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High School Lites preview: Suburban schools square off

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High School Lites preview: Suburban schools square off

With the bulk of Chicago teams on hiatus until the start of the Public League playoffs start next week, its time to showcase some key suburban battles on High School Lites. Our CSN cameras will be all over Chicagoland Friday night. The hottest team in the area might be York high school. Can they win their 12th straight game? Can Minooka get revenge on Plainfield East? And how loud will the fans be at the Illiana Christian-Timothy Christian battle royale? Here is a snapshot of each game that we will cover on this Fridays edition of High School Lites. All rankings reflect the CSN Top 20, sponsored by The Marines:

THURSDAY GAME

Benet (15-4) @ St. Viator (17-3), 7:30pm

The host Lions are holding onto first place in the East Suburban Catholic conference. Nipping at their heels: Benet. The Redwings no longer have Dave Sobolewski and Frank Kaminsky, but they do have another D-1 prospect in 6-8 sophomore Sean OMara. St. Viator has a talented point guard in D.J. Morris, along with fellow senior supporting cast members of Kevin Walsh and Chris Myjak. Look for a very competitive division battle in Arlington Heights.

FRIDAY GAMES

Rich East (9-11) @ 17 Bloom (18-3), 6:30pm

Lejavious Johnson and Donald Moore are the keys to success for Bloom this season, but players like Johnny Griffin have stepped up to support the Blazing Trojans cause this year. Griffin had 10 points and six rebounds as Bloom drilled Kankakee 77-27 on Tuesday. Rich East played well against Bloom earlier in the year, falling only by nine (59-50). The Rockets, a well-balanced team, have already upset fellow Southland conference mate Rich South.

Minooka (17-6) @ 6 Plainfield East (18-1), 7:00pm

It's been a dream season so far for sixth-ranked Plainfield East, a school that has only been in existence for four years. The Bengals, who are coming off a 64-37 win over Plainfield Central Tuesday night, figure to be tested against Southwest Prairie rival Minooka. The Indians, led by guard Ben Heide, will be looking to avenge a 54-53 loss to East in December. They will match up against a talented group of Bengals, including center Brian Bennett and guard Dee Brown.

Lake Park (15-5) @ Waubonsie Valley (14-7), 7:30pm

The Lancers of Lake Park have been -- very quietly -- creeping into the fabric of upper-tier basketball program conversation in Chicagoland. It makes Fridays game at Waubonsie all the more important. LP, winners of five of six, feature a strong forward in Dominique Spencer. Waubonsie had won eight of nine but currently carry a two-game losing streak. Seniors Jared Brownridge and Demetrius Gray look to carry the load for the Warriors.

Glenbard North (13-4) @ West Aurora (16-3), 7:30pm

Friday is Senior Night at West Aurora, so it figures to be an electric atmosphere. One of those seniors, Jawan Starks, is having an exceptional season. He scored 21 points in Tuesdays 75-40 win over Naperville Central, but twisted his ankle in the second half of that game. He hopes to return Friday against a Glenbard North team featuring high-flying senior forward Josh Fleming. The Blackhawks, who defeated the Panthers 66-52 on December 16th, will look to keep pace with Naperville North in the DuPage Valley.

10 De La Salle (14-3) @ St. Rita (11-8), 7:30pm

If there was a ranking of the top 10 most thrilling games of the 2011-12 season in Chicagland, the St. Rita-De La Salle game on December 2nd have prime real estate on the list. Rita's Tony Hicks scored 31 points as the Mustangs took down the Meteors 66-64 in double overtime in the season opener for both teams. Gavin Schilling and Alex Foster power De La Salle's attack. St. Rita currently has a one game lead over DLS in the Catholic North.

Timothy Christian (11-11) @ Illiana Christian (10-10), 7:30pm

It has been said that classic rivalries are so much better when the two teams are evenly matched. Given the records, what's not to like about Timothy Christian vs. Illiana Christian? The gym in Lansing should be rocking Friday night, as usual. Illiana is coming off a 67-60 win over Fenton. Jon Zandstra is deadly from behind the arc. He had six threes against Fenton. Timothy will respond with junior guard Danny Leach. Timothy beat Illiana in Elmhurst on December 9th.

