Allegretti adds beef to Lincoln-Way East

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Allegretti adds beef to Lincoln-Way East

Nick Allegretti is the center on Lincoln-Way East's top-ranked football team, which means he is as anonymous as John Doe. Only his family knows for sure what he does on Friday nights in the fall.

But the 6-foot-4, 285-pound junior is active and bursting with energy in so many ways. He is one of the leading prospects in the class of 2014. He is one of the smartest students at the Frankfort school. He also is a state-ranked wrestler. And he carries superstitions to a new level.

"This is a special year for tackles and Allegretti has the potential to be as good an offensive lineman as Ethan Pocic (LSU), Kyle Bosch (Michigan), Colin McGovern (Notre Dame) and Logan Tuley-Tillman (Michigan). He can be an All-American next year," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network.

Allegretti has been offered by Illinois and Cincinnati. He is talking to Stanford, Boston College, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana. More offers can be expected. "The SEC would be cool," he admits.

In the wake of last Saturday's 37-13 victory over Benet in the Class 7A semifinals, as Allegretti and his teammates prepare for Saturday's championship game against Glenbard West at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, everything is cool.

"To be one of the top prospects in the state is cool," he said. "I always wanted to play in Division I. My dream is coming true. It's cool to get calls from coaches to ask me to come to their stadium to watch games. It was cool to get my first offer."

When Cincinnati defensive line coach Steve Stripling offered Allegretti in mid-October, he thought he had won the Lottery. "I was up in my room, going crazy. I didn't know what to do with myself. If I had offers from only Illinois and Cincinnati, I wouldn't know how to choose."

Allegretti said he is looking forward to receiving more offers. He knows it will make his decision even harder. He loves the Big Ten. He feels it is the best conference for offensive linemen, that Iowa and Wisconsin have reputations for producing NFL linemen.

He acknowledges that the SEC is the toughest conference for offensive linemen because it annually produces the best defensive linemen in the nation. He admires Pocic for committing to LSU and is anxious to see how he develops. "That's a tough place for offensive linemen to go," he said.

He hopes he receives an offer from Boston College so he will have an opportunity to experience an environment outside the Midwest. He thinks Stanford might be too far from home. Illinois could have an edge because his brother Joe is a freshman at Illinois.

"Joe is my role model," Nick said. "He wrestled through high school and still kept his grades up. He had a 5.1 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and ranked No. 5 in his class. He is majoring in accounting at Illinois. He played football, too, but he blew out his knee as a freshman in high school."

Nick is no slouch in the classroom. He has a 4.4 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, ranks No. 30 in a class of 560 and scored 27 on his ACT. So much for the commonly held axiom that good athletes usually aren't the best students.

"One of the things I am most proud of is to play sports and be good in the classroom," he said. "I get upset with B's. I got one last year in Spanish III honors. Now I'm getting an A in AP (advance placement) Spanish IV honors. I also take AP U.S. History, honors physics, pre-calculus and English. My goal is to have a 4.6 grade-point average after this year."

Allegretti doesn't fret over his lack of exposure. An offensive lineman has never won a Heisman Trophy and none has been named Player of the Year in the Chicago area since 1955.

"It's no big deal," he said. "I let the skill players get the media attention. We open the holes for them and they do the rest. They deserve it. I speak for all linemen. We come off a game and get six pancakes and get recognized in the team meeting.

"The games are awesome. When we run a zone trap off my butt and I hope a hole for Nick Colangelo and he scores a touchdown...well, we know we did our job. That's satisfaction enough for us."

But there isn't anything worse than giving up a sack. He hasn't permitted one this year. But last year? He remembers all too well. Against Edwardsville in his first varsity game, he was matched up against a Nebraska-bound recruit who burst past him to sack quarterback Blake Winkler.

"The coaches got all over me. They showed the film over and over and over again," Allegretti said. "I vowed I wouldn't let it happen again. That's the worst thing for an offensive lineman. Everybody in the crowd sees a sack and knows somebody in the offensive line screwed up."

There haven't been too many foul-ups this season. In fact, this could be coach Rob Zvonar's best team. The Griffins are 13-0, their most wins since the 14-0 state championship team of 2005. In his 12th season, Zvonar's teams are 115-26, an extraordinary .816 winning percentage.

The offense, directed by Northern Illinois-bound quarterback Tom Fuessel, is averaging 35.8 points per game. The defense, anchored by linebackers Kyle Langenderfer and Adam O'Grady, has allowed 125 points, no more than three touchdowns in any game and no more than one touchdown in seven games.

"Last year, we had a very athletic and talented team. We finished 10-1 and lost to Wheaton Warrenville South in the second round. We were ranked No. 1 in Class 7A," Allegretti said. "We weren't as much of a team as we are this year. We are more bonded this year. We had too much individualism last year.

