Semper Fi All-American Bowl for eight local gridders


Semper Fi All-American Bowl for eight local gridders

Friday, Sept. 23, 2011
Posted: 12:08 p.m.
By Taylor Bell

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Eight Chicago area products have been chosen to participate in the first Semper Fidelis All-America Bowl, the U.S. Marine Corps' contribution to high school football entertainment and the latest All-Star event to showcase the leading prospects in the nation.

The inaugural game, co-sponsored by Junior Rank Sports, will be played on Jan. 3, 2012 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona, home of major league baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks. It will be telecast on CBS Sports Network.

The eight local representatives are offensive lineman Jordan Diamond of Simeon, wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp of Montini, defensive end Faith Ekakitie of Lake Forest Academy, running backs Malin Jones of Joliet Catholic and Mike Panico of Carmel, linebacker Antonio Morrison of Bolingbrook and defensive backs Maurice Fleming of Curie and Anthony Standifer of Crete-Monee.

Westerkamp is committed to Nebraska, Jones to Northwestern, Morrison to Florida, Fleming to Iowa and Standifer to Michigan. Fleming likely won't be able to play, however. He is missing the entire 2011 season with an ACL injury.

According to nationally known recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, who is chairman of the selection committee, Illinois-bound defensive lineman Vontrell Williams of Mount Carmel, Oklahoma State-bound quarterback Wes Lunt of Rochester and Iowa-bound defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson of Montini also are being considered.

Two of the state's leading prospects, Penn State-bound defensive tackle Tommy Schutt of Glenbard West and Iowa-bound offensive lineman Ryan Ward of Providence, previously accepted invitations to participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Tx.

Lemming had served as chairman of the selection committee for the U.S.
Army All-Star event for eight years but decided to join the Marines and his friend, Shoan Berry, founder of Junior Rank, when Rivals became a co-partner in the Army game.

"I'm more comfortable as chairman of the committee. Here, I'm my own boss," Lemming said. "We have to build this game from scratch. I like the fact that I can help build it from scratch, like the Army game. The Army game is on its own now and I'd like to do this one on my own."

Lemming began selecting players for the two 50-man rosters last April, four months after the other All-Star games (Army, Under Armour) had started. He has chosen 70 and will fill the other 30 spots after the 2011 season.

"I'll wait until November to see which seniors step up," Lemming said. "Some seniors take the year off if they have a lot of scholarship offers. I want to reward kids who have great senior years."

Lemming said he has extended an invitation to the nation's No. 1 player, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham of Springfield, Mo. But he hasn't made a decision yet.

Other highly rated players who have committed to the Semper Fidelis game include five standouts from California--strong safety Shaq Thompson of Sacramento, running back Byron Marshall of San Jose, Notre Dame-bound wide receiver Deontay Greenberry of Fresno, Notre Dame-bound cornerback Tee Shepard of Fresno and 6-foot-8, 315-pound offensive tackle Freddie Tagaloa of Richmond.

Lemming rates Thompson as one of the two best players on the West Coast, Marshall as the top ball-carrier on the West Coast, Greenberry as the leading wide receiver on the West Coast, Shepard as the best cornerback on the West Coast and Tagaloa as one of the best offensive tackles in the nation.

Among others who have agreed to play in the game are Washington-bound quarterback Jeff Lindquist of Mercer Island, Wash., Wisconsin-bound quarterback Bart Houston of San Ramone, Calif., running back Rushel Shell of Aliquippa, Pa., Miami-bound quarterback David Thompson of Palmetto Bay, Fla., Penn State-bound tight end Jesse James of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Notre Dame-bound defensive tackle Sheldon Day of Indianapolis, Ind.

Lindquist is the best quarterback in the Northwest, Shell is a top-15 prospect whom Lemming describes as one of the three best running backs in the nation, Day was tapped by Notre Dame ahead of Schutt and is rated the No. 2 player in Indiana while Thompson is the best high school baseball player in the nation and may be the next Joe Maurer in the June draft.

