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."

Fire fail to hold another lead at home, but reason why was different

Fire fail to hold another lead at home, but reason why was different

Holding onto leads at home has not been a strong suit for the Fire this season.

Wednesday’s 2-2 draw against the LA Galaxy was the fifth time this season the Fire have been unable to get a win at home in a match they led. In four of those, including Wednesday, the Fire had leads in the second half.

In the previous cases, the Fire dropped deep defensively and tried to simply hold onto the lead or hope David Accam could score on a one-man counter.

“I think once we’re up in the result I think we have to make sure that we kill the game off because there’s been too many times where it’s that 1-0 or that 2-1 and we’re kind of holding there and the next thing you know they’re tying the game at the end of the game,” midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “We got to keep pushing for that third goal to make sure that we kill things off.”

The game against LA was different. The Fire had multiple quality chances to score a third goal and take a two-goal lead. One opportunity featuring Accam, Luis Solignac and an open net seemed like a sure goal as it was developing.

However, the Fire didn’t find that two-goal lead and LA managed to come back.

“I think we created a lot of chances,” Alvarez said. “We went up 2-1 and unfortunately that third goal didn’t want to go in at the right time and then LA got that bounce.”

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Even though the result didn’t show it, the Fire may have actually turned a corner in terms of how to play with a lead. In the win at Montreal on Saturday, the Fire scored that extra goal to take a two-goal lead, something the team hadn’t done all season in an MLS game.

Against the Galaxy, the Fire actually had more possession in the second half (56 percent) than the first half (46 percent). LA’s only shot on goal in the second half was the tying goal while the Fire put three shots on target in the second 45 minutes.

The Fire did fail to close out another match at home that they had a lead in, but the way it happened was different and maybe that’s a positive sign going forward.

“I think it’s starts from the offense,” Accam said. “If we could have scored then we could have killed the game. The defense did really well. We just need to keep finishing chances and then opponents won’t have the chance to attack us.

“I think we played one of the best games we played this season, but we need to take our chances and today I would say we are disappointed that we dropped two points at home. For me also we created so many chances that on another day we could have taken it. It’s kind of a mixed feeling for me.”

Hunter Jr., McGlinchey, Onwualu, Rochell ready to lead Notre Dame as captains

Hunter Jr., McGlinchey, Onwualu, Rochell ready to lead Notre Dame as captains

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — As Notre Dame breaks up the scar tissue from a weekend that saw six players be arrested, it named four players to an official leadership role.

Coach Brian Kelly announced four captains following practice on Wednesday: Redshirt junior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr., redshirt junior offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey, linebacker James Onwualu and defensive end Isaac Rochell. 

“I can't think of a higher honor that I've received in my life,” Rochell said. 

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Those players, plus a group of other upperclassmen that includes quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, will be counted on to lead the Irish through the fall. Those players all saw the importance of leadership last year, when Notre Dame — complete with an avalanche of leaders headlined by five team captains — was able to navigate an unprecedented string of injuries to a 10-win season and berth in the Fiesta Bowl. 

Each of these guys learned from captains and/or leaders at their position in 2015. For Hunter, that was Chris Brown. McGlinchey learned from the Martins, Nick and Zack, who combined to spend four years as Irish captains. 

“We’re going to be okay without the Martins,” McGlinchey smiled, “though it does stink without them.”

On defense, Rochell picked up plenty from Sheldon Day, a two-time captain himself who was one of the more vocal leaders on the Irish last fall. And Onwualu started alongside Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt for two consecutive years, with both of those players earning captaincies in 2015.

Onwualu is also the answer to a good trivia question, given he has the most starts at wide receiver (four) of any current Irish player. 

“I’ve been trying to convince (Kelly) to let me go back,” Onwualu quipped. “I want a couple more catches.” 

Notre Dame probably doesn’t have the leadership depth it did in 2015 or 2012, when rosters stocked with a good mix of vocal and lead-by-example players powered the two best seasons in the Kelly era. But all these captains are in Year 4 in the program and said they’re excited for the challenge ahead of them. 

“I’m definitely honored and blessed to be in this position,” Hunter said. 

Here’s what Kelly had to say about each player:

On Rochell: “He’s really taken over that room from Sheldon Day. Been the leader, there’s a lot of young players in that room, he’s been a great mentor. I love the way he handles himself on a day-to-day basis. Really loves Notre Dame, understands Notre Dame and is a great, great ambassador for our football program.”

On Onwualu: “Here’s a guy that has made himself into a great player for us. Started at the wide receiver position, is well-respected by all of his peers, one of our hardest workers and now has put himself in the position to lead our football team.”

On Hunter: “A guy that walks the walk and talks the talk and backs it up both on and off the field and will be a great mentor to a lot of young receivers.”

On McGlinchey: “A guy that is not afraid to speak up, speak his mind. He’s done a great job of really growing into his leadership role.” 

Notre Dame notes: No QB starter yet, McGovern wins right guard battle

Notre Dame notes: No QB starter yet, McGovern wins right guard battle

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly doesn’t have an answer to the question that’s been on everyone’s minds, at least until it was momentarily shoved out of the spotlight by the six Irish players arrested last weekend

Kelly said Wednesday he hasn’t decided who will start at quarterback against Texas between Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer, though what matters more is how the seventh-year Notre Dame coach uses each player at Darrell K. Royal Stadium Sept. 4. 

It’s been eight days since Kelly informed Kizer and Zaire they both would play against Texas, and while there was initial frustration on the part of each quarterback, Kelly said he’s seen both players warm up to the idea of splitting time in Austin. 

“Since that decision, they really have embraced knowing that both of them will play and they both have to be ready,” Kelly said. “I think what I’ve seen more than anything else is a sharpness in their practice and in particular in their preparation. They know they’re both going to play. They’ve been really sharp.”

[MORE: Notre Dame announces four captains for 2016 season]

More notes from Notre Dame’s last media availability before game week:

— Kelly said both Kizer and Zaire were under consideration to be named captains. “I’m certain that they would have made very good captains,” Kelly said. But Kelly hasn’t named a quarterback a captain while at Notre Dame, though he’s only had one good candidate (Tommy Rees in 2013) before Kizer and Zaire. Wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr., left tackle Mike McGlinchey, defensive end Isaac Rochell and linebacker James Onwualu were all named captains on Wednesday. 

— Redshirt junior Colin McGovern will start over redshirt freshman Tristen Hoge at right guard against Texas, Kelly said. McGlinchey offered an assessment of McGovern, who will make his first career start in Austin: “Colin came into camp ready to play and he was on his assignments, he was kicking some ass, and that’s all it’s about for offensive linemen. He was a sound football player this camp. And it’s really exciting to see Colin step up and get ready to play. He’s very capable of doing the job, a very talented kid, ready to work and he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s going to do great things for us this year.”

— Redshirt sophomore defensive end Jay Hayes (ankle) practiced on Wednesday and should be ready to play against Texas provided he’s 100 percent healthy by the weekend, Kelly said. 

— Sophomore running back Josh Adams is back at practice after missing a good chunk of August with a hamstring injury. Running backs were hit in practice on Wednesday and Kelly was pleased with what he saw: “This was the first day where he looked like Josh Adams.” 

— Redshirt freshman receiver Chris Finke, who was elevated from walk-on status and earned a scholarship on Monday, is solidly the No. 2 option behind sophomore C.J. Sanders at slot receiver. Finke held off redshirt sophomore Corey Holmes for backup duties (though Holmes can be moved around to other receiver positions), as the 5-foot-9, 180 pound Kettering, Ohio native “won us over with his consistent play,” Kelly said.