Preps Talk

Scott Phillips' NBC Sports Chicago High School Lites Preview

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NBC Sports Chicago

Scott Phillips' NBC Sports Chicago High School Lites Preview

High School Lites has tons of conference action this week. Big games in the North Suburban, Catholic League, Fox Valley and West Suburban Silver are just a few of the matchups we'll spotlight as there are great games across Chicagoland.

NBC Sports Chicago has live/live streamed coverage of High School Lites at 11 p.m. on Friday night. 

THURSDAY

Vocational at No. 5 Morgan Park, 5:00 p.m. -- We begin in the Public League Red South/Central. The Mustangs (8-5, 2-1) had an impressive win over Hyde Park earlier this week as they'll be the heavy favorites. Morgan Park features Illinois commit Adam Miller, Wake Forest commit Marcus Watson and wing Brandon Weston on a team trying to compete for a city and state title. Vocational (6-9, 1-4) started the conference season 0-4 before a big win over Lindblom earlier this week.

Girls: Montini at Fenwick, 7:00 p.m. -- Two of the area's top girls teams play here. Both also reside in the top ten of the latest AP Class 3A girls basketball state poll. Montini (17-3) had some slip-ups at the holidays as they come in looking to regain their footing. Fenwick (17-2) recently fell to Simeon but bounced back with a win over Loyola. 

FRIDAY

No. 22 Joliet West at Oswego East, 6:30 p.m. -- A lot of talent on the floor in this Southwest Prairie crossover. Joliet West (14-2, 7-0) has high expectations now following the strong third-place showing at Pontiac. The Tigers are led by Jamere Hill, Jaiden Lee and Trent Howland as they earned a win over Oswego earlier this week. Oswego East (12-4, 6-1) is the top team in the West Division of the Southwest Prairie as they won over Plainfield Central on Tuesday. Senior Sam Schultz recently returned to the lineup from a knee injury while Will Wolfe is a leader on the perimeter. 

Hampshire at Cary-Grove, 7:00 p.m. -- Two top teams collide in the Fox Valley here. Hampshire (11-4, 5-1) had won 11 straight games after an 0-3 start -- including winning the tournament title at Marengo be -- before a loss to Burlington Central this week. One of the area's bigger lineups, the Whip-Purs' shortest starter is 6-foot-3 senior Jackson Milison. Cary-Grove (13-2, 6-0) has only lost to ranked teams in York and Waubonsie Valley as they're led by senior big man Frank Jakubicek (Belmont) and senior point guard Beau Frericks (Lewis). A key matchup in this one could be Hampshire 6-foot-7 senior Nick Erickson matching up with the 6-foot-8 Jakubicek on the interior.

No. 15 Marian Catholic at St. Patrick, 7:00 p.m. -- We head to the ESCC for a matchup between two of the league's best teams. Marian Catholic (11-4, 2-1) is led by Iowa commit and senior Ahron Ulis. Ulis has plenty of weapons around him, including forward Elijah Jones (Western Illinois) and athletic senior guard Joe Green. St. Pat's (12-3, 2-0) has a solid record to start the season but they lack a signature win since knocking off Benet on the road in December. The Shamrocks are a balanced offense led by Caleb Corro, Timaris Brown and Nick Galati. 

Dundee-Crown at Jacobs, 7:30 p.m. -- Staying in the Fox Valley, we take in this rivalry matchup. Dundee-Crown (7-6, 3-2) picked up a massive comeback road win at Crystal Lake South on Wednesday -- trailing by double-digits in the second half and still winning. Jacobs (10-5, 4-2) held off Prairie Ridge as they try to stay in the Fox Valley race with a win. 

No. 13 Mundelein at No. 17 Stevenson, 7:30 p.m. -- A major showdown for the top spot in the North Suburban. Mundelein (13-1, 3-0) is led by a strong junior group that includes Conor Enright (Drake), Scottie Ebube and Trey Baker. The trio has helped the Mustangs stay unbeaten against Chicagoland competition this season, with their only loss coming against Class 4A title contender Collinsville on the road. Stevenson (11-3, 3-0) lost to a pair of ranked opponents at Hinsdale Central, falling to H-F and Marian Catholic. The Patriots are skilled at all five spots, led by seniors Matthew Ambrose, R.J. Holmes and John Ittounas. But Stevenson will have to play better against length and athleticism, something they've struggled with at times this season.

