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.

Bears sign veteran wide receiver Victor Cruz to one-year deal

Bears sign veteran wide receiver Victor Cruz to one-year deal

The Bears added some veteran depth to their wide receiver corps on Thursday.

Former New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz announced on Instagram that he's signing with the Bears.

The Giants will forever be family. But for now, Bear down!!! 🐻⬇️

A post shared by Victor Cruz (@teamvic) on

Cruz visited Halas Hall early last week and announced on his radio show earlier Thursday that he had narrowed down his choices to the Bears and Baltimore Ravens.

Cruz, 30, missed the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but bounced back to play in 15 games with the Giants in 2016. He had 39 receptions for 586 yards and a touchdown.

[BEARS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Cruz has appeared in 67 career NFL games and has accumulated 303 receptions for 4,549 yards and 25 touchdowns. Cruz earned Pro Bowl honors in 2012 and second-Team All-Pro honors in 2011.

Cruz helped the Giants capture the Lombardi Trophy over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. During the 2011 playoffs, he had 21 receptions for 269 yards and a touchdown.

Cruz joins a crowded wide receiver group which includes Cameron Meredith, Kevin White, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, Daniel Braverman, Titus Davis, Tanner Gentry and his former Giants teammate Rueben Randle.

Swanigan's, Diallo's decisions and how it affects Bulls' NBA Draft

Swanigan's, Diallo's decisions and how it affects Bulls' NBA Draft

The deadline for underclassmen to pull their names out of the NBA Draft passed on Wednesday at midnight.

There were a few surprises, and a handful of decisions had an effect on how the Bulls will go about next month's draft.

Staying in the draft

Caleb Swangian, PF, Purdue: The sophomore All-American surprised many by keeping his name in the draft. Swanigan actually tested the waters after his freshman season but returned to the Boilermakers in 2016. He averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 35 games, earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors and was a National Player of the Year candidate. It's no secret the 6-foot-9 Swangian can score  - he had 15 games of 20 or more points - and showed some ability to shoot from deep, making nearly 45 percent of his 85 3-point attempts. Quickness and conditioning will be the real test for the 245-pound Swanigan, who has already lost significant weight since high school. Questions about his defense (he had just 27 steals and 36 blocks in two seasons) also stand out. With Nikola Mirotic's future in Chicago unknown, the Bulls could be in the market for depth at power forward. He wouldn't be an option for the Bulls at No. 14, but if he slides out of the first round he could be an option at No. 38.

D.J. Wilson, PF, Michigan: After averaging just 6.1 minutes as a sophomore, Wilson burst onto the scene as a junior, averaging 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in 30.4 minutes for the Wolverines. He did his best work during the postseason; during Michigan's Big Ten Championship run and Sweet 16 appearance, Wilson averaged 15.6 points on 54 percent shooting, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. Standing 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Wilson leaves some to be desired on the defensive end but has the ability to play as a combo forward - he had a 3-inch growth spurt after high school. Like Swanigan, Wilson won't be an option for the Bulls at No. 14 but could be a second-round option. He'd give the Bulls a similar look to what Bobby Portis does with a little more versatility on the wing.

Going back to college

Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky: The NBA Draft's biggest mystery could have been a home-run selection for the Bulls in the first round. Alas, Diallo has decided to play a year under John Calipari at Kentucky and likely boost his draft stock. Having not played since December, where he played at a prep academy in Connecticut, so there wasn't much film of the 6-foot-5 leaper. Still, after Thon Maker went No. 10 to the Bucks last year there was thought that a team would take a gamble on a high-upside mystery.

Andrew Jones, PG, Texas: There was little surprise that Jones, a five-star recruit who put together a solid freshman season, returned. He's still a bit raw as a prospect despite having elite size (6-foot-4) and solid athleticism, and another year running the point with incoming five-star recruit Mo Bomba could really improve his draft stock. The Bulls clearly have a need at the point (less if Rajon Rondo returns) and if Jones had made the leap he likely would have been around at No. 38. Even still, Jones is a player to keep an eye on during next year's draft, assuming Cameron Payne and Jerian Grant don't make significant improvements.

Moritz Wagner, PF, Michigan: There's a need on every NBA team for a stretch forward with 3-point potential. But those teams will have to wait at least another year after Wagner decided to return to Michigan for his junior season. Like Wilson, who kept his name in the draft, Wagner had an excellent postseason run for the Wolverines. That stretch included a 17-point effort against Minnesota and a career-high 26-point outing in a win over Louisville. He weighed in at just 231 pounds and only averaged 4.2 rebounds per game, so adding some strength to his game will help his draft prospect for next year. He could have been an option for the Bulls at No. 38.