Preps Talk

Edgy Tim: Illinois Player of the Year candidates (so far)

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NBC Sports Chicago

Edgy Tim: Illinois Player of the Year candidates (so far)

We have played six weeks on the high school football schedule. It's still a bit early, but who are the early candidates for IHSA Football Player of the Year? With a month-plus of football under our belts, it's time to start identifying which names are deserving of a mention heading into Week 7 games. 

(I also discussed this on camera at NBC Sports Chicago's studios Wednesday afternoon)

So where to begin? Let's start outside of Chicagoland. 

East St Louis (6-0) and head coach Darren Sunkett has a roster loaded with talent. It includes over a dozen names drawing serious recruiting attention and scholarship offers this fall. But in my mind, junior QB Tyler Macon (1,856 yards passing) is the leading candidate for the Flyers so far in 2019. Macon, who a season ago was more of a game manager with potential and physical tools, has transformed into a more of a mature, patient quarterback with a tremendous arm and touch. 

The Springfield area always has talent. Start with Class 6A's top-ranked Glenwood Titans (6-0) and its multi-sport, multi-year starting QB Luke Lehnen. This senior has led the Titans to a perfect record so far this season; he has the Chatham community feeling like it's 1998 all over again (Glenwood won its only IHSA state football title that season). Not to be outdone, nearby Rochester (6-0) knows all about winning. Senior QB Clay Bruno (1,688 yards passing 21 TDs) has been on fire so far in 2019. Glenwood hosts Rochester on Oct. 25. Springfield sophomore QB Rashad Rochelle has been a huge presence in big games. This includes last week's 54-42 win over Sacred Heart-Griffin. 

Also don't overlook a handful of other standout performers in Central Illinois including Peoria (5-1) senior QB Gabe Hernandez and Normal West (5-1) senior QB Carson Camp, who is commited to South Dakota.

Getting closer to the Windy City, the Chicagoland area has several worthy names to watch. 

Lincoln-Way East (6-0) is the state's top ranked 8A team. The Griffins have received a huge season from senior A.J. Henning (Michigan). Henning has played wide receiver, running back and also has played at quarterback. He has been an big impact, big play performer for coach Rob Zvonar and company. 

Several quarterbacks are also in the discussion. Nazareth Academy (6-0) junior QB JJ McCarthy (Michigan) is the state's top quarterback prospect and one of a handful of Roadrunners worthy of consideration. Neuqua Valley (5-1) has also relied on senior QB Mark Gronowski (South Dakota State). His overall game has reached new heights; his overall recruiting profile continues to grow as well. Hersey's (6-0) offense is averaging almost 50 points per game. Senior QB Jordan Hansen will remind you a bit of another Jordan --as in former Mount Carmel/NIU star and current Mount Carmel head coach QB Jordan Lynch-- with Hansen's identical ability to be a punishing runner and very impressive passer, much like Lynch in his playing days. 

Has anyone meant as much to his team and his school community as Willowbrook (5-1) senior QB/S Sam Tumilty? Tumilty continues to post big numbers week in and week out. He never leaves the field and keeps leading the Warriors football program to a new level of respect. 

How about some smaller enrollment names to consider? Take Coal City senior RB Dan Jezik. He's been a huge factor in getting the Coalers to new heights in Class 4A. How about IC Catholic Prep's senior QB/S Danny Cronin? St. Francis (5-1) and head coach Bob McMillen has the Spartans on a roll. No one has been as valuable as junior QB Tommy Rittenhouse. He's paid dividends --with his arms and feet-- for the Spartans so far this fall. 

However, the Player of the Year honor is always much more than just a quarterback-only award. 

Mount Carmel junior RB/LB Kenenna Odeluga is a quiet, low-key type of kid off the field. He is the Caravan's main threat in the run game on offense while also being an impact player on defense-- a unit that's allowed just 55 points in 2019. Chicago's southern suburbs has one of the Midwest's most sought-after running backs in Hillcrest (6-0) junior Mar'Kiese Irving. Irving keeps impressing everyone who has seen him in person this season. He already has several Power Five scholarship offers under his belt. In the western suburbs, Glenbard West (6-0) is always about the defense. Senior LB Greyson Metz has played as well as any non-offensive players in Chicagoland so far this season. 

Yet what separates some names over others? 

One of my favorite memories so far from this season features Batavia senior RB/LB Quinn Urwiler. After the Bulldogs' opening week loss to East St. Louis, I noticed several Flyer coaches and players seeking out Urwiler after the handshake line. So I asked Flyers' four star-ranked senior S Antonio Johnson why he walked over out of his way to talk to Urwiler. 

