.

Athletic director Keino Wilson said the overall GPA of the team is up from 2.65 last year to 3.1. Randolph juggles her classesbiology and environmental sciencewith the sometimes unique challenges of coaching in a city where schools always seems to be facing logistical and financial hurdles.

Randolphs coaching staff was down to four earlier this season because of a new citywide process for approving assistants. The logjam is taking months to sort out. Young has to watch practices from the stands while waiting for his paperwork to clear, which means Randolph herself had to take charge of the defense.

I had to call the defensive plays for, like, seven games, she said. Its more of a collaborative effort now. Im glad, especially now that were in these big games.

After the pep rally, the Colts went to the field to practice, and they kept on going even when it became so dark that it was difficult to see the ball. The field has lights, but they are set to a timer. Finally, they came on at 5:30 p.m. to cheers from some of the players.

When practice finally ended, the Colts retreated to the locker room, thinking about their place in Coolidge history. Not as players for a female coach, but as players with a chance to win the citys biggest prize.

Everybody had that demeanor of Shes a girl coach, shes a female, said senior receiver Dayon Pratt, an East Carolina recruit. Now this year, its a dedicated coachand were going to the Turkey Bowl.

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.