Buffalo Grove (9-12) @ Rolling Meadows (12-7)

The staff at Rolling Meadows picked a good time to have 'Pack The Place' night. The host Mustangs, first place in the Mid-Suburban East, are balanced top to bottom. Senior guard Brian Nelms is one player that will carry the offense. Buffalo Grove is on a tear. The Bison have won four straight, including Saturday's 49-39 win against Niles West. Guards Luke Potnick and Andrew Apel have contributed nicely this season.

Schaumburg (16-5) @ Fremd (13-8)

A three-way tie atop the Mid-Suburban West could be in the books Friday night if Fremd beats Schaumburg and Barrington beats Palatine. The visiting Saxons, 6-1 in the league, have won seven of their last eight. Forward Christian Spandiary and guard Kyle Bolger. Fremd is coming off a 61-30 walloping of Carmel. Adam Gorecki and Garrett Peters are two of the leaders on the Vikings, who are 5-2 in the MSW.

York (16-7) @ Lyons (8-10)

Kudos to York head coach Tom Kleinschmidt. After his team was pretty much forgotten in December, the former DePaul standout has guided his young Dukes to 11 straight wins. Junior David Cohn, one of the top point guard prospects in the state, has fueled the resurgence. Lyons is also hot, winning six of their last seven. Senior guard Kenneth Smith will lead the Lions into this West Suburban Silver showdown.

Every Friday night, High School Lites will bring you scores and highlights from around Chicagoland. Well also take an in-depth look at Plainfield East High School, our Muscle Milk Team of the Week. Amazingly, East has only been in existence for four years and yet they boast a top-10 program. What has been the key to their success? Plus, well feature a former 6-8 Morton Mustang star in our Flashback segment, and youll get caught up on the top-ranked Simeon Wolverines, who will be featured in our Drive segment, sponsored by Greater Than. This weeks episode will appear at 11:30pm, just after our Chicago Blackhawks hockey coverage.

High School Lites streams live every Friday on CSNChicago.com.

We invite you to share your story ideas as well. Check us out at: csnchicagowebsite@comcastsportsnet.com

John Franklin III may be a longshot to make the Bears, but the former ‘Last Chance U’ star isn’t giving up on his dream

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USA Today Sports Images

John Franklin III may be a longshot to make the Bears, but the former ‘Last Chance U’ star isn’t giving up on his dream

Down in Bourbonnais, one of the handful of players who stuck around the longest to sign autographs for fans after training camp practices was the starting quarterback and hopeful savior of a franchise that’s been mired at the bottom of its division for years. 

Another was a fourth-string cornerback who had never played that position before May and has an extremely difficult path to make it in the NFL. 

“Most of the time I’m out here with Mitch (Trubisky), like the last person,” John Franklin III said. “I’d rather have people know me than people not know me. So that’s a good thing.”

You might know Franklin as the super-talented Florida State quarterback transfer in Season One of “Last Chance U” on Netflix. A low point of Franklin’s life played out in living rooms across the world as he played sporadically behind Wyatt Roberts at East Mississippi Community College, but the south Florida native turned that strife into a lesson in persistence. 

From East Mississippi Community College, Franklin transferred to Auburn, where he stayed as a quarterback but didn’t see the field much. He graduated from Auburn and transferred to play his final year of college ball at Florida Atlantic, where Lane Kiffin gave him a shot at playing wide receiver. He didn’t put up the kind of production as either a quarterback or a receiver to get drafted, but his excellent speed is a trait that got him into rookie minicamp. 

After failing to secure a gig with the Seattle Seahawks at their rookie minicamp, the Bears brought Franklin to Halas Hall as a defensive back for a tryout a week later. He signed shortly after, and here he is, trying to figure out how to make it in the NFL at a position he’s never played on a side of the ball he was completely unfamiliar with until May. 

“People are so quick to quit when it doesn’t work the first time,” Franklin said. “It’s like, if you really give up and it didn’t work, then you really didn’t want it. If you keep pushing, it’s going to happen. Life’s not going to be peaches and cream, but you get what you get.”

Defensive backs coach Ed Donatell couldn’t recall ever seeing a player make the switch from offense to cornerback without any prior defensive experience before, let alone for a rookie battling to make a roster. 

“It doesn’t come up that much and usually they have some kind of training in there,” Donatell said. “Nothing comes to mind. 

“But why not us? Why can’t we?”

