Bret Curtis: Glenbard South's version of Butkus

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Bret Curtis: Glenbard South's version of Butkus

Bret Curtis wears No. 51. Some high school athletes wear Nos. 23 or 34 or 77 or 18 or 32 because famous professionals wore them. If you have to be told that Dick Butkus once wore No. 51, you have never played football.

Curtis has been wearing that number since second grade.

"When I was playing with the Lombard Falcons youth football team, my dad showed me who Butkus was and I saw him on film. I wanted to be like him," said Glenbard South's 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior middle linebacker. "I used to be a defensive end but the coach moved me to linebacker as a sophomore. He thought I had athletic ability. I liked defensive end but I like linebacker more because I have more control over the game."

Like Butkus did.

Curtis is the Metro Suburban Conference's defensive player of the year. He is Glenbard South's leading tackler. He has recorded 11 sacks. He has interest from Illinois, LSU, South Carolina, Toledo, Northern Illinois, Illinois State and Western Illinois. As a senior, he has straight A's in Advanced Placement (AP) courses. He wants to study aerospace engineering.

"He isn't a blue chipper," coach Jeremy Cordell said. "But he is a special kid, our leader, our catalyst. He works hard. He is very aggressive. The way he flies around the ball gets other kids excited."

Curtis' message to college recruiters? "I'm not looking for a Division I school or a chance to play in the NFL. I just want to play in college. I'm probably not the best athlete and I'm probably not that fast. But I'm a good pass rusher. I can hit, I like to get dirty, I'm good at stopping the run and I love the game. I'm just a football player," he said.

In his third year, Cordell has built a competitive program at the Glen Ellyn school. Last year's team was 2-3 and finished 7-4, losing to Class 6A champion Prairie Ridge in the second round of the playoff. This year's team also started 2-3 but has rallied to win its last four games in a row.

In last Friday's 41-28 victory at Rock Island, quarterback Alex Jeske completed 8 of 13 passes for 122 yards and running backs Justin Gjerazi and Zach Smith each rushed for 117 yards and one touchdown. Sophomore linebacker Jack Curtis returned an interception for a touchdown.

"It was an exciting 2 12-hour bus trip home from Rock Island," Cordell said. "We beat a state-ranked team and we won convincingly in all three phases of the game. We're starting to get in a playoff mode."

On the way home, the coaches and players tried to figure out who their first-round opponent would be. They thought they would play Lake Forest. But the Raiders will meet St. Patrick at Hanson Stadium on Saturday night in the opening round of the Class 6A playoff.

"Our motto is: take the next step. We want to go beyond where we went last year," Cordell said.

"Coach Cordell is bringing a new mindset to the team and we want to put Glenbard South on the map. We want to make it a football school. We want to establish our own identity," Bret Curtis said.

"He (Cordell) can make a difference. He had a rough time in his first year (4-5). He preached to the choir. But we took steps forward last year and got momentum going. I like the work he puts in, more than other coaches. He likes hard-nosed football.

"The defense has stepped up since last year. We have more speed. We like to fly around. At quarterback, Jeske has a great head on his shoulders and makes great decisions. We don't have a lot of Division I players and we aren't big but we have good athletes who do the job and like to play football."

On defense, Bret Curtis is surrounded by 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior linebacker Matt Loos and 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior lineman Darnell Barrett.

The offense, which has averaged 48.5 points in its last four games, features Jeske, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior; Gjerazi, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior; Loos at running back; Smith, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior; and 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior running back Clark Gary. Gjerazi has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last four games and Jeske has passed for over 1,300 yards.

"How do I explain averaging 48.5 points in our last four games? We haven't made any changes in the lineup or installed any new plays or come up with any gimmicks," Cordell said.

"Our offensive line has improved, our backs are doing a better job of seeing the holes and we're getting better as a football team. Our formula has been to get better as a team. Our kids have committed to the process. They want to get better."

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.