Defense stuffs offense in state football finals

948871.png

Defense stuffs offense in state football finals

I used to enjoy covering the state high school football championships at Illinois State's Hancock Stadium in Normal and at Illinois' Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Walking the sideline in cold weather and sometimes rain was part of the atmosphere. Sitting in the press box just wasn't the same.
But I've discovered that watching the state finals on television, eating hot turkey sandwiches and pumpkin pie, from the comfort of my den is even more enjoyable for someone who covered the most memorable state final of all, the first one, Glenbrook North's thrilling 19-13 overtime victory over East St. Louis in 1974.
Ever notice how many schools have been there before, how established and tradition-rich programs make frequent appearances in the state finals, how rare it is for a first-time qualifier to make the trip to Champaign?
My expectations for the 2012 finals? I couldn't wait to see how Mount Carmel's defense would attempt to contain Glenbard North's Justin Jackson. I was eager to see the duel of unbeatens in Class 7A, Glenbard West vs. Lincoln-Way East. How good is Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell? Could Montini win four in a row?
I couldn't imagine that 2012 could generate as much excitement as 2011. Who could surpass the spectacular offensive performances of Joliet Catholic's Ty Isaac, Montini's Jordan Westerkamp and John Rhode, Bolingbrook's Aaron Bailey, Rochester's Wes Lunt and Zack Grant, Aurora Christian's Anthony Maddie and Dakota's Jake Apple?
There were more turnovers and penalties than highlight clips last weekend. But there were plenty of heroes. Every championship team needs at least one difference-maker and the winners on Friday and Saturday had them, especially on defense.
Simeon's Jabaree Winston, Maroa-Forsyth's Jack Hockaday, Mercer County's Zach Nelson and Devin Morford, Aurora Christian's Brandon Mayes and Joel Bouagnon and Rochester's Austin Green and Garrett Dooley.
Montini's Dimitri Taylor and Fred Beaugard, Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell, Marcus Terrell and Nyles Morgan, Glenbard West's Hayden Carlson, Ruben Dunbar and Henry Haeffner and Mount Carmel's Don Butkus, Draco Smith and Justin Sanchez.
It was punishing and unrelenting defense, not high scoring offense, that proved to be the difference-maker for Montini, Crete-Monee, Glenbard West and Mount Carmel. Montini, Glenbard West and Mount Carmel each allowed only one offensive touchdown.
Have you ever seen a more physical game than Glenbard WestLincoln-Way East? Have you ever seen a more devastating tackle than Hayden Carlson's crushing stop of Tom Fuessel that preserved Glenbard West's victory in the closing seconds? How many times do you think that tape will be replayed?
What drama! Fourth-and-10 at Glenbard West's 13 with two minutes to play. Fuessel, a Northern Illinois recruit and the Chicago Sun-Times' choice as the best quarterback in the Chicago area, appears headed for a game-winning touchdown until he is flipped helmet over shoulder pads and out-of-bounds by the 6-foot, 180-pound Carlson at the 6. It was the last of Carlson's 14 tackles for the game.
A few days ago, while offering a scouting report on Glenbard West and praising the Hilltopper defense as "the best I've seen," Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg said junior safety Hayden Carlson was the best defensive back he had seen all year. And he offered proof, a prelude to the Fuessel hit.
"He knocked (Northwestern-bound) Matthew Harris out for three weeks on a clean hit," Weinberg said. "He is a great football player. He covers a lot of ground."
The state finals offer an interesting contrast, from small schools to large schools, from schools with enrollments of only 300 students to schools of more than 2,000. Small schools emphasize fundamentals. Large schools take advantage of athleticism.
Glenbard West, which emerged as the No. 1 team in the state in the wake of its 10-8 victory over Lincoln-Way East, rode its "Hitters" mentality to a 14-0 season and its first state championship since 1983.
It wasn't unexpected. In his preseason evaluation, coach Chad Hetlet said the 2012 squad "should be one of the faster teams we have had, a skilled team with a lot of speed, good size up front on both sides of the ball and not a lot of highlight players but good players at all positions, no below average players at any position."
"Potentially," he said, "it could be the best team we have had."
At Glenbard West, it is all about being physical. Bill Duchon started the "Hitters" tradition in the 1960s and Jim Covert, his handpicked successor, maintained the same philosophy. When Hetlet arrived in 2007, inheriting a program that was 1-8 the year before, he picked up the torch that Duchon and Covert had left behind.
Hetlet, 40, learned under Bob Bradshaw, who coached for 25 years at Woodstock and eight at Johnsburg. "I learned the old-school method of football. I listened to coaches talk and kept my mouth shut," he said.
"I learned running the ball with a physical presence up front and stopping the run on defense. You might have less talent but if your kids are more physical and play harder, you have a chance to win. When kids buy into being physical, they are tough to stop."
Hetlet spent one year as defensive coordinator at Hinsdale Central, where he got a good look at Glenbard West. When the head coaching position opened up, he researched the history of the program. When he was hired, he knew exactly what his game plan was going to be.
"The selling point for me was they always were a smash-mouth style of football team," he said. "You want to go into a program that is familiar to what you know. It was a perfect marriage for me."
He retained the Hitters program that Duchon had established. He got instant approval from former Glenbard West players who still lived in Glen Ellyn. Duchon and Covert were very supportive. The school administration and the community, too. Everybody wanted to see the program return to the way it was.
After a 6-5 start in 2007, Glenbard West has taken off. In the last five years. Hetlet's teams have posted a 59-5 record with one state championship and one second-place finish.
"What we talk about all the time and remind the kids is they come from a long line of great physical football players," Hetlet said. "It started with them making a name for themselves. Duchon had gold helmets. Covert had 100-percent helmets. They had their own thing. They were hitters, all of them, a bunch of tough kids.
"I believe in that. That's what we have to do to be successful. It isn't the only way but it's the only way I know. We won't finesse people. We will be successful as long as we are physical and stop the run."
Hetlet's thing is a green G on the side of the helmet. The players don't earn it until they go through the off-season workouts. Parents are invited to the ceremony.
"It goes with the tradition, who we are," Hetlet said. "We don't want to pretend that we are the Duchon or Covert era. We want people to think we want to replicate what they did. We don't want to steal what they did. We want people to talk about us."
After Saturday, everybody is talking.

