Cubs

Prospect's O'Hara finds his niche at quarterback

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Prospect's O'Hara finds his niche at quarterback

Devin O'Hara began playing football with the Arlington Cowboys in third grade. His father Les, who quarterbacked at Lane Tech and Minnesota, taught him how to play the game. He loved to throw the ball and control the game.

He dreamed of playing in the Big Ten, like his father.

Then he got sidetracked for a couple of years. As a sophomore on Prospect's varsity, he was shifted to safety. As a junior, he was moved to wide receiver. He caught 50 passes for 500 yards. But the 6-foot-5, 180-pounder wanted to be a quarterback.

"I was a quarterback my whole life," O'Hara said. "I wanted to be quarterback as a junior. It was a little disappointing. They aimed to being a running team with Sam Frasco at quarterback. After the season, I told (coach Mike Sebestyen) that I wanted to be quarterback as a senior. I wanted the job very bad. I wouldn't let anything stop me from being quarterback."

Sebestyen, coming off a 5-5 season and preparing for his second year as head coach, had O'Hara in mind. "Traditionally, we put our best athlete and leader at quarterback. Since Miles Osei left, we have made a receiver the quarterback the next year. Devin is very athletic. We had played quarterback at lower levels. We knew he could do it," the coach said.

If there were any doubts, O'Hara quickly dispelled them. In Prospect's opening 55-41 victory over Glenbrook South, O'Hara rushed for 333 yards and six touchdowns and threw a 93-yard scoring pass to Nikko Gountanis on the Knights' first play from scrimmage.

In last Friday's 35-14 upset of Glenbrook North in the opening round of the Class 7A playoff, O'Hara ran for three touchdowns and completed 8 of 10 passes for 214 yards, including a 61-yarder to Joe Gleason that set up another touchdown. Jack Tuttle rushed 22 times for 160 yards and two touchdowns.

Prospect, which has won four games in a row after a 3-3 start, will host highly rated Wheaton North (9-1) in the second round on Friday night.

O'Hara, who has a scholarship offer from Western Illinois, has rushed for 1,300 yards and passed for 1,200 in Sebestyen's spread offense that utilizes four receiver sets.

Spread? Why not the split-back veer. Sebestyen is the son of Don Sebestyen, who was head coach at Fenwick for five years and served on Frank Lenti's staff at Mount Carmel from 1987 to 2000. He currently is principal at Providence in New Lenox.

But Mike, 36, has a lot of Prospect blood in him. He was varsity assistant under Brent Pearlman for 10 years. He coached on the state championship teams of 2001, 2002 and 2005. He knows what tradition is all about -- at Mount Carmel and Prospect.

"After spending so many years with Brent, we were successful running this (spread) offense," Sebestyen said. "We run some veer out of a shotgun to make my father and Frank Lenti proud. I tried to dabble at playing quarterback and tried to throw the ball, but we run 55 times a game. I still have some Catholic League in me."

O'Hara couldn't be happier. "I feel confident in my passing skills. I know we are more of a running team. We run about 25 times a game and throw about 10. I relish that role. I have good vision when I run. I have a lot of fun running with the ball. My offensive line opens up a lot of space," he said.

He admired Osei when he was younger and watching Prospect games. He was a freshman when Osei was a senior. He was promoted to the varsity for the playoff as a freshman. They worked together and O'Hara noted how patient and poised Osei was in the pocket.

"I like to think of myself as another Osei, only four inches taller," O'Hara said. "He is the best player ever to come out of Prospect. I would love to be as good as him. But I'm not the same player. When he played, he was a great passer. He passed more than he ran."

O'Hara's favorite play is called the "speed option to the outside." It is like a quarterback sweep except O'Hara has the option to pitch to Tuttle or Steve Isteefanos.

But O'Hara also has another tough assignment against Wheaton North. As a starting cornerback, he likely will be called upon to defend against Clayton Thorson, Wheaton North's outstanding 6-foot-4 junior wide receiver.

"We have to play our best game of the year in each round of the playoff because each team will be more talented and more physical," he said.

To counter Wheaton North's explosive offense, O'Hara will rely on his four wide receivers--5-foot-9, 170-pound junior Nikko Gountanis, 6-foot, 195-pound senior Andrew Hajek, 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior Joe Gleason and 5-foot-10, 160-pound junior Luis Leguer -- and his two running backs, 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior Jack Tuttle and 5-foot-5, 145-pound senior Steve Isteefanos. Pat Costello, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior tackle, is the mainstay of the offensive line.

Defensively, Prospect is anchored by O'Hara at cornerback, Hajek at linebacker, 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior end Mike Houghton, 6-foot-4, 230-pound end Colin Olson, 6-foot-1, 260-pound tackle Shola George and 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior tackle Kevin Kern.

