Andriano contemplates 4th title, retirement

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Andriano contemplates 4th title, retirement

Montini coach Chris Andriano would like to win a fourth consecutive state championship in 2012, putting his program in a class with Driscoll, Joliet Catholic, Providence and Mount Carmel as the only schools in the history of the state playoff to win four or more in a row.

Whether he wins or not, however, it could be his last season.

"I have told the school president (Jim Segredo) and the athletic director (Bob Landi) that next year might be my last year," Andriano said as he closed the book on his 33rd season at the Lombard school.

"I will be 60 years old on Dec. 7. I have completed 33 years as head coach. I am looking at retirement. I'm getting to the point where there is time for someone else to run the show. Next year might be it.

"I have four grandchildren and I like to fish in Canada. This job gets tougher every year. My health is good. But this is a year-round job now. Now it is the college recruiting season. Three college coaches came in today.

"When I started, it was a simpler job. Life was simpler. Football was a simpler game. The off-season wasn't as complicated with recruiting and workouts and weight room and conditioning and planning things out.

"If we weren't winning, life would be simpler. But it's a great problem to have. There's a bigger buildup when you're in the limelight. If you win three state titles in a row, you reach a special category in Illinois high school football. How many teams have done that? You're in a pretty select group. And everyone is gunning for you."

It was a never-to-be-forgotten season, the stuff that dreams and legends are made of...beating Joliet Catholic 70-45 for the state title with a team featuring the best quarterback (John Rhode) and the best player (wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp) that he has produced.

"When you win three state titles in a row, that's off the charts for me," Andriano said. "We've had some good teams but to win three in a row is more special than anything else we've done here.

"Four years ago, I had a great team, maybe my best team, four Division I players, but we lost to Driscoll in Week 9 and lost to Wheaton St. Francis in the quarterfinals. I'm coaching players whose fathers played here. We have a connection with families that goes back to when I first started here. There is great loyalty here."

How do you top it?

"Next year we will have another great group of kids," Andriano said. "Who will be the quarterback? Who will replace Westerkamp? We will have five starters back on offense and three on defense. Every year different kids emerge. It will be another good, solid team."

Andriano will build his 2012 team around versatile Joe Borsellino, who played quarterback, wide receiver, running back and defensive back this season but will be a primary receiver next season. Other standouts will be 6-5, 280-pound guard Tate Briggs, quarterbackwide receiver Mark Gorogianis, 6-3, 255-pound defensive end Fred Beaugard and running back Demetri Taylor.

The coach's game plan calls for Gorogianis to replace Westerkamp at wide receiver. He was Rhode's backup this season at quarterback but Andriano would like to keep him at wide receiver. That means sophomore Jimmy Barron will have to earn the starting spot at quarterback.

"Experience-wise, right now, Gorogianis is our best kid at quarterback," Andriano said. "Barron has to prove he can run the offense and make the right decisions. It's all about decision-making."

Westerkamp can't be replaced, of course. He set state records for pass receiving yardage and touchdowns in a career. "He is the best the state has ever seen at his position, strong and physical, a great blocker, a do-everything type. There is no doubt that he can be a dominant player at Nebraska--and he has a shot at making it in the NFL," Andriano said. "One play in the state championship game that I am more proud of him than of anything else he has accomplished is he ran down Joliet Catholic's Malin Jones after he intercepted a pass. A lot of kids wouldn't have come back to make that tackle. Jordan has great heart. He's a great competitor."

Rhode, the transfer from Marian Catholic who missed the first month of the season with a broken thumb, came on so strong and was so impressive that Andriano insists he has the tools to be a Big 10 quarterback. Unfortunately, he didn't get any exposure last year and most colleges have filled their quarterback slots for next year.

"He has great arm strength and touch to make all the throws," Andriano said. "He sees defenses, reads them, knows our offense, can check down and can throw it away. He will take off and run. He is so smart with the ball. He has zip on the ball. He puts the ball in positions where the receiver can get it and defenders can't. There never has been a quarterback that smart before."

While Andriano contemplates retirement, he admits that a third state championship has only provided him with a greater appreciation for the kids in his program.

"Three state titles is about the hard work and talent we have," he said. "The freshman started in the weight room today (Monday). Everybody else is off until after Christmas. Then next year's team will start working out. When you go 14 weeks with games and get all that extra practice with younger kids, it is a big plus. It gives us plenty of time to work on strength and speed when we get back in January. These kids are committed."

Greg Hudson (and Brian Kelly) will tweak, streamline Notre Dame's defense

Greg Hudson (and Brian Kelly) will tweak, streamline Notre Dame's defense

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame didn’t blow up its defense when it fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder on Sunday, but there will be a few changes to how this scheme operates going forward under Greg Hudson. 

The first, and most noticeable, change, is actually one fans won’t see on Saturdays. Coach Brian Kelly has spent far more time with the Irish defense during practice and meetings this week — he has almost exclusively worked with the offense while at Notre Dame — in an effort to put his stamp on a group that’s allowed on average 41.3 points in its three games against power five opponents. 

“You see him in a meeting, you’re like, ‘Aw snap,’” linebacker Nyles Morgan said. “It’s a new feel, but his inputs are very helpful. He knows what he’s talking about.”