This isn’t a story about a player who is likely to important to the Bears’ success in 2018, like Trubisky or Allen Robinson or Leonard Floyd or Kyle Fuller. The odds are massively stacked against Franklin, especially after he was picked on by Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Auden Tate in last week’s preseason game (he did, too, have a nice break-up of a pass intended for Ka’Raun White). The stuff Franklin is learning right now are second nature to most NFL cornerbacks who’ve played the position — or at least, played on defense — their entire football lives. 

“I definitely feel like I was in good position most of the night, I just gotta — I know one thing I’m focusing on is getting my head around,” Franklin said. “That’s one thing that I still haven’t felt 100 percent comfortable with and that’s one of the things a lot of the vets are working with me on is to make sure I get my head around because most of the time I’m in a good position. Just finding the ball is still very new to me.” 

Training camp and preseason practices, then, present a difficult dichotomy for Franklin. On one hand, he knows he has to be patient as he learns an entirely new job that he likened to “trying to write with your non-dominant hand.” On the other hand, he has to show considerable progress to even be considered for a spot on a practice squad, let alone a 53-man roster. 

While Franklin has seen himself make significant progress on tape over the last few months and weeks, he knows he’s not where he needs to be or where he thinks he can be. It’s sort of a race against time for him, because rookies who don’t make a roster or practice squad usually don’t get a second chance in the league. 

“He’s such a willing soul,” Donatell said. “He came in here, he’s taking everything in, the veterans are helping him. But he has a skillset that you can see him doing things on the other side of the football that we want to translate to defense. … It’s a race for us right now and a race through this month, and he’s willing. We see progress every day. Time will tell how much.”

What Franklin puts on tape in these final three preseason games — Saturday against the Denver Broncos, Aug. 25 against the Kansas City Chiefs and Aug. 30 against the Buffalo Bills — will be critically important to his chances of sticking in some capacity in the NFL when the regular season starts.

Taking a step back, the task seems almost impossible. This is a guy who played quarterback his whole life, then moonlighted as a receiver for a year, and now is trying to make it in the NFL playing cornerback. It would be a remarkable feat if Franklin were to make a practice squad and allow himself more weeks and months to develop. 

But there’s no doubting Franklin’s desire to make it work. He wants to make it work to live out his dream of playing in the NFL, one he’s had since he was four. He wants to make it work to repay his parents for all they did for him. He wants to make it work to be an inspiration to others to never give up on their goals. 

Will it work? We’ll see. But it’s not in Franklin’s nature to give up, no matter how much of a longshot he may be. 

“I’m accepting the challenge,” Franklin said. “Doing something different at the highest level of football ain’t easy by any means.

“But it’s also doable and possible.”

Suspended catcher Welington Castillo working his way back to White Sox with minor league rehab stint

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USA TODAY

Suspended catcher Welington Castillo working his way back to White Sox with minor league rehab stint

With about a week until the end of his 80-game suspension, Welington Castillo his making his way back to the White Sox.

The veteran catcher joined Triple-A Charlotte for a rehab assignment Friday, in the Knights' lineup for their afternoon game.

Castillo has been serving his suspension since May 24, when Major League Baseball handed down its punishment for his testing positive for a banned substance. He's eligible to return Aug. 23, just nine days before rosters expand.

The White Sox added Castillo over the offseason after he had career years offensively and defensively with the Baltimore Orioles during the 2017 season. The hope was he could provide a veteran presence and help out with the development of the team's young pitching staff — and of course that his bat could help bolster the team's everyday lineup. A two-year contract with an option for a third meant that if all went well, Castillo could be around for the start of the team's transition from rebuilding to contending, a sort of bridge to top catching prospect Zack Collins.

Things obviously did not work out as planned, and Castillo has missed months of time working with the pitchers while he's served his suspension.

Still, his return will perhaps be a welcome help to young pitchers still learning how to succeed against major league lineups, guys like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, who have had inconsistent first full campaigns in the big leagues — not to mention any young pitchers who might be called up from the minor leagues over the season's final month and a half.

As for the team's catching situation, Omar Narvaez has done very well at the plate since taking over as the starting catcher when Castillo was suspended. Since the beginning of June, Narvaez is slashing .356/.433/.559, and his season batting average of .282 is one of the highest on the team. Kevan Smith, the No. 2 catcher, is hitting .283 on the season. Castillo will return with a .267/.309/.466 slash line in 33 games he played in before being suspended.