Crane old-timers recall the good times

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Crane old-timers recall the good times

Eugene Ford, Tim Robinson, Carl Merritt, and James Jackson remember the way it was in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s when Richard T. Crane Technical Preparatory High School was a showplace on the West Side. They are saddened by recent reports that the 121-year-old school is being "phased out" by the Chicago Board of Education.

"Crane was another world back then," said Ford, a 1965 graduate who was the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year in basketball. "America was coming into its own with issues that had to be dealt with. We rode the back of the civil rights movement. Doors opened up. We pursued opportunities."

"To hear that Crane is closing is sad. They talk about (former Chicago Bears owner and coach) George Halas being the most famous alumnus of the school. But there were a million George Halases at Crane. Basketball was king. There were many good teams and players who brought the student body together, that created great school spirit and pride."

Last Wednesday, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced that Crane and Dyett would be slowly phased out of existence and four struggling elementary schools would be closed by summer. Crane will stop enrolling freshmen and the dwindling student body will begin sharing space with Talent Development Charter School.

Crane built its reputation on basketball and its West Side rivalry with Marshall. Ford led Crane to the 1964 city championship. Robinson led Crane to the 1957 Public League title. Jackson was an All-State selection in 1974. For 40 years, Merritt has organized the CraneMarshall reunion that annually attracts 300 to 500 alumni.

The school has produced many outstanding basketball players, some of whom went on to compete in the NBA. The list also includes Tony Allen, Cory Blackwell, Dan Davis, Ken Colliers Norman, Bob Dillard, Anthony Manuel, Joe Daughrity, Jerome Freeman, Nate Williams, Andre Wakefield, Joe Reiff and Sherron Collins.

It is argued in some circles that too much basketball and not enough academics, the same formula that ended King's basketball dynasty, was the reason behind Crane's demise. That and too much violence and the razing of the Henry Horner and Rockwell Gardens housing projects that effectively turned the community from a neighborhood to transient.

"We had a West Side neighborhood then," Ford recalled. "Now the kids are bused in. They are transients. The neighborhood has broken down. The family was more intact then, more structured. You don't have that today."

But, Ford insists, there is always politics. "So many school superintendents come to Chicago. All of them come with new ideas of how to fix the problem of the public schools. But we've never had one superintendent who was a product of city schools, someone who knows what is going on from within the system," he said.

Robinson, a minister, is reminded of the old gym with the running trackbalcony surrounding the playing floor. He recently spoke to players on the 2011-12 squad in the new gym. It is hard for him to believe that his alma mater is being phased out.

"If they are going to phase out the school, I'd be disappointed," he said. "Back then, there was a high spirit of pride in the school. I can't recall any major incidents. The student body was involved. There were a lot of activities, a lot of expectations because of the basketball team.

"Everyone made sure there was an environment where everybody looked forward to going to school. We have competition with Marshall but it was clean. CraneMarshall was the biggest rivalry in the city at that time. The students took great pride in it."

Jackson, who has lived in Australia for the last 30 years, attended Crane because all of his brothers and sisters and most of the kids in his neighborhood went there. Crane also had a tradition for producing good basketball teams and players.

"It was a tough school in a tough area and the thing I remember most even before I went to the school is I always heard stories from my brothers about the basketball teams," Jackson said. "It had a reputation as one of the best schools in the area for basketball."

Jackson attended Medill Primary and was recruited to Crane by coach Dan Davis, a Crane graduate who had played with Ford on the 1964 city championship team.

"To this day, I am in contact with Dan," Jackson said. "On my visit to Chicago last year, he did some personal training with my son. He took us to Crane to watch some games. I was proud to show my son my heritage of high school basketball."

"I can't imagine basketball without Crane on the West Side of Chicago. Crane developed me into the player I was, it kept me off the streets and out of trouble and gave me direction in life. I will certainly be sad to see the school gone, all those memories."

Merritt, a graduate of 1958, recalled that the school was more than basketball. "We had great teachers at the time. If you wanted to learn, you would learn, from music to shops. We also had a great band. Of course, we always had good basketball, great players," he said.

Merritt organized the first CraneMarshall reunion in 1974. He arranged for top-notch singing groups, including the Drifters and the Spaniels. One of the first groups was Merrit's own, the Tomcats, which featured six Crane and Marshall graduates. The event got bigger and bigger. Sit-down dinners attracted crowds from 300 to 400, as many as 500, with alumni coming from New York and California.

He recalls when he attended Crane, there was only one policeman, a man named Peterson, who patrolled the hallways.

