Bolingbrook's Morrison aims for the top

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Bolingbrook's Morrison aims for the top

Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011
Posted: 10:50 a.m.

By Taylor Bell
CSNChicago.com

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Antonio Morrison was impressed with Florida assistant coach Bryant Young, who earned All-State, All-America and All-NFL recognition at Bloom, Notre Dame and the San Francisco 49ers.

Morrison also was impressed by Florida's reputation as a national championship contender, the professionalism of the coaching staff, the campus, the 90,000-seat stadium known as the "Swamp," the warm climate, southern hospitality and down-home atmosphere.

He was also impressed with the idea of playing in the Southeastern Conference, the most competitive and most celebrated football league in college football. If he is to realize his dream of playing in the NFL, he reasons, the SEC will pave the way.

All of that happened because Bolingbrook's 6-foot-3, 220-pound linebacker made a commitment to work relentlessly in the off-season to be better than he was a year ago, to command the attention of college recruiters who weren't so impressed with his performance in 2010. All except Florida.

"They called me sometime in February. I don't know what they saw. They just called and offered, even before I visited the campus in July," said Morrison, who chose Florida over Oregon and Illinois. "I had a good feeling about Florida. I could see me being part of the Gator family."

Morrison had 25 scholarship offers. He could have waited for more, but he committed to Florida on Aug. 1. "I wasn't looking for any more offers. After my visit, it sealed my decision," he said.

What did Florida see that others didn't?

"He is the most underrated player in the country," said nationally respected recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports Network. "I loved him on film. He out-runs most opponents. He is capable of big plays, which is what separates the great ones from the good ones in high school. He is capable of turning games around because of his speed. He will rank among the top 100 players in the nation at the end of the season."

Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow said Morrison is the best player he has produced in 10 years. Better than former linebacking standout Kyle Williams, who was rated as the No. 1 linebacker in the nation in 2002 by Rivals.com.

But Ivlow didn't tout Morrison as highly as Williams after his junior year--in fact, he listed him as the fifth best prospect on his roster in November--because the youngster was making a transition from defensive end to linebacker and still was rounding into form.

"He had a good junior year but not a fantastic season," Ivlow said. "He had some kinks. He lacked experience at the position. But he acquired strength and muscle over the summer. He power lifts 650 pounds and dead lifts 600. He can run and hit. He plays very fast. We knew he had potential."

What convinced Ivlow and many scouts was when Morrison tackled Aaron Bailey, Bolingbrook's outstanding quarterback, in the open field during a scrimmage. Bailey, a junior, has already accumulated offers from Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue and Indiana.

Morrison knew it was only a matter of time before college coaches and recruiting analysts acknowledged his talent. As a junior, he was listed as 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds with 4.8 speed. Hardly the kind of numbers that excite recruiters. But now he is bigger and stronger and faster.

"It was a big transition last year," Morrison said. "As a linebacker, I have to drop back in coverage and make more reads. I have more responsibilities. It was new for me. I didn't get embarrassed but I had to learn the position. I felt it was my future."

He dedicated himself to getting stronger, faster and better over the summer. He listened to advice from his older brother Anthony, who played linebacker at Eastern Illinois. He virtually slept in the weight room and trained relentlessly to build up his bulk and muscle and improve his speed and explosiveness.

"It paid off," said Morrison, who had 11 tackles and two sacks in Bolingbrook's opening victory over Plainfield South. "The fun of playing linebacker is you get to hit people without getting a foul called on you."

While Morrison is proving he is one of the most accomplished linebackers in the country, he hopes to lead his team back to a position of prominence in the state playoff. Last year's team was 5-5, the worst record since 2004 and only the second time since 1981 that the Raiders hadn't posted a winning record.

Bolingbrook was un-ranked in the preseason but has climbed to No. 13 in the first three weeks. The Raiders smashed Joliet Central 60-6 last Friday and have a date with Joliet West on Friday night before meeting what shapes up as their toughest opponents of the regular season in the following weeks, Homewood-Flossmoor and Lincoln-Way East.

"We're used to being a dominant team," Morrison said. "I think people are overlooking us. We're trying to get back where we used to be."

It’s World Series or bust for Cubs while carrying Aroldis Chapman’s baggage

It’s World Series or bust for Cubs while carrying Aroldis Chapman’s baggage

Aroldis Chapman is the ultimate baseball mercenary for a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908. The Cubs say they are going into this with their eyes wide open, knowing the superstar closer comes with off-the-field baggage and plans to cash in as a free agent this winter.

For all the talking points about being good neighbors and family friendly, the Cubs care about money and winning, which makes them just like any other professional sports franchise.

Chapman behaved in Yankee pinstripes, handled the New York market and performed with game-over efficiency, going 20-for-21 in save chances. The Cubs wanted a lefty with a 105-mph fastball and a 15.2 strikeouts-per-nine-innings-pitched career rate, making a 4-for-1 trade by rationalizing that they would rather be with Chapman in the playoffs than against him.

So the Cubs – and not the first-place Nationals or even-year Giants – had to deal with the bad optics and the lost-in-translation moments before Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. Chapman did not make a good first impression while getting questions about domestic violence and the 30-game suspension Major League Baseball imposed to start this season.

But if Chapman gets the last out in October, does it even matter if he’s a good guy?

“Ugh,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Was Ty Cobb wonderful? I mean, I don’t know. All these different people that I’ve read about – something happened with (the Sox) in, what was it, 1919?