Lemming hopes to make the Semper Fidelis game more competitive than the others. He will conduct a draft in late November and choose teams according to talent rather than location. He reminds that the Army game hasn't been competitive since it began in 2002.

"We will be the No. 1 high school All-America game in the next two years," Berry predicted. "We didn't want to select kids because they were fast or tall but because they were good people and good students. We are looking for the best athletes who also are the best people. We don't think other All-Star games recognize character or academic performance or community involvement."

Junior Rank is a Chicago-based sports media company that conducts a number of footall combines for junior athletes (11-16) around the country. It is dedicated to evaluating, recognizing and rewarding great student athletes while giving parents the tools, resources and opportunities to help fulfill their children's dreams of playing college sports.

Berry's organization also sponsors a junior academic All-America game for seventh and eighth graders. And he plans to launch All-Star events in baseball, basketball, lacrosse, gymnastics and wrestling at some point.

"We want to highlight athletes for the right reasons in the right way,"
Berry said. "Our camps are about instruction and development and character-building."

He hopes Junior Rank will serve as a pipeline for future Semper Fidelis football games. For example, 13-year-old Erik Swenson of Naperville, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound left offensive tackle, is a straight-A student in eighth grade who already is catching the attention of Big 10 coaches.

Ty Isaac, Joliet Catholic's outstanding running back and one of the top-rated juniors in the state, is a product of the Junior Rank program.

Berry's 13-year-old son, Justin, a quarterback who lives in St. Charles and will attend Wheaton Academy, has attracted interest from Harvard and UCLA.

Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis, a junior offensive tackle, is rated among the leading prospects in the class of 2013 in Illinois. Also Chad Beebe, a freshman wide receiver at Aurora Christian and son of Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe.

Should the Cubs bring Daniel Murphy back in 2019?

Should the Cubs bring Daniel Murphy back in 2019?

With MLB Hot Stove season about 10 days away, Cubs fans are on the edge of their seats waiting to see how Theo Epstein's front office will reshape an underperforming lineup this winter.

The first step in that will be determining if there is a future with Daniel Murphy in Chicago and if so, what that future might entail. 

Murphy's introduction to the North Side fanbase was rocky, but he drew rave reviews from his teammates and coaches for how he conducted himself in the month-and-a-half he wore a Cubs uniform. 

He also filled a serious hole in the Cubs lineup, hitting .297 with an .800 OPS in 35 games (138 at-bats) while spending most of his time in the leadoff spot, helping to set the tone. Extrapolating Murphy's Cubs tenure over 550 plate appearances, it would be good for 23 homers, 86 runs, 49 RBI and 23 doubles over a full season. That would be worth 3.4 WAR by FanGraphs' measure, which would've ranked third on the Cubs among position players in 2018 behind only Javy Baez (5.3 WAR) and Ben Zobrist (3.6). (By comparison, Baseball Reference rated Murphy a -0.2 WAR player with the Cubs due to a much worse rating on defense.) 

Murphy's performance defensively at second base left quite a bit to be desired, but it's also worth pointing out he had major surgery on his right knee last fall. The procedure wasn't just a cleanup — he had microfracture surgery and cartilage debridement and wasn't able to return to the field until the middle of June this summer despite an Oct. 20, 2017 surgery.

The Cubs will begin the 2019 season without a clear, everyday choice at second base and the lineup can use a guy like Murphy, who has a great approach each time up and leads baseball with a .362 batting average with runners in scoring position since the start of the 2016 season.

So could a reunion be in the cards?

"I wouldn't rule anything out," Epstein said the day after the Cubs' 2018 campaign ended prematurely. "It was a pleasure having Daniel here. He did a lot to right our offense right after he got here and contribute while being asked to play a bigger role than we envisioned when we got him because of some other injuries, because of our lack of performance offensively and then because of the schedule. He was asked to play a lot more than expected, than probably he was ready to based on the proximity to his knee surgery.