"The underclassmen saw what happened last year. We realized winning isn't all talent but how you play together. We have a special bond this year than I haven't seen since eighth grade, when most of the seniors played with the Mokena Burros and the Frankfort Falcons."

But playing winning football and maintaining superior grades and bonding with your teammates often can take a lot out of a teenager. To make it all come together, Allegretti goes through an elaborate pre-game ritual that includes one superstition after another.

On Friday, he comes home from school, takes a nap, then jumps in his 2008 Jeep Commander and drives to the game, always certain to take the same route to and from school.

He stops at a BP station to get two 32-ounce bottles of Powerade. One has to be the color of that night's opponent. Then he stops at a Jimmy John's restaurant to get two sandwiches, a No. 11 (turkey, ham, cheese and mayo), also a bag of barbecue chips and a chocolate chip cookie.

At school, he eats his meal in the locker room with two teammates, left tackle Tom Plunkett and defensive tackle Scott Kresal, who also are early arrivals. He goes to the same corner of the locker room to put on his football equipment and joins Kresal to get their wrists taped. He wears the same undershirt, a 7-on-7 team version with a No. 67 that his brother wore. Long sleeves? On an offensive linemen? Are you kidding?

After pre-game walk-throughs and calisthenics, the offensive and defensive units adjourn to separate meeting rooms. Allegretti makes sure that every offensive lineman sits in the same chair every week. Before kickoff, he and Colangelo pray on the far sideline, facing the visiting crowd between the offensive line warm-up and the offensive team warm-up.

While this week's trip to Champaign is uppermost on his mind, of course, Allegretti already is thinking about the future. He wants to win a state wrestling championship at 285 pounds. He plans to work on developing into a long snapper that will attract college and NFL scouts.

"Next summer, I want to get stronger and faster," he said. "I want to work on my athleticism. I have the brute strength thing down. I want to be able to move better, to get to the second and third level blocks, to block linebackers and safeties."

This isn't flag football any more.

Bears great Jay Hilgenberg to new C Cornelius Edison: “You deserve to be there”

Bears great Jay Hilgenberg to new C Cornelius Edison: “You deserve to be there”

The storyline has already been formed: If the Bears are forced to go with undrafted Cornelius Edison as their center, the 2016 season is lost.

“I mean, how ridiculous to think that an undrafted free agent could be the starting center for the Chicago Bears, and they win,” deadpanned Jay Hilgenberg, making less than no attempt to mask the irony in his voice.

With very good reason.

Because Hilgenberg himself came into the NFL as an afterthought, undrafted out of Iowa in 1981 and then going on to an 11-year career with the Bears, capped by a Super Bowl ring in 1985. Seven Pro Bowls, five All-Pro selections.

Ridiculous.

Edison may come nowhere near the heights reached by Hall of Fame nominee Hilgenberg. Or of Hall of Fame Miami center Jim Langer, also undrafted. But Hilgenberg has a strong bit of advice for Edison, who started Saturday in the Bears preseason game vs. Kansas City and could be their starter on Opening Day, depending on health elsewhere on the interior of the Bears offensive line.

“I would say to him, ‘You’re in an NFL camp because you can play football,’” Hilgenberg told CSNChicago.com. “Don’t let how you entered that camp take anything away from you. You deserve to be there. You just need to prove it a little bit more than the first-rounders.’”

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It may not always be easy, of course.

Hilgenberg, who fought his way onto the final roster in 1981, once famously turned to then-teammate Revie Sorey on the bench during a blowout of the Bears in Hilgenberg’s first season, and said, “Revie, we’re the worst team in the NFL.”

Sorey, never one to duck the truth, nodded.

Hilgenberg added, “And I’m the worst player on this team.”

Again, no disagreement from Sorey.

“So that makes me the worst player in the NFL, doesn’t it?” Hilgenberg concluded.

Silence from Sorey.

Hilgenberg turned out to not be the worst player in the NFL, but not without epic struggles, and he knows what Edison will be going through. And how the young center can make it.

[MORE BEARS: Rookie class making much-needed impact]

“To be honest there is always a little insecurity in you,” Hilgenberg recalled. “I had confidence that I belonged but I had to fight every day. And the truth is, I wanted it more than anything else in the world. I was going to make it.

“I didn’t have Plan B. I didn’t want to go back to Iowa then, so I didn’t have Plan B.

Hilgenberg used teams’ not drafting him as motivation, and Bears teammates recalled him savoring facing supposed elite defensive linemen, No. 1 picks, and handling them. Beyond his attitude, however, was a method.

“I played against a lot of big, strong guys in the NFL, and I wasn’t going to back down from anybody,” Hilgenberg said. “As soon as you learn how to play with the right fundamentals, you learn that there’s no Supermen out there. If you can play fundamentally and with good technique, you can block anybody… .

