Liaromatis dinner a tradition at Wilmington


Liaromatis dinner a tradition at Wilmington

Wilmington's football program has a lot of tradition. Like winning. In 18 years, coach Jeff Reents has won 77 percent (154-46) of his games. His 2003 team finished third in Class 3A. From 2008 to 2010, his teams won 32 of 35 games. This year's team has won seven of its last eight.

But there is another tradition that is almost as popular as winning -- dinner at the Liaromatis house on Wednesday night. Thirty players, no girls. Hot dogs, hamburgers, brats, steaks on the grill. Nothing fancy.

Just guy food. Oh, one time someone brought venison.

"It has been at our house for the last three years. When I was a sophomore, my brother Steve was senior captain. Last year, I was the starting quarterback and kept it at our house. This year, too," said Sean Liaromatis.

"There is a boatload of food, usually three times what we need for 30 guys," Chris Tworek said. "We relax and talk to each other. We make a bonfire. It's a bonding thing, a lot of fun."

Liaromatis and Tworek are two of the leaders on a Wilmington team that averaged 33 points per game, shut out five opponents in a row and allowed only 71 points in a 7-2 season.

In last Friday's 35-28 victory over Herscher, the Interstate 8 Small Division champion prevailed as Chris Tworek rushed 30 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns and Mike Wolfe rushed 23 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

The Wildcats will play at Byron in the first round of the Class 3A playoff.

"Of all the team's I've had, this is one of the top five, the best team since 2009 when we set a lot of offensive records," Reents said. "We run a double wing offense and are known for running. But we have good balance this year. Our quarterback averages 100 yards per game passing and we have two running backs who average 100 yards per game."

Reents believes his team can make a serious run at the Class 3A title. With 11 starters returning from last year's 7-4 squad, he has a good mix of talent and experience.

"We can make a good run at the Class 3A title," the coach said. "We have a physical mentality to run and we have a lot of good athletes. Our defense compares to the 1996 and 2002 teams that went to the state semifinals. This defense has speed and great tenacity to get to the ball. We can run and pass. But we still are able to run the ball, which is our bread and butter."

The 2012 Wildcats might not be able to run the ball as effectively and as sensationally as the 1996 team led by Damian Anderson. But Liaromatis, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior quarterback, and Tworek, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior wingback, give them plenty of punch.

Liaromatis has passed for more than 800 yards and 13 touchdowns. Tworek has rushed for more than 1,000 yards. And Mike Wolfe, a 5-foot-8, 160-pound senior wingback, has rushed for nearly 900. Tworek also is the team's leading tackler, averaging 11 per game.

Other standouts are 6-foot-2, 190-pound wide receiverstrong safety Dan O'Leary and 6-foot-3, 280-pound offensive tacklenoseman Derrick Romano.

Ironically, Liaromatis and Tworek both were born in Bolingbrook. Tworek's family moved to Wilmington when he was 3, Lairomatis when he was 4.

"There is nothing like football on a Friday night in Wilmington," Tworek said. "Everybody comes to the game, the team comes out of the woods, through the smoke and the tunnel. Then there's the fireworks. What (Reents) has built here is pretty amazing. There is nothing else like it."

Liaromatis' father, who played football at Lisle, introduced him to the game at 5. But he admits baseball is his favorite sport while wrestling is his best sport. He qualified for the state finals at 152 last season.

"But I love playing football, the atmosphere, the team aspect," Liaromatis said. "Football is a big deal in this town. I remember when I was a kid in 2003 and 2004 and went to all the games. You drive through town and nobody is in town on Friday night. Everybody is at the game. It's cool, especially when you get to play and see a bunch of people."

It is even more fun this season with more emphasis on the passing game.

"I threw 18 passes in one game this year. I'm averaging at least 10 to 15 each game. Last year, the most I threw in one game was 16. In one game, I threw only three."

Nobody was more surprised than Liaromatis when Reents informed him of his new game plan for this year.

"We practice the same stuff over and over. But I didn't know I'd be throwing this much until (Reents) started to call for more passes in the game. I like to throw the ball this year. It's a nice surprise," he said.

Liaromatis and Tworek remember last year's 7-4 finish. They lost to Winnebago in overtime in the second round of the playoff on a trick play.

"We messed up on defense. We didn't see it coming. It was disappointing. We had home field advantage and we were hyped up. I thought we had them. Our game plan was going good. But they got us," Tworek said.

Tworek started on defense last year and also started at wingback for the last five games, accounting for 500 yards. Now he is the leader of the defense while Liaromatis controls the offense.

"Last year, we weren't sure what would happen but we put it all together at the end of the season until Winnebago," Tworek said. "This year, we have put it together early better than last year. We hope to perfect it. This team can win the state title. I have seen how teams react to each other. This team works well on both sides of the ball."

No hard feelings between John Fox and Jay Cutler, but no clear future, either

No hard feelings between John Fox and Jay Cutler, but no clear future, either

Jay Cutler returned to practice as he left it before the Week 2 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in which he suffered a thumb injury that sidelined him for the past five games. He was back as the No. 1 quarterback.

But the landscape changed over those five weeks, at least outwardly, with Brian Hoyer filling in with a succession of 300-yard passing games and coach John Fox indicating that as long as Hoyer was performing well, he could hold onto the job.

Now Hoyer is gone to IR with a broken left arm suffered in a Week 7 loss to the Green Bay Packers and Cutler returns to a situation where his head coach’s endorsement and support has appeared conditional.

“He doesn’t have a choice, I guess, at this point,” Cutler said on Tuesday. “Brian is out, so I’ve got to go. I’ve had good conversations with Foxy this week, last week, the week before. There’s never been any strain in our relationship. We’re both very open and honest, and we’re on the same page. We just want to win football games.”

