Looking ahead to prep football in 2012

746914.png

Looking ahead to prep football in 2012

Which teams are the best bets to win Illinois high school football championships in 2012?

Can Bolingrook repeat as the Class 8A champion and the No. 1 team in Illinois?

Can Montini become the fourth school in state history to win a fourth state title in a row, matching the achievements of Joliet Catholic (1975-78), Mount Carmel (1988-91) and Providence (1994-97)?

Will Maine South bounce back after having its bid for a fourth consecutive state championship spoiled by Stevenson in last year's state quarterfinals?

Which team will be the biggest surprise of all?

Who are the leading candidates for Player of the Year recognition? Will Joliet Catholic running back Ty Isaac, last year's recipient, retain the award? Or will Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey claim the prize?

Which coaches will have the biggest impact?

Preseason practice begins Wednesday. The season kicks off on Friday, Aug. 24, with Providence of New Lenox hosting Joliet Catholic in a nationally televised attraction on ESPNU.

On Saturday, Aug. 25, Soldier Field will host three games -- Mount Carmel vs. St. Patrick, Marist vs. St. Rita and St. Ignatius vs. Whitney Young.

Two other highly entertaining opening-game matchups on Saturday, Aug. 25, are Wheaton Warrenville South at Glenbard West and Simeon at Loyola. The following week, Loyola will travel to Dublin, Ireland, to play Dallas Jesuit in a prelude to the NavyNotre Dame game.

So what else is new?

Unlike most seasons, there is little drama left in recruiting. All of the leading prospects in the Chicago area have made oral commitments except wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell of Crete-Monee. He is said to be leaning to Michigan but also is considering Illinois, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Oregon.

Isaac chose USC. Bailey picked Illinois. Offensive tackle Ethan Pocic of Lemont committed to LSU. Quarterback Matt Alviti of Maine South pledged to Northwestern. Offensive tackle Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis committed to Michigan. Offensive tackle Kyle McGovern of Lincoln-Way West will attend Notre Dame.

In all, nearly 30 seniors from the city and suburbs have committed to Division I schools. They and other members of the class of 2013 have until national signing day in February before making up their minds. Meanwhile, college coaches are concentrating on the talent-laden classes of 2014 and 2015.

"It figures to be a very good year for Illinois in 2012," said longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network. "There is outstanding depth, several national recruits, talent at every position. Peoria has three potential All-Americans. Illinois ranks among the top seven or eight states in the nation for talent."

The class of 2014 shapes up as one of the best in recent memory. It is headed by tight end Nic Weishar of Marist, cornerback Parrker Westphal of Bolingbrook, offensive tackles Shane Evans of Prairie Ridge and Jamarco Jones of De La Salle, linebackers Clifton Garrett of Plainfield South and Nyles Morgan of Crete-Monee, defensive tackle Enoch Smith of Mount Carmel and quarterbackathlete Tommy Mister of Richards.

There are some rules changes that need to be observed as the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), in the wake of recent issues that stirred up a firestorm of protest, seeks to create a safe and respectful environment.

In an effort to provide information on hazing, bullying and inappropriate relationships to more high school coaches, school administrators and the general public, the NFHS is offering an online course called "Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment" for free on the NFHS Coach Education website.

The course provides education for coaches on the critically-important topics of inappropriate relationships, hazing, bullying and cyber-bullying and the appropriate use of technology when interacting with players and the public. It also provides examples of court cases involving these issues and suggests appropriate actions that coaches should take when these types of issues arise.

"This course is about getting the coach's attention and saying "You will be held responsible for inappropriate actions and for not taking appropriate steps when these situations occur," said Tim Flannery, NFHS director of coach education.

Flannery said recent revelations at Penn State and Florida A&M make it imperative that more coaches and school administrators become educated on these important topics that negatively affect young people.

"Many individuals who accept a coaching job are ignorant of the laws and policies by which they are required to abide," Flannery said. "This course will assist athletic programs by providing standardized training for coaches, which will result in a permanent record that can be assessed and verified by the school."

In addition, the NFHS and the Illinois High School Association, ever more aware of the controversy over concussions, has ruled that any high school football player must sit out one play if their helmet comes off while the ball is in play.