“At the end of the day, I’m here to get to know him on our terms – me and him. (And) he’s been a great teammate from everybody I’ve read or discussed (it) with.

“That’s the lenses I’m looking at it through right now.”

[RELATED: Hector Rondon says Cubs had to take chance and close Chapman deal]

Chapman joined a team that began the day with a 98.8-percent chance to make the playoffs on the Baseball Prospectus odds report and a 56-1 record when leading entering the ninth inning. This is all about what Chapman can do in October and how his presence can help the Cubs survive three postseason rounds.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch highlighted that the Cardinals haven’t scored a run off Chapman since September 2011, back when Tony La Russa managed a World Series team.

“Again, he did do his suspension,” Maddon said. “He has talked about it. He’s shown remorse. And then everybody else has their right to judge him as a good or bad person.

“That’s your right. But I know there are times where I’ve been less than perfect. I think we’ve all been less than perfect in particular moments that nobody’s ever known about. 

“I want to get to know Aroldis. I think he can be a very significant member. And he’s got the potential, yes, to throw the last out of the World Series. And if he does, I promise you, I will embrace him.”

[MORE: Cubs make business decision to look beyond Chapman's domestic violence suspension]

Inside baseball’s conservative bubble, Maddon has to be the game’s most liberal manager, a hands-off, big-picture guy who lets his players run the clubhouse. The Cubs believe his positive vibes and presence will help Chapman’s transition.

“I’m probably the most non-judgmental person you’ve ever met,” Maddon said. “I don’t go in that direction. I do get upset sometimes when people jump to conclusions without knowing everything.

“(Gather) all the information for yourself and make your own opinion. Draw your own conclusion, as opposed to maybe hearing one thing and then all of a sudden jumping on a negative bandwagon.

“I want to get to know him, get to understand him, have good conversations with him. And then, maybe at that point, I could draw some conclusions. But never having been around him, it’s very hard for me to do that.”

Chapman’s Wrigley Field debut will be electric, the triple digits lighting up the huge video board. At that point, the focus should shift back onto baseball. But the equation doesn’t change in a bottom-line business. There is only one outcome that will truly make Cubs fans happy with this deal.

“They expect me to come here, do my job and try to guide us to the World Series,” Chapman said through coach/translator Henry Blanco. “Especially in this city, they haven’t won a World Series in a long time, so they want me to do everything I can to help us win.”

How Joe Maddon helped inspire James Shields' gem over Cubs

How Joe Maddon helped inspire James Shields' gem over Cubs

Joe Maddon's mere presence may have hurt the team he manages Tuesday night.

As the Cubs invaded U.S. Cellular Field for the final night on the South Side of this Crosstown series, Maddon's current team was tasked with facing one of his old friends.

James Shields pitched for Maddon in Tampa Bay for seven years and the veteran right-hander took the hill for the White Sox Tuesday night, spinning a gem — 7.2 shutout innings allowing four singles and four walks.

After the game, Shields — nicknamed "Big Game James" by some — credited Maddon for his outing.

"I get amped up every game pretty much. But I always want to get amped up in front of my old manager," Shields said. "I have a lot of respect for Joe. He helped build me into who I am today. 

"I always want to go out there and show him, especially being 34 years old, that I’ve got this thing."

Maddon certainly noticed.

The Cubs manager admitted "that's what he looks like" when talking about Shields' outing.

The Cubs had pursued Shields in free agency prior to the 2015 season and came close to deal before the right-hander opted to sign with the San Diego Padres for four years and $75 million.

Part of the reason was Shields' competitiveness and desire to finish every game he starts.

"During the first part of the game, I went up to [John] Lackey and I said Shieldsy went to John Lackey Junior College at some point in his life," Maddon said. "I said I used to compare Shieldsy to you all the time back in Tampa Bay, whenever James would [refuse to come out of a game].

"So Johnny giggled about that. Very similar guys — highly competitive, believe they can beat anybody on any given day. You gotta love that about him. He's very good."

White Sox likely will place 2B Brett Lawrie on disabled list

White Sox likely will place 2B Brett Lawrie on disabled list

The White Sox will "probably" place second baseman Brett Lawrie on the disabled list before Wednesday’s Crosstown game at Wrigley Field, manager Robin Ventura said.

Lawrie initially was diagnosed with a tight left hamstring July 21 against the Detroit Tigers, causing a firestorm of speculation he had been traded when he was removed from the game. He was initially considered day-to-day after undergoing an MRI on Friday, and manager Robin Ventura said before both Monday and Tuesday’s games against the Cubs he could’ve been available in an emergency. 

But Lawrie suffered a setback sometime Tuesday, and with two games under National League rules at Wrigley Field requiring more bench pieces, Ventura didn’t want to head to Clark and Addison short-handed. 

“It just seemed like he was going backwards today, during the game, of his knee,” Ventura said. “There's no way you can go over there and play the National League rules with nobody on the bench.”

[MORE: Shields picks up bullpen as White Sox top Cubs again]

Infielder Carlos Sanchez was removed from Triple-A Charlotte’s game Tuesday night and is expected to replace Lawrie on the White Sox roster. 

Lawrie is hitting .248/.310/.413 with 12 home runs and 22 doubles over 94 games this season. 

Tyler Saladino has done well in his short stint in the starting lineup since Lawrie’s injury, going 4-15 with a walk. His walk-off single on Monday netted the White Sox their third win in what now is a four-game winning streak, the team’s first since May 6-9.