"Last year (5-5) was a learning experience for all of us," Sebestyen said. "We struggled at the beginning and started 1-3. But I was proud of the way the kids fought back in divisional play. We took Elk Grove to the last play and lost by three--and they got to the quarterfinals. Then we lost to Glenbard West in the first round.

"It was a good experience in the sense that our kids got to experience a playoff game. For them, those three state championship teams were a long time ago. With nine starters back, we thought they could be a good group. We only have 32 on the varsity. We feel we have overcome adversity. We are where we expected to be--playing in November."

O'Hara believes this team has succeeded where last year's team didn't.

"The overall attitude and work ethic and bond of this team is different. There wasn't a great feeling that we were playing together last year. We never got what we should have out of the season. We changed our whole attitude and vibe this year and we're starting to take off," he said.

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Much has been made about Wednesday night's brawl between the Marlins and Braves, which started when Braves young star Ronald Acuna was nailed in the elbow with a 99 mph fastball from Jose Urena. The strangest part of the whole situation was that it seemed like Urena was unprovoked by Acuna or any of the Braves players prior to plunking the former No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.  

The ever wise Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was asked about the incident prior to Thursday's game, making it clear he felt plays like these needed to leave the game entirely. 

It was announced Thursday afternoon that Urena would be suspended just 6 games for intentionally throwing Acuna, which means the Marlins starter will likely only miss one game for trying to hurt Acuna. The good news is that Acuna did not sustain any serious injuries, but Joe Maddon is right there is no reason for people to be hurling nearly triple-digit fastballs at players. Whether provoked or not, intentionally throwing at players is something that needs to be phased out of the game, and its safe to assume Maddon would agree. 

Kyle Hendricks embracing change as he looks to regain top form

Kyle Hendricks embracing change as he looks to regain top form

Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks has had an up-and-down 2018 season due to some mechanical struggles in repeating his delivery, to maximize the movement on his four-pitch mix that he uses to compensate for a lack of overpowering velocity. However, over the past eight starts, Hendricks has worked extremely hard at fixing the mechanical flaws that he and pitching coach Jim Hickey identified. With several hours of intensive film study, the results are very encouraging.

Over those eight starts Hendricks has gone 4-1 and the Cubs have seen a much more similar version of the pitcher who dominated opposing hitters during the 2016 season.
 
In fact, a closer look at a handful of statistical categories shows Hendricks trending upward as the season moves into its final 40 games. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has gone from 72 K's against 30 BB's to 51 K's against just 6 BB's. His strikeouts per inning have gone from 72 in 97 innings of work to 51 in just 47 2/3 innings since July 9th. His home runs allowed have plummeted from 16 allowed in 97 innings to only 4 in his last 47 2/3 innings. His swing and miss rate has also increased as he has worked through his mechanical struggles. Finally, while there has been an uptick in hits allowed, it appears as if Hendricks has pitched to some bad luck, compiling a .346 BABIP (Batting Average On Balls In Play) which is unsustainable based on his career average of .278 entering 2018. 
 
Add all of these factors together, along with a video study of Hendricks performances from 2016, 2017 and 2018—which indicated some stark differences—and the recent fix indicates that the best of Kyle Hendricks in 2018 is right around the corner. When Hendricks is at his best, he is standing tall on the mound and pitching downhill with outstanding rotation of his body, which contributes to the excellent downward movement that he gets on his variety of pitches. From his fastball to his change up and curveball, Hendricks relies on downward action to fool hitters. However, in 2018 he was seeing most of his pitch movement from side to side rather than up and down. A lack of body rotation and a lack of height on his back leg during his follow through—which is different from his 2016 mechanical approach—contributed to a flattening out of his pitches and dramatically increased hard contact. 
 
"I just got out of sync and it is not easy to fix pitching mechanics overnight but Hick and Borzy (pitching coaches Jim Hickey and Mike Borzello) and I watched a lot of tape and we saw that I wasn't standing tall on the mound plus I wasn't getting enough rotation in my body and that contributed to my pitches flattening out and not getting that downward action that I was used to," Hendricks told me. In speaking with a major league advance scout who studied Hendricks over the course of several starts, he saw his arm much farther behind his body in 2016 and 2017, but his arm not as far back in the first half of 2018. This contributed to a lack of movement on his change up and he believes it also affected his ability to get hitters out on his fastball at the top of the zone, which he was able to do successfully in 2016 and 2017. 


"I see a pitcher who looks markedly better and I would expect him to have a very strong finish to this season. I love the way he competes and as long as he stays in sync with his mechanics he should be the pitcher the Cubs expected to see whenever he takes the ball for them," the scout told me.