7A: Haeffner hopes to give Glenbard West an edge

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7A: Haeffner hopes to give Glenbard West an edge

Don't you just wish that once in your lifetime, just once, a coach will look into a camera on national television and deliver a scathing scouting report on his opponent?
That team is poorly coached. Bad, bad, bad. The quarterback is vastly overrated. Is his mother writing his evaluations? The defense is small, slow and hits like a sissy. Hey, who taught these guys how to block and tackle, Elmer Fudd?
Bulletin board material, right?
Well, as they approach Saturday's Class 7A championship game in Champaign, coaches Rob Zvonar of Lincoln-Way East and Chad Hetlet of Glenbard West are more subdued--and a lot more diplomatic. This match-up of unbeaten suburban powers could be a classic.
"Lincoln-Way East is well-coached," said Hetlet. "Their quarterback (Tom Fuessel) is a candidate for Player of the Year. If not the best, one of the top three. His speed and skill is something we haven't seen. He is special. And their defense is as good as anyone we have seen."
Zvonar is equally gracious about Glenbard West. "Put them on film. I am amazed at how hard and fast and physical they play. It is championship football the way it is supposed to be. We must commit seven or eight in the box to stop the run. They do a nice job on offense in tweaking formations to get you lined up where they want you. And they are effective in the passing game. Judge the quarterback on what they do if they decided to be in a spread," he said.
Glenbard West passing? What in the name of Bill Duchon is he talking about? There was a time when throwing two passes was one too many, when a quarterback practiced handoffs in his sleep, when he didn't dare lift his arm in a throwing motion for fear of never seeing the field again.
"I grew up watching Glenbard West football games. My dream was to play for them. Now I am living that dream," said quarterback Henry Haeffner. "Sure, I knew Glenbard West had a reputation for running the ball and hardly ever throwing it.
"But as a quarterback, my biggest thing was to manage the offense, no matter what offense. He has to be the one in charge. I had no dreams of throwing the ball 30 times a game. I just do what I have to do to help my team win. My role is to be the leader and make sure we play to the fullest of our capability. And to execute if we need to throw the ball."
Haeffner, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior, has given Glenbard West's offense an added dimension. He has passed for 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns to take pressure off the Hilltoppers' running game. One of his primary targets is 6-foot-5, 210-pound Vanderbilt-bound tight end Nathan Marcus.
"No. 83 (Marcus) is one of the best high school players in the state," said Lake Zurich coach Dave Proffitt. "They use him very smartly and wisely. He is very hard to defend as a receiver. If Lincoln-Way East can slow down No. 83 or contain him, they have a good chance to win. But nobody has been able to do it."
Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg said Glenbard West is the best team he has seen in the last four years. After losing 49-7 in Week 3, he said the Hilltoppers' defense is best he has seen...speed, aggressive, physical. He said junior safety Hayden Carlson is the best defensive back he has seen all year. Carlson was voted as the defensive player of the year in the West Suburban Silver Conference.
"When the ball is snapped, they come at you full speed," Weinberg said. "They have a relentless personality on offensive, defense and special teams. And they are doing an excellent job of mixing up their offense more than ever. They were more predictable in other years. This year, they keep people guessing more than ever."
Hetlet said his team is playing its best football at the right time, especially on defense. The defensive leaders are Carlson, linebacker Joe Marconi, end Ruben Dunbar and linebacker Tyler Dayton. On offense, Marcus and guard Nick Garland are the marquee players. Garland was named the West Suburban Silver's offensive lineman of the year.
"This team is very deep. We have a lot of players who can play if called upon. But the best thing is chemistry. We're all best friends. We love each other. We can count on each other," Haeffner said.
Leaders? Lots of them, Haeffner said. He singled out Garland, Marconi, running back Joe Zito, linebacker Erik Strittmatter and offensive lineman Jake Brodner.
Haeffner got his quarterbacking education as a backup to Justice Odom last year. He started three games when Odom was injured, then played on the junior varsity. He studied the playbook, learned to read defenses and developed his passing skills. He hoped he would need them. He was right.
"There is always pressure to perform," he said. "I try not to think about it. I'm out there having fun, doing what I've liked to do for my whole life. I've put in a lot of time preparing for it. I know the tradition of the program. Football is a big deal in Glen Ellyn. I know how important it is, something you like to watch.
"It is bigger than yourself. It isn't about one player. You put work in so you can succeed but more importantly so your team and friends can succeed. Statistics aren't important to me. I'm just happy that the team has been successful. My goal was to be a contributor for the team to win football games. I'm pleased with the way I have played."
Haeffner admitted he never has been more pleased than last Saturday when he threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to senior Nathan Hokenson on the second snap of Glenbard West's 19-13 victory over Lake Zurich. He finished with 141 yards passing and two touchdowns, including a 21-yarder to Marcus.
But the TD pass to Hokenson was special. "He has been one of my best friends for a long time. He was running a deep post. That's a play I'll never forget. I'm so happy it was somebody I've known for a long time," Haeffner said.
Glenbard West is big and strong and physical and talented. But are the Hilltoppers good enough to beat Lincoln-Way East, which by all accounts also is big and strong and physical and talented?
"Lincoln-Way East is the most physical team we have played in 34 years," said Montini coach Chris Andriano after losing to the Griffins 20-14 in Week 2. "I never saw a team that hit as consistently and as hard and as fast as they did on defense. They were smothering. We have played a lot of big-name teams over the years but they just take it to you on every play," he said.
Andriano said Lincoln-Way East quarterback Tom Fuessel is special. "He is so fast. You can't contain him. He will make plays. They have great coaching and great kids. I love the way they play," he said.
Providence coach Mark Coglianese said any conversation about Lincoln-Way East starts with Fuessel. "We did a good job of containing him. Then he broke a long one. He is the quickest or fastest guy on the field. He makes plays. He is a big concern for any defense. Athletically, he is the best player I have seen this year," he said.
But Coglianese cautions not to overlook running back Nick Colangelo. "Don't ease up on him or he will hurt you," he said.
"They don't throw exceptionally well. But their defense is like Mount Carmel: fast and physical. You need to throw the ball to beat them. But you better protect your quarterback. Fuessel can make a difference, like Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic."
The key to Lincoln-Way East's defense, according to Zvonar, are the three linebackers--Mitch Murphy, Adam O'Grady and Kyle Langenderfer--and free safety Jarrett Lecas. Call them mean and lean and aggressive.
Murphy has 131 tackles, Langenderfer 112, O'Grady 111 and Lecas 110. Only 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, Langenderfer defines the Griffins' toughness. He is the defending state wrestling champion at 138 pounds. As a sophomore football player, he weighed only 135. Zvonar admits he is closer to 5-foot-6 than his listed 5-foot-8.
"He is our team leader on defense," Zvonar said. "He is as physical and as quick and aggressive as any football player we have had. His wrestling skills carry over to the football field. I compare him to Clay Matthews (of the Green Bay Packers). He is our mini-Matthews."

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

White Sox fall to Diamondbacks in series opener

Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

Luis Robert the latest high-end acquisition for White Sox

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

MMQB's Peter King's thoughts on Trubisky, Howard, White and the Bears offense

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”