Despite reports of repeated violence and declining attendance, Merritt doesn't believe Crane will be phased out as was Austin, another West Side school with a great tradition in football.

"Someone suggested that we should put together a group to save Crane," he said. "But I think we should wait to see what (the board) has planned. Maybe Crane will be better. Nobody wants to send kids there now because of violence. I still live in the same house that I lived in when I went to Crane. I think the neighborhood is getting better. More people are moving in."

Interestingly, George Wilson almost ended up at Crane. He graduated from summer school at Crane, then enrolled at Marshall where he became a three-time All-State basketball player and the leader of Marshall's 1958 and 1960 state championship teams. He also has been involved in the CraneMarshall reunion for 40 years.

"My feelings would be the same if I heard Marshall was closing," Wilson said. "MarshallCrane was the big game on the West Side. It meant the world to me. When I talk about my days at Marshall, I always will mention Crane. I have fond memories of that rivalry. We didn't hate each other. We were very competitive with each other. We were always friends."

Bears: Leonard Floyd approves of deep-dish pizza

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Bears: Leonard Floyd approves of deep-dish pizza

Leonard Floyd admitted it'll take some getting used to the Chicago weather.

As for its pizza? He's already on board with that.

The Bears' first-round selection stopped by CSN's studios late Friday night and got his first taste of deep-dish pizza, specifically a Lou Malnati's pepperoni and sausage pie.

Floyd didn't have much to say while his face was stuffed with the deep-dish.

But when he did a live chat shortly after, he confirmed that the Chicago-style pizza was as good as advertised.

"If I had three thumbs I would hold all of them up," Floyd said. "Pizza was awesome, awesome."

It's safe to say he's fitting in to the Chicago lifestyle quite well already.

Check out Floyd's entire Q+A on our Facebook page.

Recapping the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft

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Recapping the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft

The first 98 selections of the 2016 NFL Draft are in the books. Here's a look at the second and third round choices made Friday night.

(Click here for a recap of Round 1)

Round 2

32. Cleveland Browns: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State

33. Tennessee Titans: Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson

34. Dallas Cowboys: Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame

35. San Diego Chargers: Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas

36. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Baltimore): Myles Jack, LB, UCLA

37. Kansas City Chiefs (via San Francisco): Chris Jones, DL, Mississippi State

38. Miami Dolphins (via Baltimore via Jacksonville): Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor

39. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Noah Spence, LB, Eastern Kentucky

40. New York Giants: Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma

41. Buffalo Bills (via Chicago): Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama

42. Baltimore Ravens (via Miami): Kamalei Correa, LB, Boise State

43. Tennessee Titans (via Philadelphia via Los Angeles): Austin Johnson, DL, Penn State

44. Oakland Raiders: Jihad Ward, DL, Illinois

45. Tennessee Titans (via Los Angeles): Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama

46. Detroit Lions: A'Shawn Robinson, DL, Alabama

47. New Orleans Saints: Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State

48. Green Bay Packers (via Indianapolis): Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana

49: Seattle Seahawks (via Chicago via Buffalo): Jarran Reed, DL, Alabama

50. Houston Texans (via Atlanta): Nick Martin, OL, Notre Dame

51. New York Jets: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State

52. Atlanta Falcons (via Houston): Deion Jones, LB, LSU

53. Washington Redskins: Su'a Cravens, LB, USC

54. Minnesota Vikings: Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson

55. Cincinnati Bengals: Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh

56. Chicago Bears (via Seattle): Cody Whitehair, OL, Kansas State

57. Indianapolis Colts (via Green Bay): T.J. Green, DB, Clemson

58. Pittsburgh Steelers: Sean Davis, DB, Maryland

59. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (via Kansas City): Roberto Aguayo, K, Florida State

