Grant overcomes adversity to start 8-2

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Grant overcomes adversity to start 8-2

If Grant didn't have bad luck, it wouldn't have any luck at all. The Fox Lake school is 8-2 going into Friday night's game at Crystal Lake Central in the second round of the Class 6A playoff despite a laundry list of injuries and setbacks that had coach Kurt Rous shaking his head in disbelief.

On the Thursday before the season opener, senior wide receiverdefensive back Keion Miller had the entire team at his house for a spaghetti dinner. The deck on the patio collapsed. Eleven players were standing on it at the time. Fortunately, no one was injured. But it was an omen of things to come.

"Later, people joked that if a fallen patio can't stop us, who can? We went through a lot of adversity, a lot of injuries, and we're still having one of the best seasons in school history," Miller said.

Two players who rushed for over 1,000 yards a year ago have been sidelined with injuries for the last four weeks. And two defensive backs are recovering from injuries.

Last Friday, in a 59-0 rout of Lake View, Rous started 5-foot-5, 140-pound junior Jason Bach at quarterback, a fourth-stringer who never had started a game at any level and certainly wasn't expected to start a playoff game.

Rous said his team is winning--the Bulldogs have lost only to highly rated Lakes and Stevenson--because he is using a committee of running backs (sophomore Jeremy Bredwood came up to the varsity last Friday and rushed for four touchdowns) and smoking mirrors.

The mainstays are Miller, 6-foot-3, 275-pound senior tackle Dan Haeffele, 6-foot, 250-pound senior guard Luis Echeverria, 5-foot-11, 230-pound senior center Jared Lalanda, 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior tackle Tyler Reynolds, 5-foot-8, 180-pound senior linebacker Dan King and 5-foot-10, 210-pound junior defensive tackle Francisco Uribe.

"Our offensive line has picked us up. We rushed for over 400 yards last Friday," Rous said. "And our very young defense is playing well, too. If we can control the ball, keep our offense on the field and the opponent's offense on the sideline, fly around on defense and rally around the ball and eliminate big plays, we can be successful."

That's a lot to ask of any team, of course, but Miller, who caught a 75-yard touchdown pass from Bach on Grant's only pass of the game to set the tone in last Friday's game, isn't awestruck by the challenge.

"The kids stepped up and filled the void," said Miller, a three-year starter who has experienced more than a few ups and downs. "This is the best of the three teams I've played on. It's all about the way we work together.

"Do your 1-11, the coaches say. If everybody does his own job, we can get the job done. I like how close we all are. We all pick up each other. Everybody works hard in practice every day. We hope accomplish some things that no other team at our school has ever done."

Miller has high expectations for himself. He wants to be a doctor. He ranks No. 65 in a class of 465 and plans to study radiology or anesthesiology at a school in Florida. He has applied to Florida, Central Florida, Miami and Florida State. He also plans to walk on and try to earn a spot on the football team.

He has been playing football since fourth grade, since he began playing for the Fox Lake Cardinals. In his Valley Lakes neighborhood, everybody played football. They played games in their front yards. His friends said he had size and speed so Miller decided to try out for football.

"I couldn't stop playing," he said. "I didn't know anything about the sport. My older brother played basketball. Another brother didn't play much. I was too young. I didn't know how to play. At first, I was scared to get hit. But when I started to play, I instantly loved it.

"What sold me was I liked how intense it got. You can hit people and not get in trouble. You can let a lot of anger out. I loved how pumped up you get for games. There is nothing else like it, especially when you win. But you have to work hard to win in football."

White Sox Top Prospects: Jameson Fisher faring well with transition to outfield

White Sox Top Prospects: Jameson Fisher faring well with transition to outfield

Jameson Fisher entered the 2016 MLB Draft with experience at only catcher and first base.

When the White Sox drafted him in the fourth round (116th overall), little did he know he wasn’t going to start off his professional career at either of those positions.

The White Sox transitioned the Southeastern Louisiana product to outfielder. Fisher has a .953 field percentage in 35 games played at left field in the Advanced Rookie Class.

The 22-year-old credits outfield instructor Aaron Rowand and Great Falls hitting coach Willie Harris for helping him with the switch.

Fisher is batting .335/.425/.466 with three homers and 21 RBI this season with the Great Falls Voyagers. His .335 average ranks second on the team and his 12 stolen bases ranks third.

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This season at Southeastern Louisiana, Fisher had the best batting average (.449) and on-base percentage (.577) in college baseball.

Fisher played catcher in 2014 but transitioned to first base following a shoulder injury, which cause him to miss the entire 2015 season.

The White Sox signed Fisher for $485,000 on June 16.

White Sox: Miguel Gonzalez will head out for rehab assignment

White Sox: Miguel Gonzalez will head out for rehab assignment

Miguel Gonzalez will head on a rehab assignment.

The White Sox pitcher has been on the 15-day disabled list since August 12 with a right groin strain.

Manager Robin Ventura said Gonzalez pitched in a simulated game on Saturday and it “went well.”

“Everything’s good,” Ventura said. “Next step is he’s going to go out and see how that goes.”

After a bullpen session on Wednesday, Gonzalez said he felt “a lot better” and “didn’t feel anything” while throwing in the bullpen.

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If all goes according to plan, Gonzalez would be one of a few roster moves after Sept. 1.

How the White Sox will balance the rotation in his return is uncertain.

“We talk about that all the time,” Ventura said, “just being able to find the right spot to put a guy in, if a guy’s gonna come out of it, if we’re just gonna leave everybody in there and do it.”

Gonzalez is 2-6 this season with a 4.05 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 19 games (18 starts).

How walk-on Rob Regan became a secret weapon for Notre Dame

How walk-on Rob Regan became a secret weapon for Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — How does a walk-on safety have a Notre Dame game ball despite never actually appearing in a game?

