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8A: Can Mount Carmel stop Glenbard North's Jackson?

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8A: Can Mount Carmel stop Glenbard North's Jackson?

Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens is building a case for Justin Jackson as the Player of the Year in Illinois.
"I wouldn't trade him for anybody," Wilkens said.
Ty Isaac? Matt Alviti? Chris Streveler? Aaron Bailey? Laquon Treadwell? Tom Fuessel? Brandon Mayes? Joey Borsellino? Kendrick Foster?
"He never comes off the field. He has rushed for more than 2,500 yards and 36 touchdowns. He plays every down on defense as a cornerback. He makes plays on offense and defense. We lost our punter so he punts, too. In the fourth quarter, he wants the ball in his hands so he can make plays."
"That's not all. He is one of our best leaders. He has a 5.0 grade-point average on a 5.0 scale in honors classes. He also competes in basketball and track. He is a well-rounded young man. Above all, in the third and fourth quarter, he still is breaking long runs. He has great stamina for all the pounding he takes. He amazes me."
Jackson, a 6-foot, 175-pound junior, has been even more amazing in the state playoff.
In a 31-24 victory over Fremd, he rushed 32 times for 163 yards and three touchdowns.
In a 23-14 victory over Stevenson, he powered 48 times for 216 yards and three touchdowns.
In a 27-23 victory over Maine South, he carried 36 times for 212 yards and four touchdowns.
In a 27-24 victory over Loyola, he rushed 46 times for 230 yards and three touchdowns.
Where would Glenbard North be without him? The Panthers (12-1) have won their last seven games by margins of 6, 2, 7, 7, 9, 6 and 3 points. They'll put the ball in his hands on Saturday night in the Class 8A championship game against Mount Carmel (12-1) at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
"I like to have the ball in my hands all the time," Jackson said. "If they called my number on every play, I'd prefer it that way. I feel like that's what we do best--run the ball."
Mount Carmel defensive coordinator David Lenti is bracing for the challenge. "It is a challenge to take away an opponent's No. 1 asset. Jackson is the best running back we have seen all year. He has great breakaway speed. Someone said he reminds him of Gale Sayers and Eric Dickerson," Lenti said.
"The key to his success is he doesn't take a lot of big hits. He has such good moves. He is so elusive. We've watched a lot of film and we haven't seen anyone lay a hammer on him."
"Jackson is in select company. He makes a lot of good things happen," Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti said.
Jackson credits his offensive line. And he doesn't hesitate to name every one of them. And please spell the names correctly. Left tackle Chris Edwards (6-foot-1, 285 pounds, junior). Left guard D'Angelo Hodges (6-foot-3, 285 pounds, senior). Center Marcus Perez (5-foot-10, 225 pounds, senior). Right guard Mitch Siver (5-foot-10, 280 pounds, senior). Right tackle Eric Graham (6-foot-2, 255 pounds, junior). Tight end Bryan Leckner(6-foot-5, 200 pounds, senior).
Don't forget fullback Shawn Lenahan (5-foot-11, 220 pounds, senior). "He's my man. He's done a great job all year. He kicks out the big guys. He brings a punch," Jackson said. One more thing: Perez, a defensive tackle, is in only his second week as the starting center. He replaced Ethan Hernandez, who was injured.
"Any talk about Player of the Year starts with team success...the wins, the DuPage Valley Conference championship, going to state. All the credit goes to the offensive line. They are blocking for me. What is really important is for us to win the state title. We've been second three times (1991, 2000, 2007). It's time to take the next step as a program," Jackson said.
"I feel like we have gotten better over the past few weeks. Our running game has improved so much. Ball control and time of possession is important. The best way to beat a spread team is to control the ball.
"Last year, we were intimidated by Loyola's size (in a 28-13 semifinal loss). But we we prepared well this year. We were more confident. We executed this year. We won the line of scrimmage. I was proud of our team effort. We won as a team."
Unlike the Mr. Basketball award which annually recognizes the state's top basketball player, there is no Mr. Football award in Illinois. So there are more than a few Player of the Year selections. Perhaps the most respected is the Chicago Daily NewsChicago Sun-Times award, which dates to 1951.
Jackson could be only the third junior to be honored. The others were Vocational's Dick Butkus in 1959 and Joliet Catholic's Ty Isaac last year. Butkus was injured most of his senior year and didn't repeat. Isaac's senior year also has been riddled with injuries.
"Wow. Butkus. That's a nice class to be in," Jackson admitted.
He has made his reputation largely on two plays that are the steak and potatoes of Glenbard North's offense.
"They are called power and joker," he said. "It's the same play. On power, the fullback kicks out the defensive end and the guard pulls through to hit the linebacker. On joker, it is switched with the guard kicking out and the fullback pulling through. They are our trademark plays."
To beat Mount Carmel, Glenbard North must control the ball and the clock with Jackson, then slug it out with the Caravan's defense.
"If it was just the split-back veer, it would be so much of a problem," Wilkens said. "But they do so much more with the veer. It is hard to simulate the footwork of the quarterback. It isn't easy to prepare for them in five days."
Providence coach Mark Coglianese, whose team lost to Mount Carmel 17-0 in Week 9, agrees with Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti's assessment that he has the best kicker (Ivan Strmic) and punter (Joe Pavlik) in the Catholic League.
"The kicking game is a big strength for them. Field position can be important in a big game," Coglianese said. "They run the option as good as anyone, with the precision of a surgeon. And they will exploit any mistake that you make. They aren't overly big on defense but they are fast and physical and get to the ball and make plays. On paper, they don't look like one of the best Mount Carmel teams but they find ways to get it done."
Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti thinks one of the major strengths of this team is its selfless attitude. All egos are checked at the locker room door. "It's the 'we' thing, not the 'me' thing. Last year, our team was 'me, me, me.' These kids realize that doesn't work. They do what the coaches tell them. They realize we have have had a lot of success by listening to the coaches," he said.
"To get kids to learn to defend the split-back veer in a short time is difficult," said Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg, whose team lost to Mount Carmel 45-10 in the quarterfinals. "Give them different looks. Don't sit in a base defense or they will figure you out. You have to score early. They aren't built to score quickly or score from behind.
"A team that can throw the ball well can give them trouble. They do a good job of letting you get deep. The area in the middle of the field, from 8 to 12 yards, must be attacked. They are so adept at making adjustments on offense. Whatever look you show them, they have seen it before. You have to try to stay a step ahead of them."
And hope Justin Jackson is moving the chains.