60. New England Patriots: Cyrus Jones, DB, Alabama

61. New Orleans Saints (via New England via Arizona): Vonn Bell, DB, Ohio State

62. Carolina Panthers: James Bradberry, DB, Samford

63. Denver Broncos: Adam Gotsis, Georgia Tech

THIRD ROUND

64. Tennessee Titans: Kevin Byard, DB, Middle Tennessee State

65. Cleveland Browns: Carl Nassib, DL, Penn State

66. San Diego Chargers: Max Tuerk, OL, USC

67. Dallas Cowboys: Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska

68. San Francisco 49ers: Will Redmond, DB, Mississippi State

69. Jacksonville Jaguars: Yannick Ngakoue, DL, Maryland

70. Baltimore Ravens: Bronson Kaufusi, DL, BYU

71. New York Giants: Darian Thompson, FB, Boise State

72. Chicago Bears: Jonathan Bullard, DL, Florida

73. Miami Dolphins: Kenyan Drake, RB, Alabama

74. Kansas City Chiefs (via Tampa Bay): KeiVarae Russell, DB, Notre Dame

75. Oakland Raiders: Shilique Calhoun, DL, Michigan State

76. Cleveland Browns (via Tennessee via Los Angeles): Shon Coleman, OL, Auburn

77. Carolina Panthers (via Cleveland via Philadelphia via Detroit): Daryl Worley, DB, West Virginia

78. New England Patriots (via New Orleans): Joe Thuney, OL, N.C. State

79. Philadelphia Eagles: Isaac Seumalo, OL, Oregon State

80. Buffalo Bills: Adolphus Washington, DL, Ohio State

81. Atlanta Falcons: Autin Hooper, TE, Stanford

82. Indianapolis Colts: Le'Raven Clark, OL, Texas Tech

83. New York Jets: Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia

84. Washington Redskins: Kendall Fuller, DB, Virginia Tech

85. Houston Texans: Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State

86. Miami Dolphins (via Minnesota): Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers

87. Cincinnati Bengals: Nick Vigil, LB, Utah State

88. Green Bay Packers: Kyler Fackrell, LB, Utah State

89. Pittsburgh Steelers: Javon Hargrave, DL, South Carolina State

90. Seattle Seahawks: C.J. Prosise, RB, Notre Dame

91. New England Patriots: Jacoby Brissett, QB, North Carolina State

92. Arizona Cardinals: Brandon Williams, DB, Texas A&M

93. Cleveland Browns (via Carolina): Cody Kessler, QB, USC

94. Seattle Seahawks (via Denver): Nick Vannett, TE, Ohio State

95. Detroit Lions: Graham Glasgow, OL, Michigan

96. New England Patriots: Vincent Valentine, DL, Nebraska

97. Seattle Seahawks: Rees Odhiambo, OL, Boise State

98. Denver Broncos: Justin Simmons, DB, Boston College

Bears' 3rd rounder Florida DE Jonathan Bullard to add pass rush to front three

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Bears' 3rd rounder Florida DE Jonathan Bullard to add pass rush to front three

The Bears had to cut ties with defensive end Julius Peppers a couple of years ago, only to see him change from a 4-3 end to 3-4 linebacker hybrid for the Green Bay Packers. In the third round of this year’s draft, the Bears added a player whose goal is to emulate Peppers, which would be more than fine with the Bears.

“Julius Peppers is my favorite player,” Florida defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard said at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine.

Bullard was selected by the Bears with the 72nd pick of this year’s draft.

“My oldest brother actually wore No. 90 because of Julius and I wore No. 90 because of my brother but it was actually Julius," Bullard said. "We all watched him play growing up. My brother also played at a D-2 school and I wore 90 in high school.”

No. 90 came available last year when the Bears released defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff. It was taken over by Greg Scruggs when he was signed on Dec. 30 for Game 16, but could be Bullard’s in the foreseeable future, particularly if Bullard plays to his self-description.

“I would say my disruption,” Bullard said of his specific strength. “I had a lot of disruption and I make things easier for my teammates to make plays, also.”

They may be very pleased with the progress of Ego Ferguson’s rehab and recovery from season-ending knee surgery but that did not stop the Bears from adding internal pressure on the defensive line with the selection of Bullard.

“We see him as a 3-4 defensive end,” said GM Ryan Pace. “He played defensive end [at Florida], bulked up and played more of a three-technique position for them.

“When you watch tape on him, there’s one thing you can’t coach, and that’s get-off. His get-off is excellent and I think there’s a lot of advantages from just that alone.”

Bullard, 6-3, 285, had 6.5 sacks in 2015 along with 17.5 tackles for loss, good enough to be a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award. He started eight games at defensive end in 2013, then all 12 games in 2014 and 14 his senior season.

“My junior year I started back out at end…but most of my senior year it was 3-technique,” Bullard said.

With the Bears set at nose tackle with Eddie Goldman and defensive end with Akiem Hicks, Bullard is expected to be part of a rotation inside in sub packages, which the Bears operated out of some 60 percent of the time in 2015, per GM Ryan Pace.

“I think because off my versatility,” Bullard said. “I can do whatever you want me to do on your defensive line, inside to outside, quickness to hold the point. So I think I’m going to bring a lot to your team.’’