Cardinals make it official: Dexter Fowler signs with Cubs' chief rival

Cardinals make it official: Dexter Fowler signs with Cubs' chief rival

Last offseason, Jason Heyward left the Cardinals to join up with the rival Cubs.

This offseason, Dexter Fowler has left the Cubs to join up with the rival Cardinals.

The Redbirds made things official Friday morning, introducing the now former Cubs outfielder and switching Fowler, fresh off a World Series win, to the other side of the Central Division rivalry.

Fowler spent each of the past two seasons with the Cubs and established himself as a remarkable catalyst at the top of the batting order. He made a surprise decision last offseason, re-upping with the Cubs during spring training after reports had him going elsewhere.

Fowler turned in a terrific 2016 campaign, reaching his first All-Star Game after posting a .290/.398/.483 slash line with seven homers, 19 doubles, three triples, six stolen bases, 28 RBIs and 41 runs scored in his first 64 games before a lengthy stay on the disabled list. He finished the regular season with a .276/.393/.447 slash line, 13 home runs, m48 RBIs and 84 runs scored for the 103-win Cubs.

Fowler picked up 18 hits — including three home runs — and scored 11 runs during the playoffs this past fall as the Cubs marched to their first World Series win in 108 years. He memorably belted a leadoff homer in Game 7 of the World Series, one of two home runs in that series against the Cleveland Indians.

Check out video of Fowler's speech at the Cubs' World Series rally last month in Grant Park:

Report: Buckeyes assistant Luke Fickell negotiating to become next head coach at Cincinnati

luke-fickell-1209.jpg
AP

Report: Buckeyes assistant Luke Fickell negotiating to become next head coach at Cincinnati

For the second straight offseason, Urban Meyer could be losing a defensive coordinator to a head-coaching job.

Last year it was Chris Ash moving from Ohio State to become the head coach at Rutgers. Now, Luke Fickell looks like he might be leaving for the head-coaching job at Cincinnati.

BearcatReport.com, a Rivals site, reported Friday that Fickell is in negotiations to become the next head coach at Cincinnati, right down the street from the place he's spent almost the entirety of his career.

ESPN's Adam Rittenberg followed up, reporting that while Fickell and Cincinnati have talked about the opening, things might not be as imminent as the first report suggested.

While Fickell — if he were to leave — would technically become a part of the Meyer coaching tree, he's been a mainstay in Columbus since before the Buckeyes' current head coach arrived.

Fickell played at Ohio State from 1992 to 1996 and got a graduate assistant job under John Cooper in 1999. After two seasons as an assistant at Akron, Fickell returned as the Buckeyes' special teams coordinator under Jim Tressel and spent the next nine seasons as a Tressel assistant. He moved from special teams coordinator to linebackers coach in 2004 and got the title of co-defensive coordinator in 2005.

After Tressel's tenure came to a tumultuous end amid what became known as "Tattoogate," Fickell assumed the one-season role of interim head coach, leading the Buckeyes to a 6-7 record before Meyer showed up. Fickell has been a defensive coordinator under Meyer for the past five seasons, helping Ohio State to a jaw-dropping 61-5 record — including a national championship in 2014 — and coaching one of the best defenses in the country over the past several seasons.

Fickell would seem like a perfect fit at Cincinnati, which has a vacancy after the departure of Tommy Tuberville, who posted just a 4-8 record this past season. Fickell is a longtime assistant who most definitely deserves his chance, bringing that one season of head-coaching experience and a knowledge of the recruiting area.

If Fickell takes the job, he wouldn't have to wait too long to go up against his former employer and new in-state foe. The Bearcats and Buckeyes play in 2019, though that comes after Cincinnati's already-scheduled game against Michigan next season.