“Offensive line play is honestly all about how bad you want it. How much are you willing to do? How important is it to you? What does it mean to you?”

Edison is in the process of answering those exact questions.

Dwyane Wade's cousin shot and killed in Chicago

Dwyane Wade's cousin shot and killed in Chicago

On Thursday, Dwyane Wade appeared on an ESPN special for The Undefeated to talk about gun violence. The next day, Wade's cousin was shot and killed in Chicago.

Nykea Aldridge was pushing a baby stroller in the Chicago neighborhood of Parkway Gardens when she was shot and killed. Aldridge was 32 and a mother of four.

Police said she was not the intended target and one person was taken into custody as a result of the incident.

Wade's words during his appearance on the ESPN panel took on extra meaning after Friday's shooting.

"It's important for all of us to help each other, to go back and say 'You know what, where did this start, how did this start? Let's see how we can change there,'" Wade said on ESPN. "It's deep-rooted and this is something that didn't start today. This is something that's not going to end tomorrow. But this is something that we can start a conversation, we can start the work today and hopefully eventually we can stop it."

Wade tweeted after the shooting.

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – The “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants started at Dodger Stadium late Friday night, Cubs fans celebrating Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the 10th inning and cheering on this entertaining comeback win.

Until Clayton Kershaw returns to full strength, stares down hitters from 60 feet, six inches and unleashes his entire arsenal, it’s impossible to know how the Cubs would stack up against Los Angeles in October. But it’s still safe to say this would be an epic playoff matchup between two big-market, star-studded franchises, with two iconic ballparks becoming the backdrop, celebrity row after celebrity row.

As a quiet homebody who happens to have his own billboards and marketing deals – but doesn’t do bulletin-board quotes or brag about his game – Bryant is not exactly a Hollywood personality. But this is also a goal-oriented individual who doesn’t shy away from the pressure and the expectations and absolutely wants to be the best at his craft.

The Cubs won this round with Bryant, who launched his 34th and 35th home runs in a 6-4 victory, an MVP-worthy season becoming the sequel to his Rookie of the Year campaign.

“It’s humbling,” Bryant said. “You grow up hearing that kind of stuff on TV. To experience it in real life is pretty cool.”

It became hard to hear Bryant inside the visiting clubhouse, because teammates chanted “MVP!” and sung along with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre as “Nuthin But a G Thang” played on the sound system. But for most of the night, it looked like it would be a silent room postgame as the resilient Dodgers took 3-1 and 4-2 leads.

Until the eighth inning, when Bryant launched a home run off Joe Blanton that landed in the center-field seats blocked off for the batter’s eye. And then the ninth inning showed why manager Joe Maddon will want Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward in a playoff lineup.

In the middle of a frustrating offensive season where he’s felt the weight of a $184 million contract, Heyward led off by ripping a double into the right-field corner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Heyward hustled to third base when new Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz couldn’t handle strike three against Jorge Soler. Heyward ran home to score the game-tying run when a Jansen wild pitch sailed toward the backstop.

That set the stage for Bryant, who brought up the fielding error he made in the fifth inning during his postgame interview on Channel 7 after hitting the game-winning homer off lefty Adam Liberatore. All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo may set the tone in the clubhouse, but Bryant already brings tunnel vision and a high degree of professionalism to an 82-45 team, even at the age of 24. 

“He just doesn’t quit,” Heyward said. “He wants to be in every spot. He goes up there and has his at-bat – and that’s it.

“You can talk about why he’s been hitting the ball well, this and that, but he has a good approach. It’s that simple. Other than that, he works his tail off every day to try and go out there and help us win.

“When you have that gift – and you have that work ethic – the bottom line is a lot of good things can happen.”

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A resourceful $250 million team won’t fade away, even with Kershaw (back) not pitching for two months, one of 27 players the Dodgers have stashed on the disabled list, tying a major-league record. Los Angeles has cycled through 14 different starting pitchers, relying on depth, a powerful lineup and a strong bullpen to surge into first place and hold onto a one-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

“How about last year?” Maddon said. “We beat up on the Mets during the season, we go (into the playoffs) and we can’t even touch them. It’s such a different animal. People get hot or people get cold.

“I’m not going to diminish the fact I’m going to be paying attention. But things change. Trends can be so trendy, to quote Yogi. So I don’t get too far ahead, because things can change very quickly.”

Like Bryant going from a promising player with a few holes in his swing who looked worn down at times last season – to an MVP frontrunner with a .303 average, 89 RBI, 107 runs scored, a .982 OPS and the versatility to play third base, defensively shift across the infield and move to the outfield.

Kershaw vs. Bryant would be must-see TV in October.