Preps Talk

Breaking: Northwestern adds another in-state pledge

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Breaking: Northwestern adds another in-state pledge

It didn't take Wheaton North junior outside linebacker Xander Mueller (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) long to give the Northwestern coaching staff his verbal commitment today. Mueller — whose older brother (junior linebacker Erik Mueller) is already on the Wildcats roster — attended the Wildcats final spring practice today. He picked up a scholarship offer and then gave head coach Pat Fitzgerald his verbal commitment on the spot. 

"I didn't expect it (adding a Northwestern offer) and I was very surprised," Mueller said. "Northwestern is the place for me because of the incredible academics, the location, having my brother already on the team and the amazing coaching staff and football program. I'm super happy."

Mueller is the second in-state name for the Wildcats and the seventh known verbal commitment for the Northwestern Class of 2020. Mueller joins Lake Zurich tight end Hunter Welcing (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) as the Wildcats in state commitments so far in the 2020 class. 

Mueller was also the Wildcats second overall verbal commitment today as Groveport (Ohio) Madison three star ranked offensive guard TeRah Edwards (6-foot-3, 295 pounds) also committed to the Wildcats after today's final spring practice. 

It's playoff week for several 4-4 teams

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NBC Sports Chicago

It's playoff week for several 4-4 teams

While the official start of the 2019 IHSA State Football Playoffs won't be announced until Saturday night, teams that are holding 4-4 records heading into Week 9 are already in state playoff mode.

Several familiar names are in search of big Week 9 wins just to get into the playoff field. 

Marist (4-4) has been a Class 8A regular yet the Redhawks and head coach Ron Dawczak will need to beat Loyola Academy (6-2) on Saturday in Wilmette just to find a place in the playoffs this year. So how difficult has the Redhawks road been so far in 2019? Marist four losses (Notre Dame/Brother Rice/Mount Carmel and Nazareth Academy) have a combined 28-4 record and beating Loyola on Saturday in Wilmette should count for more like two wins.

Naperville Central (4-4) entered the 2019 season ranked by everyone, yet after a 0-3 start the Redhawks have been able to settle down and win four of its last five games to get into position to land its fifth win Friday night in Naperville. The Redhawks can undoubtedly make a case for having one of the state toughest schedule. Its four losses (Hinsdale Central, Lincoln-Way East, Pickerington Central OH and Neuqua Valley) are a combined 29-3. So who's the Redhawks Week 9 cupcake? None other than the state's top ranked team in East St. Louis (8-0). And much like Marist a win over the Flyers this Friday should count for much more than one win. 

New Trier (4-4) and head coach Brian Doll has made the IHSA state playoff field for the past 16 seasons and 23 out of the last 24 years, yet the Trevians need to beat longtime rival Maine South (6-2) at home tomorrow night to keep it's state playoff streak alive. 

The DuKane Conference has been full of surprises in 2019 and both St. Charles North (4-4) and Wheaton North (4-4) are looking to seek wins on Friday to remain alive. St. Charles North was also highly ranked to begin the season but has dropped three straight games and will need to beat Wheaton South (5-3) at Red Grange Field to advance.  Wheaton North has won two straight games including a big 24-19 win last Friday over St. Charles East (6-2), but now a Friday night showdown against Batavia (6-2) in Batavia looms for the Falcons. 

The North Suburban conference has a ‘Win To Get In Bowl’ Friday night as Stevenson (4-4) travels to Lake Forest (4-4). Libertyville (4-4) needs a wn on Friday night against Zion-Benton (3-5) and the Wildcats will be keeping a close eye on the playoff pairings show since they are low (30) on playoff points. 

The Southwest Prairie East is, well, a mess. Plainfield South (4-4/3-1) and Plainfield East (4-4/3-1) are seeking a win to get in, yet even with wins both Plainfield schools could lose the conference title and automatic bid to Joliet West (3-5/3-1). Joliet West and head coach Bill Lech holds a tie breaker if all three teams win on Friday night and that looks more and more a possibility. Plainfield South will host Romeoville (1-7), Plainfield East travels to Joliet Central (1-7) and Joliet West will travel to Plainfield Central (1-7). 

