Brooks' Miranda emerges as a big-time recruit

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Brooks' Miranda emerges as a big-time recruit

You probably never have heard of Jesus Miranda. He is a place kicker at Brooks High School, a Chicago Public Leaguer. Kickers in the Public League are as plentiful as dinosaurs. Good ones, that is.

But Miranda is the real deal. The 6-foot, 140-pound junior has scholarship offers from Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, USC, Oregon, Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Boston College.

Compare that list to any of the more celebrated prospects in the class of 2014 -- Marist's Nic Weishar, Plainfield South's Clifton Garrett, Bolingbrook's Parrker Westphal, De La Salle's Jamarco Jones, Crete-Monee's Nyles Morgan and Glenbard North's Justin Jackson -- and Miranda has all the credibility of Google, Apple and Yahoo.

Colleges don't offer kickers unless they look like George Blanda, Lou Groza or Jan Stenerud, the only place kickers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Miranda is so good that he earned All-Public League recognition as a sophomore despite playing in only six games.

Not bad for a kid who grew up playing soccer, wears jersey number 11 for Brazilian soccer star Neymar, has no goal posts on his practice field, converts 55-yard field goals in workouts, booted a 70-yard kickoff between the uprights during a game, likely will attend Wisconsin and dreams of being a linebacker like Brian Urlacher.

Miranda, who grew up on Chicago's Southeast Side, still would be playing soccer if Brooks football coach James Brown, desperate for a kicker and a punter, hadn't appealed to the soccer team for players to try out. Miranda, who began playing soccer when he was 4 years old, was reluctant at first. But his uncle said: "Try it. You might like it." Miranda liked it so much that he quit soccer.

"Jesus was the best soccer player at our school," Brown said. "I saw him walking in the hall. The soccer team practices on the same field as the football team. I asked all the soccer players to try out. I needed a punter and kicker. He tried out. The ball exploded off his foot. He has a highlight tape on YouTube. He kicks off into the end zone for touchbacks."

It didn't take long for Miranda to realize that football, not soccer, was his future.

"I saw I was talented. I said to myself: 'What sport could I get farther in life with?' I decided to stick with football. I came to Brooks to play soccer. But I get a bigger thrill out of kicking a field goal than making a goal in soccer." he said.

"Being a kicker is a special position. Football can get me to college. For me, it was an easy transition. 'How do you kick that ball?' my soccer teammates ask. I kick it as if I was kicking a soccer ball, inside my foot. I notice most kids kick the ball with the laces, on the top part of the shoe. But I do it inside."

It was late September and the football season was well underway when Miranda, then a sophomore, decided to join the squad. He continued to play soccer -- "it was still my main sport," he said -- but he converted seven field goals in six games, including a 47-yarder, and was named all-city. After the season, he decided to stop playing soccer.

"It was tough to give up soccer," he admitted. "I grew up with it. I learned to love it. I still see friends. They make fun of me. 'Why did you switch? Why do you like football?" they ask. Now I love football like I used to love soccer."

Nebraska was the first school to contact Miranda. On the last day of August, they asked him to fill out a questionnaire. They still are talking. But Illinois made the first offer -- by accident.

"Their special teams coach came to practice to see one of our defensive backs," Miranda said. "But he was injured. Coach Brown said to look at the kicker. He went back to Illinois and they offered three games into the season. Then all those other schools began to contact me.

"My reaction? I'm happy. And I'm shocked. When I started playing football, I thought it would be just a high school thing. I didn't know what I was capable of. Coach Brown said: 'You will be the one who takes us out of all this. We will all come out together.' It has all be pretty amazing."

Miranda, who has a 4.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, said he will make some unofficial campus visits next summer. But he admits he prefers Wisconsin. "It is my dream school. I've been to some games. I went to the Big Ten championship game last year. The atmosphere is amazing. It's close to home. I would love to go there," he said.

Wisconsin also has expressed interest in Brooks quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, another all-city selection who happens to be Miranda's holder on place kicks. "We would like to go (to Wisconsin) together," Miranda said.

As he looks ahead to his senior year and the conclusion of his recruiting process, he is eager to improve his consistency and accuracy. In the summer, he attends Kohl's kicking camp.

"I have the leg. Give me five kicks from the 50, I can make four. But I want to make five of five," he said. "And I want to stay healthy. I've had a knee injury or groin or hamstring. This year, I messed up the right knee on my kicking leg. But I still played."

He risks his health every time he tries to make tackles on kickoffs. In games, he wants to do something to help his team. In practice, teammates scoff when he tries to play linebacker on the scout team. He has had his moments but he won't paste all of them in his scrapbook. He still is waiting for his first game-winning field goal.

"Against Payton in the state playoff, the kick returner outran his blockers and I took him down. He had a 'What did you do?' look on his face," Miranda said. "Against Harper, they returned a kick 97 yards for a touchdown. I dove for him but he gave me a juke move and I was flying in the air and took out the referee instead of the runner. That was my most embarrassing moment."

With some of the nation's elite college programs knocking at his door, he has nothing to be embarrassed about.

Former White Sox OF Tim Raines elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame

Former White Sox OF Tim Raines elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame

On his tenth and final year on the ballot, Tim Raines finally earned enough votes to earn the title of being a baseball immortal. 