"So I think he's gonna have a real beneficial offseason, get even stronger and be ready to contribute next year. Which league that's in and for what team remains to be seen. But I certainly think he acquitted himself well here, was REALLY respected by his teammates. Our guys loved talking hitting with him. It was a daily occurrence. Long discussions about hitting with him, picking his brain. 

"We look a lot better with him than without him, so I wouldn't rule anything out."

There's a lot to unpack here. Epstein was refreshingly honest throughout his whole press conference and that continued with regards to Murphy.

For starters, notice how Epstein first said he wasn't sure "what league" Murphy will be playing in. The Cubs president of baseball operations is typically extremely measured when speaking with the public and he almost never says anything by accident.

Murphy will turn 34 April 1 and was never renowned as an elite fielder even before that major knee surgery. Meaning: The writing has been on the wall for over a year that the veteran may be best suited for a designated hitter role with his new contract and Epstein is clearly well aware of that perception/narrative.

The other aspect of Epstein's comments is how he began and ended his statement on Murphy — that he wouldn't rule anything out and the Cubs obviously thought it was a successful pairing.

It's hard to argue with that on the offensive side of things and his impact was also felt off the field, where he was praised often by his teammates and coaches for talking hitting with younger players like Ian Happ and David Bote. 

Imagine how the final 6 weeks of the season would've looked had the Cubs not acquired Murphy in the middle of August to agument the lineup. The Brewers would've probably nabbed the division lead well before a Game 163.

Still, Murphy's hitting prowess both on and off the field wasn't enough to help the Cubs lineup avoid a slide that led to a date with the couch before the NLDS even began. Epstein's statement about how the Cubs "look a lot better" with Murphy than without is probably more about how fresh the sting was from the inept offense that managed just 2 runs scored in 22 innings in the final two games of the season.

Given his consistency the last few years, his advanced approach at the plate and his (recent) unrivaled ability to come through in key spots, Murphy's bat would be a welcome addition to any Cubs lineup moving forward. 

But it would still be tough to fit Murphy on the Cubs' 2019 roster for a variety of reasons. 

For starters, if the Cubs truly have a desire to write out a more consistent lineup next year, it's tough to add another aging veteran to a mix that already includes Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 next year), especially when they both spend a majority of their time at the same position (second base) and shouldn't be considered everyday players at this stage in their respective careers.

Murphy's defense/range also doesn't figure to get much better as he ages — even with an offseason to get his knee back up to 100 percent health — and second base is a key spot for run prevention, especially in turning double plays with a pitching staff that induces a lot of contact and groundballs.

Offensively, Murphy isn't perfect, either. He's never walked much, but in 2018, he posted his lowest walk rate since 2013. He also struck out 15.7 percent of the time in a Cubs uniform and while that's a small sample size, it still represents his highest K% since his rookie 2008 season (18.5 percent). 

Then there's the splits — the left-handed Murphy hit just .238 with a .564 OPS vs. southpaws in 2018, a far cry from the .319 average and .864 OPS he posted against right-handed pitchers. That was a steep drop-off from the previous three seasons (2015-17), in which he put up a .296 average and .810 OPS against lefties.

Add it all up and Murphy's potential fit with the 2019 Cubs is questionable at best, especially if an American League team hands him more money and years to come DH for them and hit near the top of their order.

But like Epstein said, don't rule anything out.

Let's listen to the Bears-Patriots' wild finish in other languages, because it's way better that way


Let's listen to the Bears-Patriots' wild finish in other languages, because it's way better that way

Remember Sunday's Bears-Patriots finish? The one where the Bears (and Kevin White -- shouts to Kevin White!) were one-yard away from tying the game on a hail mary? 

Here was the call that most viewers heard, which was Extremely Meh: 

Now here's the call that viewers in Germany and Portugal heard, which is SO MUCH BETTER: 

Turns out that being excited for an exciting play makes for good television, who woulda thought.