"That kid can ball," Johnson said. "We went at him hard and he never backed down. He gave us everything he had and I respect his game for sure."

Preps Basketball Player of the Year Preseason Power Rankings

Preps Basketball Player of the Year Preseason Power Rankings

The 2019-20 high school basketball season has plenty of star power to keep track of this season. One of the strongest groups of Player of the Year contenders the area has seen in years, this year's group features multiple nationally-ranked players and intriguing candidates.

We'll continue to monitor Player of the Year candidates as the season goes on but here's a look at the top five contenders entering this season. 

1. Adam Miller, Morgan Park -- The favorite entering the 2019-20 season has to be Miller after he was arguably the state's best player last season.

Averaging 28.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game, nobody in the area is capable of going for scoring runs quite like Miller. He can go on insane three-point bursts off the dribble while also creating offense for his Morgan Park teammates. The senior broke the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament scoring record while having games of 48 and 45 points there last season.

The Mustangs also could be the best team in the state this season as Miller will have plenty of help around him. That could mean some huge offensive nights for Miller since defenses shouldn't be about to key in on him with junk defenses like he saw so often last season. 

2. D.J. Steward, Whitney Young -- Steward had perhaps the best summer of any in-state player as he rose up national rankings and committed to Duke. But he's still slightly behind Miller in the Player of the Year preseason race because his numbers haven't been as massive.

Still averaging a stellar 24.3 points and 3.2 assists per game for the Dolphins last season, Steward is ultra efficient as an offensive threat. On a team that will play a national schedule with tons of opportunities against nationally-ranked teams, Steward will also get a ton of chances to make his case during the season.

While this season looks like a Miller vs. Steward race for Player of the Year going into it, both players are also trying to capture state titles after falling short last season. Earning state hardware could wind up being the difference in what should be a tight race.

3. Max Christie, Rolling Meadows -- If anyone is to push Miller and Steward's two-senior battle for Player of the Year it will likely be Christie. The state's top college prospect, the 6-foot-7 junior is a top-ten national recruit in the Class of 2021 who won a gold medal with USA Basketball over the summer.

Putting up 25.2 points, nine rebounds and 3.2 assists per game as a sophomore, Christie has already won MSL East Player of the Year honors and scored over 1,000 points during his two-year varsity career.

Capable of putting up 50 points during a game or throwing up a triple-double, Christie is one of the most electric players the area has seen in years. Watching his junior season should be a ton of fun as he has the potential to win Player of the Year if he can stay healthy and put up huge numbers.

4. Bryce Hopkins, Fenwick -- Also coming off of a big summer is this 6-foot-7 junior forward. Hopkins was already consistently putting up 30-point games by the end of his sophomore season. Now, the junior could emerge as a a sleeper Player of the Year threat after becoming a nationally-ranked Class of 2021 prospect this summer.

Committed recently to Louisville, Hopkins averaged 23 points per game last season. After seeing his complete scoring package grow and his strength continue to develop, Hopkins could be an unstoppable scorer for the Friars this season.

Hopkins will also be counted on to be a leader of a young team as Fenwick plays a tough schedule with tons of showcase opportunities this season. 

5. Ahron Ulis, Marian Catholic -- There are a number of candidates who could go in this final spot but Ulis gets a slight nod over the others. A winning player who has already made a trip to Peoria as a sophomore, Ulis has helped the Spartans to some very successful seasons while running point.

Averaging 18.3 points, 4.4 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game as a junior, the Iowa commit will consistently have the ball in his hands for a likely top-ten team as Marian Catholic has big expectations this season. If Ulis consistently shows an ability to knock down perimeter jumpers then he could have a huge season to close out a memorable high school career. 

Preps Basketball Power Rankings No. 14: Lake Park Lancers

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NBC Sports Chicago

Preps Basketball Power Rankings No. 14: Lake Park Lancers

School: Lake Park

2018-19 record: 23-11 (8-6 DuKane)

Postseason results: Lost to Downers North in Class 4A sectional semifinals.

Players to watch: Luke Sgarbossa is a senior guard coming off of a strong junior year that saw him put up 15.5 points and 2.1 assists per game. Sgarbossa is a big-time scorer. Junior Trevor Montiel emerged as a player to watch this summer with some solid play as he can knock down jumpers. 

Why they're in the power rankings: The Lancers made a huge impression in the postseason with regional wins over DeKalb and Benet before losing a tight game in the next round. Lake Park also looked strong during June. With many pieces returning, the Lancers look like the DuKane favorites and a force to contend with in Class 4A.   

Did you know? Lake Park has captured 14 regional titles in program history but the Lancers only have one sectional title (2015) in program history.