Nerds in Sports Podcast: Being a 'professional nerd' and Star Wars theories about Rey's parents

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Nerds in Sports Podcast: Being a 'professional nerd' and Star Wars theories about Rey's parents

On this edition of Nerds in Sports, we talk with io9.com senior editor Rob Bricken.

Rob explains how he juggles being a fan with being a ‘professional’ nerd, how he came to run io9.com, plus his theory on why Rey’s parents are in Star Wars may shock you.

Kevin Anderson and Michael Piff co-host. We are Nerds. In sports.

Listen to the Nerds in Sports Podcast here.

Blackhawks Camp Synopsis: Roster starting to take shape

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Camp Synopsis: Roster starting to take shape

One week down, roughly one week to go.

Some things have fallen into place during the Blackhawks’ first seven days of training camp but this week is when it really gets interesting. The roster will continue to take shape and the competition for the few vacancies will intensify. Here’s a look at what we’ve already seen in Week 1 and questions for Week 2.

Stock Rising

Jordan Oesterle. We could put a few of the young forwards here, but we’ve talked about them quite a bit and will continue to do so. So right now let’s look at Oesterle, who coach Joel Quenneville liked “a lot” in Thursday’s game against the Red Wings. A puck moving defenseman, Oesterle said he played on the right side with the Edmonton Oilers but could also play on the left. If Oesterle has another good week of camp, that and his versatility might get him a chance on a Blackhawks defense still looking for the right pieces.  

Stock Falling

Tomas Jurco. Please realize where we’re coming from with this assessment: where does he fit in this lineup? He didn’t get a lot of opportunities last season but when he did play there wasn’t anything that made him stand out. Stan Bowman likes him and much like with David Rundblad, the Blackhawks want to give the Jurco a chance to justify the draft pick they gave up for him (a third-round selection from the 2017 draft). Several young guys are pushing hard for roster spots. Can Jurco be an every-day player or do the Blackhawks have a decision to make in favor of some of those up-and-coming players? Just very interested to see how this turns out.

Biggest surprise

Nick Schmaltz’s second-line center opportunity. Maybe we should’ve been more open minded to this happening but considering how little that line changed last year you figured Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane would stay together even after the Artemi Panarin trade. But given the strides Schmaltz has made in his own game and the skating work he and Kane did together this offseason, Quenneville wants to see what Schmaltz can do in the middle. There’s always tinkering with this team; we really should have seen the possibility coming but we didn’t.

Some Remaining Questions

- If there’s one forward spot vacant out of training camp, which young player wins it? John Hayden. Here’s why: even if Alex DeBrincat doesn’t make this team out of camp, the Blackhawks’ top six is looking pretty good. Meanwhile the bottom six, especially that fourth line, has some holes. Getting a young player with some size, speed, skill and sandpaper that Quenneville likes and trusts (and he likes and trusts Hayden) would be a great addition to the bottom six.

- Will there be any surprises on defense? Maybe. Part of it depends on what the Blackhawks do about the Michal Rozsival situation. Rozsival didn’t pass his physical (upper body injury) and is not participating in camp. You hate to see someone go out like this, but it may be the end for the veteran. If so, the seventh defensive spot opens up and so do the Blackhawks options. After Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Connor Murphy you have Cody Franson (if the Blackhawks sign him), Oesterle and Jan Rutta who have made good preseason impacts. Michal Kempny’s in the mix, too. Gustav Forsling is on the bubble. He had a great camp last fall but didn’t improve off it; that has to change this season.

- Will the top line combination work? There’s no doubt the Blackhawks missed Brandon Saad. He may not have been facing the sturdiest Red Wings team on Thursday but Saad’s powerful game was nevertheless impressive and a reminder of how much the Blackhawks missed that element the last two seasons. But the Saad-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik combo hasn’t gotten a great look yet — Toews missed Thursday’s game due to illness. Saturday should be the first chance to see if these three can really click.