Kelly won’t necessarily simplify the scheme itself, but he will train its focus in a more narrow manner. That means drawing from the same inventory that VanGorder & Co. installed during spring and preseason practice, but tailoring what’s used to help the bevy of underclassmen in this defense play smarter and faster. 

“It’s going to take a style of defense that I'm much more accustomed to, the way I want to play defensively, and we'll pull from the library which we already have,” Kelly said. 

Of course, nobody is giving away the exact plan of how Notre Dame will play on Saturday against Syracuse. But the ineffective 3-3-5 scheme Notre Dame deployed against Texas’ up-tempo offense won’t included in it, and part of Kelly’s goal is to simply get players lined up correctly. That would seem to indicate a lot more freshmen or sophomores could see the field, especially in the front seven — think Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, Jamir Jones, Asmar Bilal and others — which should help avoid over-taxing some of the team’s veterans. 

And in the secondary, there will have to be more rotating of players, too, given Dino Babers’ Orange offense operates at ludicrous speed. The best way to successfully get guys like Jalen Elliott and Donte Vaughn on the field is to narrow the inventory and limit the checks they have to make, too.  

“I think with the youth that we have on our team, a lot of guys don’t necessarily have a ton of game experience — that can be kind of critical,” safety Drue Tranquill said. “I remember back in my freshman year, and things were spinning for me and the game is really, really fast. So when you have a huge inventory on your plate, a lot of checks to make, that can cloud your vision a little bit. So definitely with a lot of young guys it’s definitely something we have to take into consideration.” 

We’ll see exactly what the streamlined Irish defense looks like and who will play in it on Saturday (maybe it’ll include dropping defensive linemen into coverage with less frequency, a VanGorder staple that proved ineffective). As for Hudson, Kelly isn’t looking to him to necessarily make a major impact on how the defense looks. 

The hope is that Hudson, who previously was a defensive analyst for Notre Dame and held defensive coordinator positions at East Carolina, Minnesota and Purdue, can help inject some energy and life into this moribund defense. 

“He's always using different examples, different stories, a little bit of humor in his coaching,” linebacker James Onwualu said. “And an energy — there hasn't been a day he's been here that I've really seen him just walking around monotone. He's always got some energy and something to say.”

Whether that energy can actually make a tangible impact remains to be seen. But Notre Dame is in desperate need of answers on defense, and will face a Syracuse offense that’s good enough to be headache-inducing on Saturday. 

So the Greg Hudson era begins at MetLife Stadium this weekend. The energy may be better and the scheme may be streamlined. But will the results change?

“Greg has been empowered to bring the energy, the enthusiasm, the passion, the morale, the camaraderie. I need those things from Greg,” Kelly said. ‘That's what I need. I want our kids to be excited when they step on that field against Syracuse. I'll worry about the implementation, the scheme. I'll take care of that for him right now. As he gets more comfortable with what we have and what our system is about, then he will be much more involved in what we do.

“But right now, we'll write the music and he'll be the lead singer.”

Erik Gustafsson knows landing roster spot with Blackhawks won’t be easy

Erik Gustafsson knows landing roster spot with Blackhawks won’t be easy

Erik Gustafsson looked around the Blackhawks’ room at where fellow defensemen stalls would probably be as the season approached.

“You have Brian (Campbell) back, (Michal) Kempny here, obviously and all the other guys,” Gustafsson said. “It’s going to be tough, but I like it.”

The Blackhawks’ biggest Achilles heel last season was defense, especially after Trevor Daley was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That opened the door for young players, including Gustafsson, to get bigger opportunities. This year the defense should be stronger with Campbell’s return. So for guys like Gustafsson, cracking this lineup just got that much tougher.

During the summer, assistant coach Mike Kitchen talked potential pairings as Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson, Campbell-Brent Seabrook, Kempny-Trevor van Riemsdyk. As of now, the team is expecting Keith to be ready for the season opener. Keith has been participating in a practice a day but whether or not he plays in any preseason games is uncertain right now.

If it starts out that way, Gustafsson would be on the outside looking in.

But first things first: Gustafsson is focused on building off experience gained last season — he played 41 games, recording 14 assists — and cleaning up a few errors committed in training camp practices.

“You know all the guys on the team, you know how they want to play over here and in the NHL. Just go out and show them. I didn’t do that [Saturday] but this was the first game,” Gustafsson said. “I felt good with the puck but I have to play more defense in my own zone. Just a couple of small things I have to be better.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Nothing comes easy when you’re trying to make an NHL roster but it got that much tougher for a young defenseman with the Blackhawks this season. Hey, that’s the way it is, and players know it.

“Of course it’ll be tougher,” Gustafsson said. “It won’t be easy to take a spot. You just have to go out there, do your best and see what happens.”

BRIEFLY

- Patrick Kane could play in the Blackhawks’ game against St. Louis on Saturday. Assistant coach Kevin Dineen said, “don’t be surprised to see 88 politicking to get in the lineup. Pretty good chance we’ll see him on Saturday."

- The Blackhawks were off on Thursday. Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, Marcus Kruger and Hjalmarsson were expected to join the team at Friday’s practice

- Alexandre Fortin, who signed a three-year contract on Sunday, played 12 1/2 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That included about two minutes of power-play time. Dineen wouldn’t mind seeing Fortin in another game. “He showed himself well all camp and I think [Wednesday] we saw some good spurts out there, and we’ll find that consistency in a young player as we move forward.”