Glenbard West at Oak Park-River Forest, 7:30 p.m. -- This one could be important in the West Suburban Silver race. Glenbard West (12-1, 1-1) is off to a strong start but they haven't beaten a great opponent yet. The Hilltoppers won their recent holiday event and come in with a lot of confidence. OPRF (7-5, 2-0) hasn't played since the Pontiac Holiday Tournament as they've had a long layoff to practice and rest. Junior Isaiah Barnes is a potential All Area candidate who can score in bunches for the Huskies. 

Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week

St. Ignatius vs. No. 7 Loyola, at Loyola University, 7 p.m. -- A battle for the Jesuit Cup wins our Viewers' Choice matchup this week. St. Ignatius (12-4, 4-1) is an intriguing team led by senior Daniel Fahey. The Wolfpack have loads of younger talent as they are a team to watch in the Catholic League race. Loyola (15-1, 5-0) hasn't lost to an area team all season thanks to suffocating defense and a balanced offense. Seniors Jordan and Bennett Kwiecinski (Drake and Siena, respectively) give the Ramblers an advantage inside. 

Edgy Tim's recruiting news and notes

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USA Today

Edgy Tim's recruiting news and notes

Lake Forest’s Mac Uihlein, a four-star junior inside linebacker (6-foot-1, 210 pounds), gave Northwestern his verbal commitment this past weekend. 

“Northwestern is like family,” Uihlein told WildcatReport's Lou Vaccher. “It’s the relationships you build at Northwestern that make it more than a four-year decision. It’s a lifetime decision.

"The academic opportunities they provide are amazing, and it’s definitely something I want to take advantage of,” said Uihlein, who carries a 5.01 GPA (on a 5.0 scale) at Lake Forest and scored a 26 on his ACT. “Coach Fitzgerald, and Coach McGarigle and all the guys they recruit are just great people I want to be around. Plus, Northwestern is close to home, so my family can get to games easily.”

Uihlein said that it was during a phone conversation with McGarigle that he realized “Northwestern was the place I wanted to be. My values line up with Northwestern’s, so I decided there was no reason to wait. I wanted to make my decision now."

Uihlein is now the fourth known verbal commitment for the Northwestern Class of 2021 and the first known in-state commitment.

Richmond-Burton junior offensive tackle Luke Eckardt (6-foot-7, 265 pounds) gave the NIU Huskies and head coach Thomas Hammock his verbal commitment late last week.

"We went back and forth for a bit with NIU, but once they offered me, it's just too good of a fit and opportunity for me to pass up. So I committed," Eckardt said. "I had been thinking more and more about making an early college decision, and I feel great about committing to NIU."

Eckardt, who was starting to see his overall recruiting stock rise this early spring, discussed why he committed to the nearby NIU Huskies.

"I just really like the coaches at NIU. We've been talking a lot, and I've gotten to build a strong relationship with them. I've also been able to make visits to NIU, and I really like the campus and the facilities. NIU is also close to home, and that also played a factor in my decision. I'll be able to go to school, get a good education, and also have my family and friends see me play in college. Everything about NIU feels right to me, and my family is also behind me and is excited about my decision. NIU is building something special, and I wanted to be a part of it."

Eckardt also admitted that the timing of his decision during the COVID-19 pandemic no question played a role in his choice.

"It (COVID-19) definitely played a role in making my decision this early. With the NCAA basically pushing back recruiting (the NCAA recently extended the dead period from April 15 to May 31), I really won't have a chance to get out to visit any other schools. I also didn't want to extend or drag out the recruiting process for a long time. I'm extremely comfortable with NIU. The school and the football program is a great fit for me, and I felt ready to make my decision. So I committed."

Luke Eckardt is the sixth known verbal commitment in the NIU Class of 2021 and the fourth known in-state commitment. Eckardt joins Aurora Christian quarterback Ethan Hampton, Solorio safety Brian Whitsey and Batavia Wide Receiver Trey Urwiler in the Huskies Class of 2021.

Willowbrook junior offensive tackle Enrique Cruz Jr. (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) has seen his recruiting stock take off over the past week or so, adding his first offer last week from Syracuse.

"Syracuse Coach (Mike) Lynch found me on Twitter a week or two ago," Cruz said. "We've been in contact quite a bit ever since then, and we FaceTime called on Saturday. That's when Syracuse offered me a scholarship ."

Cruz discussed his initial impressions of adding his first scholarship offer from Syracuse.