Both East Aurora  (4-4) and Elgin (4-4) square off on Friday at Elgin's Memorial Stadium for a chance at getting into the state playoff field...and just let that statement sink in. East Aurora. Elgin. State Football Playoffs. Needless to say not too many outside of those programs expected to be playing a meaningful in Week 9 especially with so much on the line. A win for East Aurora would be the Tomcats first state playoff bid since 1982 and for Elgin it would be the Maroons second state playoff appearance since 2001.

Looking for more drama? The West Suburban Silver conference will feature Lyons Township (4-4) and first year head coach Dan Hartman in search of its fifth win on Friday night. All the Lions and Dan Hartman has to do is travel to Hinsdale Central (7-1) and beat Hartman's former team from  a season ago in Hinsdale. Also Oak Park-River Forest (4-4) has a tall task looking to get an upset win over Glenbard West (8-0) in Oak Park on Friday night. 

While several of these on the bubble teams have some tall task this week, never say never especially when teams are playing for their playoff lives and if the 2019 season has taught us anything, it's that anything can happen on any given Friday night/Saturday in IHSA football. 

Super sophomore AJ Casey makes Tinley Park intriguing team

Super sophomore AJ Casey makes Tinley Park intriguing team

When AJ Casey transferred from Simeon to Tinley Park in June it made news all over the country.

It was surprising for many to see Illinois' best sophomore, and a potential five-star national talent, leave one of the most storied high school basketball programs in the nation for a program that hasn't claimed a regional title since 2008. Simeon has seven IHSA state titles in school history. Tinley Park has three regional titles. 

But the move to the Titans puts the 6-foot-9 forward closer to where he went to middle school (Arbor Park in Oak Forest) and grew up. Casey lived with his father in Chicago as a freshman before moving back in with his mother in Tinley Park for sophomore year. 

From a basketball perspective, Casey has the skill level and size to be an All-Area player as early as this season for Tinley Park. On Sunday the sophomore was one of the best players on the floor at the annual Pangos Frosh/Soph All-Midwest Camp in La Grange. Among a loaded group of underclass prospects from all over the region with many future Division I prospects on the floor in the camp's All-Star game, Casey was one of the camp's top players as he made plays all over.

More limited to an interior role with Simeon during his freshman season on a veteran team that didn't need to run consistent offense through him, Casey flourished in the open floor of the camp setting with the ball in his hands. Handling the ball and scoring, Casey looked comfortable in the post or facing up. Casey's overall versatility at forward shined through as his development on the perimeter will be fascinating to watch this season.

There hasn't been much to be excited about over the past 20 years when it comes to Tinley Park basketball. Having Casey enter the picture is a program-changer that gives the Titans a lot of interest from college coaches and area fans for the upcoming season. 

"We've got high expectations, of course. Especially for myself. We have kind of a tough schedule but we'll get through it," Casey said.  

Ranked as a top-20 national prospect in the Class of 2022 by some major recruiting services, Casey instantly becomes a go-to player at Tinley Park who should be asked to do much more than be a piece amongst many Division I talents. 

Finishing 14-11 with a 6-7 record in the South Suburban Blue last season, Tinley Park played in an underrated conference that featured six of seven members finishing above .500 for the season -- including strong teams in Hillcrest and Oak Forest. By joining that league, Casey adds a new level of intrigue for Tinley Park as they instantly become a team to watch.

"It's been real good. Polishing up my game. Fall, I've been focused more on the team. I've been building chemistry through fall league and things like that," Casey said.

Casey has taken recent unofficial visits to Illinois and Purdue as he's also planning on seeing Louisville in the near future. College recruiting is sure to pick up for Casey as he works his way through high school and gets closer to graduation. 

For now, it's premature to call Tinley Park anywhere near a top-25 program. But it's a long season and the Titans could develop into a team to watch to make a deep postseason run.

Casey gives Tinley Park a centerpiece to build around for the future that not many in the area can match. It also gives the Titans instant credibility entering this season.