On the surface, that sophomore Rob Regan received that family heirloom last October after Notre Dame’s win over Navy may seem weird given he didn’t play a snap that day. But to everybody who sees the work Regan puts in at the LaBar Practice Complex, especially during weeks in which Notre Dame prepares to face an opponent that runs the triple option, it’s anything but strange. 

“There’s no question about it,” defensive end Isaac Rochell said. “He deserved it.”

“I personally don’t know who we would’ve given it to besides him,” cornerback Cole Luke added. “If we didn’t have Robby, we definitely wouldn’t have been as prepared as we were.”

For Rochell, Luke and the rest of the Irish defense, Regan’s work as Notre Dame’s scout team — er, “Swag Team” — quarterback during triple option preparation was an important key to solving the antiquated-yet-confounding offense. It’s an attack Notre Dame faces more than most other Power Five schools with Navy on the schedule every year, but heading into last season, coach Brian Kelly & Co. had to double down on their efforts to stop it.

Notre Dame’s defense didn’t put up much resistance against Navy in 2013 (34 points, 5.3 yards per play) and 2014 (39 points, 5.9 yards per play), and with Georgia Tech joining the Mids on the schedule last year, fixing those triple option defensive issues was a paramount concern. Army is on the schedule in 2016, too, so for the second consecutive year Notre Dame will face two triple option offenses.

Former defensive coach Bob Elliott moved off the field into a special assistant role, with one of his chief tasks being to figure out a way to better defend the triple option. But the decision of Regan, who successfully ran a triple option offense at Hinsdale South High School in the Chicago area, to walk on to the team turned out to be a huge boost to those efforts.

In the past, Notre Dame’s scout team quarterback for triple option weeks wasn’t a natural at running it and had to read each play off a card. That lack of fluidity not only meant fewer reps for the Irish defense, but the quality of them was way off what they’d face from Keenan Reynolds or whoever the opposing quarterback on Saturday would be.

Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore said those sub-optimal triple option looks in practice are relatively common across college football, which makes sense — it’s not an offense used much at the college level. So having someone on your roster who ran in in high school can be a boon to preparing to face it.

Regan doesn’t have to read off a card because he knows the offense so well. And that means more plays and a look closer to what Notre Dame sees in games.

“It changes everything,” Kelly said.

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Of course, the scout team work can’t completely replicate game action — Notre Dame doesn’t do nearly as much cut blocking in practice as it’ll see in games from option offenses, given the injury risk involved. And guys like Navy’s Reynolds and Tago Smith, Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas and Army’s Ahmad Bradshaw run the option faster than Regan can in practice, too.

But Regan still gives Notre Dame as good an option look as it could ask for on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“You can sit and practice against Navy out here and your scout team can do a good job, but it can’t touch what that look like at game time,” defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said. “They’re exceptional at it, it’s happening so fast. But the faster we can get it, the closer we can move it to it, the better.”

Regan doesn’t shy away from absorbing hard hits too, which helps Notre Dame’s defense play faster in practice. Former Irish linebacker Jarrett Grace marveled at how Regan was able to take so much physical punishment during practice — “I don’t know if it’s extra ice, if it’s shaking up the Space Jam water to get jacked up out there,” he said — while junior linebacker Nyles Morgan said earlier this month Regan’s role is “one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever seen."

“I like giving hits and taking hits,” Regan said. “I’m a physical guy — when I’m running the ball, I’d rather run him over than juking him out.

“I enjoyed it. It definitely took a toll on my body, but I was glad to be able to contribute to those wins.”

Regan initially played wide receiver for Hinsdale South, but was moved to quarterback two games into his junior year. Hinsdale South went 5-4 his junior year, then went 9-3 and reached IHSA 6A quarterfinals in Regan’s senior year. Regan rushed for 18 touchdowns and averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2014.

“He’s a football kid,” Hinsdale South coach Mike Barry said. “(He) grew up playing football, has football smarts. We refer to guys as instinctual at times — he’s one of those type of players where he just has a feel for the game."

Regan was thinking about attending high-caliber academic institutions like Penn, Princeton, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Chicago before Notre Dame came along. Kelly was in the Chicago suburbs to scout four-star Hinsdale South defensive end Joshua King — who went on to commit to Michigan State — and was pitched on Regan by Barry.

Once Notre Dame came into the picture (Regan, as you’d guess from that above list of colleges he was considering, had the grades to get in) it was an easy choice for him to head to South Bend. The combination of academics, football, location and faith made Notre Dame “the best fit for me,” Regan, who’s studying chemical engineering, said.

“(He’s) somebody that recognizes that, first of all, what a degree from Notre Dame is going to do for him, and somebody that’s got a lot of pride in playing team sports,” Kelly said. “He loves to play team sports. He knows that he’s got value.”

Regan’s ultimate goal is to get into a game before his time at Notre Dame is up — he’s hoping to get on a special teams unit, make a difference there and hope to get in a game at safety.

But he’s already been recognized by coaches with an honor only a handful of others received in 2015. Notre Dame held Georgia Tech to 22 points — 15 of which came in garbage time — and Navy to 24 points, totals that represent the kind of improvements made by the Irish in defending the option.

And Regan, the 6-foot-2, 200 pound walk-on, played a major part in those improvements. Even if he didn’t play.

“It was awesome,” Regan said of receiving the Navy game ball. “I never expected that I would be recognized like that. It wasn’t just me, it was the whole Swag Team, but I guess I was kind of the leader of that team. It meant a lot that coach Kelly took the time to recognize our hard work.”

And as for the game ball, which is in a case back home in Darien, Ill.?

“It might be a hand-me down for a couple generations,” Regan said with a smile.