"Rock" Raines will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer after 86 percent of voters from the Baseball Writers Association of America cast ballots for the former White Sox outfielder. Raines played for the White Sox from 1991-1995, but was best known for being a star outfielder for the Montreal Expos from 1979-1990.

Raines received the second-highest vote percentage among the three players who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y. Former Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell (86.2 percent) and former Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins and Detroit Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez (76 percent) will join Raines in the class of 2017. 

Over his 23-year career, Raines put together a Hall of Fame-worthy resume in spite of being overshadowed by fellow leadoff hitter and Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson. Over 10,359 plate appearances (63rd all-time), Raines stole 808 bases (5th), drew 1,330 walks (38th), scored 1,571 runs (54th), hit 113 triples (118th) and had an on-base percentage of .385 (135th). His 69.1 WAR ranks 73rd in major league history and is squarely in the realm of plenty of current Hall of Famers, including Barry Larkin (70.2), Carlton Fisk (68.2), and Ryne Sandberg (67.5), among others.

Raines made seven consecutive All-Star teams from 1981-1987 and won the 1987 All-Star Game MVP. He led the National League in runs scored twice, led the National League with 38 doubles in 1984, hit a league-best .334 in 1986 and stole 70 or more bases in six consecutive seasons (including 90 in 1983).

[WHITE SOX TALK PODCAST: Going deep with 2016 first-round pick Zack Collins]

In 1993, Raines was an integral part to the White Sox American League West crown, with the then-33-year-old hitting .306 with an .880 OPS, both of which were his best marks of his post-Expos career. 

"We got a guy at the top who could steal bases," former White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura, who played with Raines from 1991-1995, recalled last summer. "He got on base and did a lot of things. A switch-hitter that could get on base and steal some bases. He was a definite impact, similar to what Rickey did with the A's and some other teams. He just immediately gave credibility at the top of the lineup.

"… When you break down his numbers with some other people, I think he ranks right up there with anybody."

Still, Raines' Hall of Fame election has hardly been a sure thing since he debuted on the 2008 ballot. His year-by-year vote percentages reveal gradual progress, then a surge in 2016:

2008: 24.3 percent
2009: 22.6 percent
2010: 30.4 percent
2011: 37.5 percent
2012: 48.7 percent
2013: 52.2 percent
2014: 46.1 percent
2015: 55.0 percent
2016: 69.8 percent

"This is probably the first year out of the nine years that I've been on the ballot that I really, really feel like I have a chance," Raines said last May. 

What began as a sort of fringy, sabermetric-oriented campaign to get Raines elected eventually received a groundswell of support from a broad voting audience. And because of it, on July 30 this summer, Raines will head to Cooperstown to take his place among the greatest players to ever play the game. 

"I just know the things that i did on the field, I enjoyed doing it and I'm sure the fans that cheered for me and cheered against me enjoyed seeing me and doing the things that I did," Raines said. "I would love for it to happen. It would be something that I never really thought of when I first started playing the game, or even when I finished playing the game. That never was a thought in my mind that Hall of Fame would even be a chance." 

AP Illinois girls basketball rankings: Week 8

AP Illinois girls basketball rankings: Week 8

Here are the girls prep basketball polls with rank, team, first-place votes, record, total points and previous rank.

Class 4A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Montini (12) 21-0 120 1
2. Rock Island 22-1 96 2
3. Edwardsville 20-0 94 4
4. Homewood-Flossmoor 13-2 82 3
5. Benet 18-2 67 5
6. Rockford Boylan 19-1 48 6
7. Springfield 17-2 41 7
8. Hersey 18-2 33 8
9. Geneva 14-3 22 9
10. Oswego East 19-3 21 NR

Others receiving 12 or more votes: Bradley-Bourbonnais 12, Evanston Township 11

Class 3A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Chicago Marshall (7) 18-0 132 2
2. Morton (4) 19-2 123 1
3. Mattoon (1) 21-0 92 4
4. Highland (2) 16-3 87 3
5. Bethalto Civic Memorial 17-3 85 5
6. Richwoods 18-3 73 6
7. Rochester 14-3 56 8
8. Effingham 18-2 34 7
9. Normal University 16-3 32 NR
10. North Lawndale 14-3 13 10

Others receiving 12 or more votes: Litchfield 13, Peoria Central 8

Class 2A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Byron (11) 19-2 127 1
2. Eureka (1) 19-2 105 2
3. Teutopolis 20-2 96 3
4. Sherrard 20-2 92 4
5. Camp Point Central 19-2 72 5
6. Kewanee 21-3 50 9
7. Hall 18-5 47 6
8. Sesser-Valier (1) 19-1 41 8
9. Hillsboro 18-4 35 7
10. Gilman Iroquois West 18-2 11 NR

Others receiving 12 or more votes: Auburn 11, Arthur-Lovington-Hammond-Atwood 9, St. Edward 8

Class 1A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Lebanon (12) 19-0 135 1
2. Winchester (2) 20-0 123 3
3. Ashton-Franklin Center 18-2 97 2
4. Colfax Ridgeview 19-2 87 5
5 Mount Olive 19-2 81 6
6. Okawville 16-4 58 7
7. Danville Schlarmann 13-5 40 8
8. Calhoun 13-4 34 4
9. Princeville 21-2 29 9
10. Heyworth 20-1 26 NR

Others receiving 12 or more votes: Annawan 21, Galena 15