Fox has been ripped in some quarters for what was taken as creating a quarterback controversy. In fact, consistent with a competition mantra that has applied to every position since the end of last season, Fox supported each quarterback when their time was at hand: Hoyer when Hoyer was performing well, and Cutler now that he is back.

Bill Belichick made it clear that, regardless of how well Jimmy Garappolo played for his New England Patriots, Tom Brady would be back as the starter when his four-game suspension was over. Cutler has not established a Brady lock on the position.

Speaking about the running back situation, where one-time starter Jeremy Langford is returning from injury to find Ka’Deem Carey and Jordan Howard in front of him, Fox laid out the NFL reality, which applies to the Cutler-Howard situation.

“Earlier in the season I mentioned that way back in the day, if you were the starter, when you got hurt, it was yours when you came back,” Fox said. “Well, that’s not really the case as much anymore. It can be; you’re going to play the best guy and there’s competition to be involved in that.”

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The broader issue overhanging Cutler is whether the Bears plan to bring him back in 2017. This season has been bluntly described as a prove-it year for Cutler, who has no guaranteed contract money after this year, and Cutler has not proven a great deal in seven quarters of football, with a 75.7 passer rating, one TD pass and two interceptions.

Whether that is regressing from last year to levels closer to his career standards is what the next several weeks will reveal. At this level, the Bears would be unlikely to pay Cutler $15 million in 2017.

“I think those are conversations for the end of the year,” Cutler said. “Right now I’m working with Dowell [Loggains, offensive coordinator] and ‘Rags’ [QB coach Dave Ragone] and we’re just trying to find first downs and get our third-down conversion rate back up, score more points. That’s all we’re really trying to do and that’s all my focus is.

“Whatever happens at the end of the year, it’s supposed to happen, and we’ll go accordingly. But right now it’s not something that I worry about. It’s my 11th year, my eighth year here. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, and it’s how it goes. At the end of the year, we can have those conversations. Whatever happens, happens.”

As far as the best way to handle the inevitable questions about the future, “I think ignoring it is,” Cutler said. “I think it's going to be there; you can't completely ignore it.”

Taj Gibson starting for Bulls on Opening Night puts spotlight on shooting

Taj Gibson starting for Bulls on Opening Night puts spotlight on shooting

The Bulls’ starting five is set and healthy before Thursday’s season opener against the Boston Celtics, with Fred Hoiberg announcing that Taj Gibson will start at power forward after his strong preseason.

Or, if one chooses to be a little more realistic, Gibson won the competition in large part due to Nikola Mirotic’s underwhelming showing, as Mirotic came into camp as the favorite with his outside shooting making him a more natural fit offensively.

With Gibson’s insertion, the Bulls will be one of the worst 3-point shooting starting fives in the league, although Mirotic and Doug McDermott can balance things out when they’re on the floor.

“We feel like he has played excellent basketball throughout the preseason,” said Hoiberg of Gibson. “He’s been good in practices. We’ve talked to our guys about that. Niko has had a couple good practices in a row now. You try to get him in a good rhythm coming out of the gate. But that’s the way we’re going to start.”

Hoiberg has touted Mirotic’s practices as being stellar, but he struggled though most of the preseason. It seemed like Hoiberg was attempting to give Mirotic the benefit of the doubt before announcing what should’ve been obvious to those who’ve watched the Bulls in the preseason, that Gibson was the better performer.

“Taj is a fighter,” said Jimmy Butler, who wasn’t surprised with the outcome. “That’s one thing you know you’re going to get from him. He’s one of the toughest guys that we have, somebody that’s always working.”

One of Butler’s main concerns last season was that the Bulls lost their defensive identity, that their toughness left the building when Tom Thibodeau was fired and the offensive-minded Hoiberg was ushered in.

Presumably, Gibson’s nod can be taken as a return to the Bulls’ roots—although anyone in their right mind wouldn’t be wrong to think if Mirotic had been the least bit consistent, he would be a starter and Gibson would be a reserve.

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“I think everybody is trying, man,” Butler said. “I’m not going to say that we’ve got the best defenders, that’s for sure, but as long as you’re putting in the effort. Sometimes good defense is just getting in the damn way. I’m telling you.”

The Bulls finished as a middle of the pack team in terms of defensive efficiency last season, but experienced a steep decline after the All-Star break, leading to their first lottery appearance since 2008.

“As long as guys are out there competing, we’ll take it if someone hits a tough shot over you or whatever,” Butler said. “When we think about the offensive end entirely too much that’s when we get down a lot.”

With Dwyane Wade, Butler and Rajon Rondo needing Mirotic to provide the necessary floor spacing to keep defenses honest, it means there’s more pressure on Hoiberg to stagger minutes and alter his rotations early in games.

Wade has shot the ball well in the preseason, but is a career 28-percent shooter from deep. Rondo shot 36.5 percent last season but like Wade, is at 28 percent for his career.

Butler is the best of the bunch, having shot 37.8 percent in 2014-15 but dipped to 31 percent last year, and is a 32.8 percent shooter for his career.

“We just have to step up, take them, shoot them with confidence like we do every day in practice,” Butler said. “I think we’ll be fine. As long as we’re guarding, the offense will take care of itself. We’re constantly in attack mode. There’s more than just shooting 3s.”

Which means a tough task just became all the more complicated. Hoiberg typically replaced Wade with McDermott midway through the first quarter and then brings Wade back to finish up in place of Butler.

More tinkering and some downright wizardry will have to be worked for things to go smoothly—but then again, it doesn’t have to be smooth to be effective.

“if we can things staggered it the right way---and we’ll continue to look at things---what you see on Thursday might not be what you see in the middle of the season,” Hoiberg said. “We have to start somewhere. We’re comfortable with the lineup and the rotation plan we have.”