Bears

Mayes is Aurora Christian's all-around star

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Mayes is Aurora Christian's all-around star

A reporter interrupted Brandon Mayes after a recent practice session. Aurora Christian's 5-foot-11, 182-pound senior tailbackwideoutfree safety was taking an ice bath...15 to 20 minutes, three gallons of ice, 40 degrees, cool.

"I play both ways and take a lot of beating," Mayes said. "So I take an ice bath after every practice and after every game, either at home in a whirlpool or at school in garbage cans. I do it to stay fresh and on top of my game."

It is hard to top Mayes' game. Coach Don Beebe said he is "arguably the best football player I have coached when you take everything into consideration...leadership, skill, off-season work ethic, two-way player, leading tackler, one of our top guys on offense."

Mayes is one of the leaders on a team that Beebe calls "the best team we have had, talent-wise," better than last year's 13-1 Class 3A champion.

"We've never had this many Division I players, three who are committed and two others who will be. We've never had that before. For a small school, that's a great feat."

Mayes, who is committed to Northern Illinois as a cornerback, has rushed for 760 yards and six touchdowns and caught 27 passes for 452 yards and four touchdowns. On defense, he has made 102 tackles, including 45 solo, 15 tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions. "He plays like a linebacker," Beebe said.

The other Division I recruits are wide receiver Chad Beebe, the coach's son, and tailback Joel Bouganon, who also are committed to Northern Illinois. Almost certain to sign Division I scholarships are 6-foot-4, 260-pound tackleend Josh Kok, who was selected as the Suburban Christian Blue's Lineman of the Year over Michigan-bound Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis, and 6-foot-3, 193-pound wide receiver Cory Windle.

They and their teammates will face a tough test at 2 p.m. Saturday when Aurora Christian (11-1) plays at Sterling Newman (12-0) in a Class 3A semifinal. Sterling Newman is a perennial small-school power. Coach Mike Papoccia, in his 33rd year, won state titles in 1990, 1994, 2004 and 2010 and finished second in 1993 and 1998,

"We play tough competition (Montini, Immaculate Conception, St. Francis, Marmion) so that isn't a factor. But they have as good a defense as we will face," Beebe said. "We have to get their offense off the field. They pound the ball down your throat. We can't turn the ball over. We must start fast and play smart football early and get on a roll."

One statistic concerns Beebe. Last week, in a 49-14 victory over Winnebago, his defense allowed 24 first downs and 320 yards rushing. In the last two games, the defense (which starts six juniors and one sophomore) has given up 600 yards. "And this is the best defense we have had," he said.

"But this team has moxie. They expect to win. That is a big key, a mindset. You have to stay hungry and humble and not get complacent. Everybody talks us up like we're really good but you have to remember that you are never as good as people say you are or as bad as they say you are."

Beebe can say only good things about Mayes. "He is the consummate leader. He is the one kid every coach wishes he had who has a warrior mentality. He hates to lose and loves to compete. He will lead his team to the last down. When he was a freshman, we knew he would be special," the coach said.

Mayes started playing football in the Aurora Superstars' midget division when he was 8 years old. He also participated in basketball, baseball and track. One by one, however, he dropped the other sports to concentrate on football.

"I didn't feel as much passion in the other sports as I felt in football," he said. "I'm one of those guys who likes to compete all the time. I just love the atmosphere of football, the Friday night lights. Homecoming is awesome. You don't find that in any other sport.

"It is a big stress relief for me when I'm playing football. I'm in my own little zone. I love playing both ways. I love to be on the field. Ilove playing defense. God has given me this platform to play football and I want to use it to honor Him."

When Richard McNutt was recruiting Mayes as a cornerback for Northern Illinois, he didn't have to be reminded that cornerback is one of the toughest positions (the others are quarterback and left offensive tackle) for college and NFL coaches to fill.

"I like covering bigger guys," Mayes said. "Sometimes you find yourself out there all alone. It's your own piece of real estate, a big challenge. If it was my choice, I'd play cornerback."

Aurora Christian's 2012 team has been on a mission since last November. On the Monday after winning the state title, Mayes and other underclassmen reported to the weight room ready to lift.

"It was a testament to how hard we work together," Mayes said. "We never think about losing. We believe firmly in our team. We know Sterling Newman is a great team but we never go into a game thinking we will lose.

"It would be devastating to lose. When you work hard for something and it doesn't pan out, it is devastating. This team has two common goals that our other teams have had--to honor God and have a winning attitude.

"We don't measure ourselves on defense on how many points we give up but if everyone did their job and played to their full potential. Last year's seniors instilled a good work ethic in us. It goes from the sophomores to the juniors to the seniors. It keeps the program going. That's what great programs do."

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

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USA TODAY

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Danny Trevathan
2. John Timu
3. Joel Iyiegbuniwe

1. Roquan Smith
2. Nick Kwiatkoski
3. Jonathan Anderson

1. How good can Roquan Smith be?

Making sweeping observations from shorts-and-helmets practices in OTAs is often a fool’s errand, but Smith looked the part while running around the practice fields of Halas Hall after being drafted in April. His quickness and instinctiveness stood out — as they did at Georgia — and his football intelligence and work ethic were praised by coaches and teammates. 

“He’s learning well,” Trevathan said. “He’s doing a good job of learning. He’s learning the little things that you need to learn in this defense. Now it’s all about putting on a show and going out there and rocking.”

And that’s what’s going to be fun to watch in Bourbonnais: How does Smith play with the pads on? Chances are, the answer to that question will be “well,” setting the eighth overall pick on a path to being a mainstay of this defense for years to come. 