"I know that Syracuse is a really nice school, and I've been online and able to do a little bit of research on them. They offer a strong education, and it's just a great offer from a great school. The offer from Syracuse was a big surprise for sure. The coaches from Syracuse said that they want me to come and visit them as soon as we are allowed to make college visits."

Cruz Jr., who added new offers from Louisville and Western Illinois on Monday, has also been in touch with Iowa, NIU and Rutgers. He made a Junior Day visit earlier this winter to Iowa.

Nazareth Academy junior defensive tackle Drew Hughes (6-foot-3, 270 pounds) saw his recruiting stock take off early this spring despite an NCAA-forced football recruiting dead period in response to COVID-19.

"It's been really exciting getting these offers all of a sudden," Hughes said. "I have offers now from Miami of Ohio, Kent State and also North Dakota. I didn't expect to be playing Xbox one day and then getting on the phone with college coaches who want to offer me scholarships the next. It's been pretty wild."

Hughes filled us in on his latest recruiting news and new suitors so far this spring.

"I have offers from Miami of Ohio, Kent State and North Dakota. I've been in contact quite a bit with the coaches from South Dakota, South Dakota State, plus Akron. I've made visits so far to Miami of Ohio, NIU, Tennessee, South Carolina and Auburn, and also Iowa. I had visits planned to Western Michigan and Ball State, but those visits got canceled. I'm hoping that we can eventually be allowed to make college visits again, and I'm also looking at visiting Miami of Ohio again, along with North Dakota."

Mount Carmel head coach Jordan Lynch discusses football program during pandemic

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NBC Sports Chicago

Mount Carmel head coach Jordan Lynch discusses football program during pandemic

The latest guest on my weekly 20 Minutes podcast is Mount Carmel head football coach Jordan Lynch. Lynch, who was an All-State quarterback at Mount Carmel and then starred as a Heisman Trophy candidate at Northern Illinois University, has led his alma mater to an impressive 25-2 record in two seasons including a 14-0 record last fall and the 2019 Class 7A state title. Lynch and I cover several different subjects from the coronavirus pandemic to an impressive 2019 Caravan season and much more.

EDGYTIM: So as an educator and a coach, what has been the game plan as far as the whole coronavirus is concerned for Mount Carmel as a school as well as for your team?

Jordan Lynch: Educationally it's been a lot to take in, especially for a 16-17 year old kid and in the bigger picture this can all be a lot. At first I thought a lot of kids looked at this as a couple-week vacation, but we've really locked down here as coaches and teachers and administrators and we are all on an eLearning platform. A lot of our kids have fully bought in and they aren't treating this as a vacation. At first I think the whole vacation mentality was the mindset of a lot of kids, but that's all changed very quickly. Everyone is hitting the books and doing eLearning five days a week and getting after it. We've had our challenges because we have kids who come from different backgrounds, and some might not have a device or proper WiFi, but everyone is helping each other out and it's been a success so far. Personally, I do miss being around the kids. I miss getting to see them and getting to check up on them individually. That's been my focus this week and I'm sending out texts along with sending them messages on Hudl. We've been sending them workouts, different motivation quotes and just trying to keep the kids as engaged as possible. But the most important thing right now is that they are keeping up with their education and staying on top of their school work.

EDGYTIM: Your program has been well known for your 6 AM workouts for years now. They have been such a big part of the whole team bonding aspect at Mount Carmel, but that's being lost for now. When you eventually are allowed to get back with the team, is that team bonding maybe as important to recapture as any other work this time of the year?

Lynch: Absolutely.  Every team in the state and every kid that plays football is part of an offseason program. The big thing that I think separates us is how we run our 6 AM workouts. Every kid is dressed head to toe the same. You aren't allowed to work out even if you don't have the right socks, everyone is dressed the same. At this time of the year we have no seniors in the workouts, just juniors and younger, so we have juniors that want to take over the leadership roles and who want to lead and want to be a captain. This is the biggest time of the year where they grow the most in that aspect. As an example Justin (Lynch, Jordan's younger brother and starting QB) is more of a quiet kid, and he is going to need to be more vocal this year. This is that time of the year where he can be building upon that over the next few months so when it comes to August hopefully he's already taken over that leadership role. That's a big aspect that we are missing right now.

EDGYTIM: So after two seasons as a high school head coach now, what's been the biggest surprise or the biggest challenge for you so far?

