Goodwin is grit of Loyola's defense


Goodwin is grit of Loyola's defense

Loyola coach John Holecek is a defensive genius. His Ramblers have allowed only 134 points in 12 games, only three touchdowns in their last five. The former Illinois and NFL linebacker has a knack for putting the right personnel in the right spot where they can succeed.

"I look for smart athletes, kids who are physical and can make plays," Holecek said. "We have a very quick defense. It isn't overpowering. We have a good collection of smart kids in the right spots. They know the strengths and weaknesses of our calls. They are a heady group. We utilize their skills."

So what is 5-foot-11, 230-pound Darby Goodwin doing in the middle of Loyola's 3-4 defense? How did he get to be a three-year starter at nose tackle? How did he get to be the Defensive Player of the Year in the Catholic League's Blue Division? And why don't any college recruiters outside of Division III seem to care?

"He is a natural football player," Holecek said. "You can see it from the first snap. He is confident and tough. He has good football instincts, a good football IQ. He is as reliable and tenacious as they come. He has very good quickness. He is stout, explosive and strong. He has a very high motor. He never stops competing."

Goodwin, lineman Jack Rushin, linebacker Cody Sullivan, conference MVP and safety Luke Ford and their friends form a crack defensive unit that has recorded four shutouts and allowed only four opponents to score more than one touchdown. Going into Saturday's Class 8A semifinal against Glenbard North, the Ramblers have permitted only two touchdowns in three playoff games.       

In a majority of snaps, Goodwin is double teamed by blockers who often weigh 60-80 pounds more than he does. But he has recorded 11 sacks, four short of the school record.

"He is street tough," Holecek said. "He says little but plays football. He is as gritty as they come."

Goodwin admits it is a challenge to contend against bigger linemen on every snap. "I have to play with a chip on my shoulder. I'm confident that I am better than them. I play with that mindset all the time. The offensive lineman talk trash. They look down at me. I know I am smaller. I have to be quicker, use my speed, stay low, use leverage. I can't stop. The most fun I have is when I eat them and get a sack," he said.

He was overwhelmed after the regular season when Holecek informed him that he had been singled out as the Defensive Player of the Year in the Catholic League's Blue Division.

"I was a little surprised. I couldn't believe it was happening. It was pretty awesome," Goodwin said. "But then, when I began to think about it, I felt I had earned it. I worked really hard for the last two years."

Longer than that. Holecek learned about Goodwin from a former player who was coaching the youngster in a youth football program at Wildwood Park. His parents, who are missionaries, moved to Chicago when he was 5. He began playing football in sixth grade.

"My former player called me and said Goodwin was a great kid, that he literally was ripping jerseys off opponents," Holecek said.

As Goodwin recalls, he was an inch shorter and 30 pounds lighter than he is today. "Every day, I wish I was 6-foot-5 and weigh 250 pounds. I pray every day for an extra three or four inches. But I can only hope for the best. I hope someone will give me a chance, even Division III," he said.

Holecek believes he could be an undersized defensive lineman in college or a linebacker in a 3-4 defense. It bothers Goodwin that he hears only from Division III schools. He wants to play football in college, at the highest level he can.

"I know size is a big factor," he said. "But I know I can play. Look at my film, my statistics. I love the game, no matter where it is."

At the moment, most importantly, it is at Loyola. He was an offensive lineman as a freshman, then was moved up to the varsity as a sophomore and converted to the defensive line. It didn't take long for him to understand that Holecek and defense added up to a very successful program.

"Watching the players before me, like Chance Carter (now at Northwestern), I realized Loyola had the No. 1 defense in the nation," Goodwin said. "Coach Holecek puts us in position to make plays. If you are in the right position, you can make plays."

In last Saturday's 19-7 victory over Palatine, his job was to pressure and harass Palatine quarterback Ethan Olles, who had passed for more than 3,000 yards. Goodwin, double teamed as usual, had only one sack. But he helped to hurry Olles into throwing four interceptions.

This week, he will have a different responsibility against Justin Jackson and Glenbard North's run-oriented offense. "They are physical and run the ball. I must eat double teams so our linebackers can be free to make plays. I realize usually against heavy run teams that I have to sacrifice my body, take on a double team, take out two blocks, so the linebacker can make a tackle," he said.

And hope those college recruiters look at the film.

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

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As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.

As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.

But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:

Stop the penalty hemorrhaging

For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.

The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.

All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”

Stop the dinking

While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.

Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.

Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.

The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.

Stop the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.

The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.

The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.

Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.