That’s not to say Smith doesn’t have plenty on which to work during training camp. But he left Georgia as a sort of “safe bet” in the draft, and nothing he’s done to this point has changed the view of him that he’s likely going to be a good one. 

2. Can Danny Trevathan stay healthy?

In terms of size and athleticism, Trevathan and Smith profile similar to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, the inside linebacking tandem that was the spine of the San Francisco 49ers defense during Fangio’s time there. But for Trevathan and Smith to reach that lofty bar — or even to come close to it — Trevathan needs to be more available than he was his first two years with the Bears.

This isn’t questioning Trevathan’s toughness — far from it. That he returned for Week 1 of the 2017 season 10 months after rupturing his patellar tending (an injury that can be a career-ender) was impressive, and that he was immediately productive upon returning was even more extraordinary. But Trevathan missed three games in November due to a strained calf, and coupled with a one-game suspension and the seven games he missed in 2016, the 28-year-old has only played in 21 of 32 games since signing with the Bears. 

Trevathan is confident he can improve his production in 2018, given he wasn’t able to participate in last year’s offseason program practices. He’s entering his third year in Fangio’s defense and feels better prepared after going through OTAs and minicamps this year. It’s just now about him staying on the field to make sure that work pays off.

“I’m more comfortable with this defense, I’m more comfortable with the guys and the calls that we make,” Trevathan said. “I take pride in being correct and working my tail off and making the defense better. And the more that I can be out there — which I plan on being out there a lot — it’s going to help us tremendously.” 

3. How big a role will Nick Kwiatkoski have?

The Bears didn’t draft Smith because they felt like they absolutely needed to upgrade over Kwiatkoski, who’s acquitted himself well in 25 games since being picked in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. But Kwiatkoski has dealt with some injury issues, and for as solid a player as he may be, the Bears’ defense needed (and still needs) more great players. Drafting Smith gave the Bears a shot at adding a great player.

It also leaves Kwiatkoski in the same spot he was in a year ago, when the Bears entered the 2017 season with Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as their unquestioned starting inside linebackers. Smith still has to earn that starting spot, but the safe bet is he will, relegating Kwiatkoski again to reserve duties.

And that’s a positive for the overall health of this defense, having a player good enough to start ready to play if needed. But it also raises this question: What do the Bears do with Kwiatkoski if he’s one of their four best linebackers, but isn’t one of their two best inside linebackers? 

So for the purposes of watching training camp practices, seeing if Kwiatkoski gets any reps at outside linebacker will be an interesting storyline to follow. 

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

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USA TODAY

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

WASHINGTON, D.C. — How could someone like Kyle Schwarber play the villain?

The fan favorite who’s always quick with a smile — or an Uncle Sam costume on the Fourth of July — Schwarber doesn’t fit the mold of a loathsome target of boos. But he made quite the heel turn in the minds of Washington Nationals fans Monday night, and of course he knew it was coming.

Schwarber went from getting cheered by the legions in attendance at the Home Run Derby to getting booed when he took on, and eventually lost to, hometown hero Bryce Harper in the final round.

“I was down in the tunnel saying, ‘If we get to the finals, Harp, they’re all going to be against me. I think they’re all going to be against me,’” Schwarber said Monday night. “And then I went out there and got booed after they all got pumped up for me. That’s just the beauty of it, and I was happy for Bryce that he won it in front of the home crowd.”

Harper delivered an incredibly memorable baseball moment Monday night, catching up to Schwarber’s 18 home runs with a ridiculous display of repetitive power to win a Home Run Derby for the ages. The format of this event, revamped a couple years ago, made for a dramatic and hugely entertaining evening. Harper smacked nine homers over the final 47 seconds of the final round to tie Schwarber, then bested him in bonus time. Unsurprisingly, the home crowd was going ballistic for their boy.

But earlier in the night, it was Schwarber getting all the cheers, when he made his own last-second comeback to beat Philadelphia Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins in the second round. Schwarber was pumping up the crowd, pumping his fists and screaming while putting on a show of his own to catch and pass Hoskins' 20 home runs and advance to the finals.

How quickly the locals forgot.

By the finals — during which Schwarber looked understandably exhausted — the crowd had turned on him, trying to get every advantage for Harper.

“As soon as I got done with that round, I told myself that he had it,” Schwarber said. “I knew that he had the home crowd behind him, and I knew that he was a very prolific power hitter with a great swing. For him to come in and do that and started getting down to the wire, all of a sudden he started racking them up one at a time. You kind of just accept your fate there.”

Perhaps the night could’ve ended differently for Schwarber had he listened more closely to the advice of his teammates, Javy Baez and Willson Contreras, who were quick with Gatorade, a towel and words of encouragement on Monday. Baez hit 16 home runs in his own first-round appearance, though Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Max Muncy knocked him out.

“I was just telling him to slow down,” Baez said. “He was kind of rushing a little bit, that’s why he was jumping to the ball.”

“They were actually giving me really good advice that I didn’t take because I was really dumb-headed,” Schwarber said. “‘Make sure you take some pitches and get the pitch that you want.’ At the end, I felt like I was swinging at everything. I was just running out of gas. I felt like I had to put up as many swings just to try to put a couple out.”

Schwarber was totally content with losing out to Harper’s home-field advantage. Though as his homers flew out deep into the right-field seats Monday night, you couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if Schwarber was instead taking aim at Sheffield Avenue and getting his own home-field advantage from Cubs fans.

The North Side hasn’t played host to the All-Star Game since 1990, so perhaps Schwarber will still be slugging the next time the Friendly Confines are the site of the Home Run Derby.

“That’d be really cool one day if the All-Star Game’s at Wrigley,” Schwarber said, “and to participate in the Derby, that’d be fun.”