Lynch: I'm still learning and I'm still growing every day. When I was the running backs coach at Northern Illinois you are working on football constantly 24/7, 365 days a year.  It's really all you do and you are just grinding it out. I got to Mount Carmel and got hired in late December, early January and there isn't a whole lot of football activity going on from January 'til July. So during that time you are building up relationships with the kids and that's when I realized that mattered the most. At the end of the day it's not all about the X's and O's and winning a game. It's about the kids trusting you and trusting your staff and having them buy into what you're trying to preach. So delivering that message day in and day out is the most important part of being a head coach and winning games. If the kids don't believe in you, even if you have the greatest schemes, it doesn't matter. In Year 2 we really minimized everything and we only had a few different plays. But we know what we are good at and we make sure the kids buy in and know their assignments and really trust us as a coaching staff.  In high school you need to have great mentors regardless of all the X's and O's.

EDGYTIM: We've talked before about the new on campus Barda-Dowling Stadium at Mount Carmel and everything that went into that new facility, but did it go maybe above and beyond even your expectations last season?

Lynch: It really did go above my expectations last year to be honest and I'm someone who played at Gately Stadium and who played on the old AstroTurf. I sound really old but that was just 10 years or so ago. I Ioved Gately Stadium and I loved playing there, but that was 10-11 years ago and times have changed. The thing I always noticed playing at Gately was our student section never really traveled to Gately and we never had a great student section. When we moved our games to Mount Carmel our student section really came alive. They came up with different themes each week and different chants and they really bought in. The student section in the end zone was packed every single time and that was really the first time as a player and now as a coach I felt a home atmosphere and we finally had an advantage playing at home now. For the people who haven't been out yet to see a game it reminds me of a Division 2 or Division 3 atmosphere. It's compact and it's tight. It seats 2,200 I believe and we make sure we pack it. It has an old school feeling too where sometimes people don't like to sit in the stands and instead just stand around the field. It was just great and a big reason why we went undefeated at home last season.

EDGYTIM: What stood out to me about last season's 14-0 state title run was that you didn't exactly blow anyone out of games week in and week out. You had a lot of tight games, yet it never felt for the most part that you were ever out of any games and even though the scores were close, they really didn't feel that close. Is that by design or was that just me?

Lynch:  Kind of how I felt the season played out when I look back on it is that when you think of Mount Carmel, the first thing that comes to mind is defense and you think of Dave Lenti (defensive coordinator). That guy doesn't get enough credit for a lot of things, but there is a reason why Mount Carmel has been super successful over the years and Dave has a lot to do with it. We pride ourselves on defense and we pride ourselves on grinding teams out. The scores in those games doesn't indicate the game necessarily and for three quarters there will be some teams with our schedule, some high powered teams who are going to be in the game with us. We really pride ourselves and why we train like we do in the off season is that come the fourth quarter we wear teams out. We will stick to the run game, we will eat some clock up and we are going to rely on our defense. We have some great play makers on offense who can do some special things, but I'm not going to drop back and throw the ball 50 times a game. I'm going to run the ball 50 times a game and grind you out for three quarters and when it comes to the fourth quarter, who wants it the most? A lot of the games were close bit in the fourth quarter you saw the clock management, the run game and upfront we just seemed to get stronger and stronger as the game wore on. That's Mount Carmel kind of football in a nutshell and how we play.

EDGYTIM: So who are your nonconference games for next season and have you realized that the CCL/ESCC will be even more stacked with loaded teams in 2020 who all bring back a ton of experience from last season?

Lynch:  From what I've heard alot of kids are coming back from last season and a lot of the teams are returning a lot of starters. It's the Catholic League Blue and I wouldn't want it any other way. We open up at home against Calumet High who we played last year as well. The only thing that really changes in our schedule this year from last year is that we play Phillips in Week 2 then after that it leads right into another grinder. It really comes down to who can stay the healthiest and who can have the most momentum heading into Week 10.

EDGYTIM: So let's say we finally get past this whole coronavirus ordeal. I decided to take you out for dinner and I'm buying...so where are you taking me?

Lynch:  Man that's tough. One of my go-to spots is I'm a big pizza guy. I would say that over the last 15 years or so my parents have always been going to Roseangla's Pizza in Evergreen Park. That's a spot on almost every Thursday you can catch me eating there.  So that's a spot where me and you could sit down and have a nice little hangout. That's where we would go.