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."

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Kyle Schwarber might have been the most dangerous hitter in a World Series lineup that featured the National League MVP plus four more All-Stars. After spending more than six months recovering from major knee surgery. Against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and a dominant Cleveland Indians bullpen.

“He’s not going to play winter ball,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said with a perfect deadpan delivery. “We felt like he proved he can hit major-league pitching.”

The Cubs spent Monday at the winter meetings inside the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, continuing their search for pitching on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The Cubs are so stacked with hitters that manager Joe Maddon could write out a 2017 Opening Day lineup tomorrow and Theo Epstein’s front office would still have Jorge Soler left over as trade bait.

Schwarber could hit second for the defending World Series champs, and his presence would mean more than any player the Cubs could sign as a free agent. The Cubs expect him to be at full strength by spring training, though it’s unclear how much work, if any, he’ll get as a catcher.

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“That’s the hurdle we haven’t really gone over yet,” Hoyer said. “Can he do it? There’s no question he’s going to want to do it. I think he can do it. I think that we have to have discussions about how heavy a workload we put on him in that regard.

“One of the things we talked about even last year before he got hurt was (how) he’s doing full catching drills, running around the outfield, doing stuff hitting. That’s a lot to put on a guy, sort of like playing two ways in football.”

Schwarber, an all-Ohio linebacker in high school, has a run-through-a-brick-wall mentality and doesn’t like to hear about what he can’t do. He wrecked his left knee in an outfield collision in early April and needed a procedure that reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL.

It took only two warm-up games in the Arizona Fall League before Schwarber made his dramatic return as the designated hitter at Progressive Field, batting .412 (7-for-17) with a .971 OPS during the World Series. 

The Cubs appear to be set with Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero behind the plate, but Schwarber is the type of baseball gym rat who enjoys breaking down video, giving input for scouting reports and being involved in every pitch.  

“We have to talk through all that stuff,” Hoyer said. “We know what his position’s going to be, so we have to figure out what our position’s going to be. I know he’s going to want to catch.

“But he knows he’s coming in as a left fielder next year. And we have to decide how much of the catching drills (he does).”

Slow start to fourth dooms Bulls in loss to Blazers

Slow start to fourth dooms Bulls in loss to Blazers

With his old teammate Robin Lopez in front of him and his feet at the United Center sign on the floor, Damian Lillard threw caution to the wind as he sensed the end was near.

With redemption on his mind and the Bulls on the ropes, Lillard unleashed a long triple that took the air out of the building with five minutes and pushed the Portland Trailblazers lead to 10.

The Bulls got closer but a few disastrous minutes spelled doom in their 112-110 loss Monday at the United Center, their third defeat in four games as they were without Rajon Rondo, who was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team earlier in the day.

Dwyane Wade scored 34 points with four rebounds and four assists in his return from a one-game rest while Jimmy Butler scored 26 with seven rebounds and five assists but the Bulls shot just 42 percent and committed 15 turnovers, many of them unforced against a defense that isn’t known for stopping opponents.

Lillard hit free throws in the final minute after the Bulls pulled to within three with 18.2 seconds left but his triple was a backbreaker.

It gave the visitors the push they needed after trailing to start the fourth, going on a 13-3 run while the Bulls missed 11 of their 13 shots to start the period, halting a relatively smooth offensive game to that point.

And when their offense abandoned them, they couldn’t get enough stops against a potent Trailblazers team that loves playing fast and loose. Chicago native Evan Turner hit two big baskets during the run, as he hit five of six on the night to score 11.

The Bulls harassed Lillard into one of his worst shooting nights of the season in a blowout win a few weeks ago and he made amends with a 26-point, seven-assist night

He looked to start off on the right foot from the jump, taking advantage of Jerian Grant off the dribble.

The Bulls’ defense was confused on rotations, allowing Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe to feast early on. McCollum ran around screens and read a slow-reacting Bulls defense, nailing jumpers over flat-footed defenders.

Crabbe scored 17 off the bench while McCollum hit 10 of 19 to score 24, as the Blazers hit nine triples at 39-percent accuracy.

The trio of guards combined for 45 in the first half and the Bulls needed to make an adjustment.

So Butler started the third quarter defending Lillard and it seemed to throw off the Blazers’ rhythm. The Bulls took a 67-66 lead minutes into the second half and held off the duo until McCollum’s 25-foot triple right at the end of the third.

He dropped in another two minutes into the fourth to give the Blazers a 90-89 lead.

By then, they were in a dogfight and unable to slow down the hot shooting Blazers.