"The football rules committee made this rules change after reviewing data from multiple states regarding the frequency of helmets coming off during live-ball play," said Julian Tackett, chairman of the football rules committee and commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

"It is the committee's hope that this serves notice for schools to properly fit players with helmets to reduce the incidence of these situations and remind the players not to take steps that alter the fit."

The NFHS is re-emphasizing the importance of risk minimization, specifically through two of its free online courses: "Concussion in Sports -- What You Need to Know" and "A Guide to Heat Acclimatization and Heat Illinois Prevention."

"Concussion in Sports" provides a brief overview of how a person can recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion. "A Guide to Heat Acclimatization and Heat Illness Prevention" provides critical information designed to minimize the risk of activity-related heat illness and heat stroke among high school athletes.

Another significant change will be a new interpretation of a legal catch. Beginning this season, a receiver will be required to establish possession of the ball and contact the ground inbounds while maintaining possession -- regardless of the opponent's action.

Tuesday on CSN: Crosstown Cup continues as Cubs battle White Sox

Tuesday on CSN: Crosstown Cup continues as Cubs battle White Sox

The Crosstown Cup continues Tuesday on CSN as the Cubs take on the White Sox, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 5 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Tonight's starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks (9-6, 2.27) vs. James Shields (4-12, 4.99)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Adam Eaton on clubhouse protests: 'You've got to stick up for yourself'

Adam Eaton on clubhouse protests: 'You've got to stick up for yourself'

Whether you agree with them or not, the White Sox have consistently shown a willingness to fight for their cause all season.

Twice last week, and in March with Adam LaRoche, White Sox players took a stand against management decisions they don’t agree with.

The more recent incident of course occurred Saturday and ultimately led to Chris Sale’s five-game suspension for insubordination and destruction of team property.

White Sox players also made headlines when they declined to tip the Seattle Mariners clubhouse attendant as a form of protest to a new team policy instituted that redirects 60 percent of those tips back to a club account to cover expenses such as postgame meals, etc. Traditionally, all money tipped by players has gone directly to clubhouse personnel without team involvement. Eaton said players merely are standing up for their beliefs.

“You’ve got to stick up for yourself,” Eaton said. “As clich√© as it might sound, it’s just power to the players. The players have a voice in this game and if you don’t feel like something is par for the course or up to standard, we definitely vocalize it. It’s not that we’re spoiled or anything like that.”

“It’s just the way things have been ran and how things have been, with the instance of Adam LaRoche, the kid coming into the clubhouse -- I thought we got a lot of support with all kinds of guys putting pictures up online of them and their kid being in the clubhouse. With the Seattle thing, the other 29 teams are doing it. Sale’s a little bit off the radar -- I kind of like it.

“We feel strongly about something we’ll do something about it.”

[SHOP: Get your White Sox gear right here]

White Sox players met with Seattle assistant general manager Jeff Kingston during the trip to talk about the policy in a story first reported by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. Eaton said Monday that White Sox players have an envelope full of checks ready to hand over to Mariners visiting clubhouse manager Jeff Bopp when the situation is resolved. It’s not that they want to hurt Bopp, but they want the policy changed similar to how the San Francisco Giants quickly amended theirs last year. Eaton said the Cleveland Indians also tried to get around Seattle’s policy. He expects it will be an issue that is discussed in upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement talks.

“More or less we want to give the money to the people that are doing the work in the clubhouse,” Eaton said. “We don’t want the front office taking money from the guy that’s down there working until 1 o’clock in the morning cleaning our uniform and cleaning our spikes. We treat those guys with the utmost respect. They work their butts off. When we made a decision as a team not to pay, it was because we want that clubby to get the money he deserves. The front office, they’re not down there during the day, they’re not doing any work, and they’re receiving the funds. We don’t see that as a productive practice.”

How Joe Maddon plans to unleash Aroldis Chapman in Cubs bullpen

How Joe Maddon plans to unleash Aroldis Chapman in Cubs bullpen

When the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman, the dream end result would be the left-hander closing out the final game of the 2016 World Series.

While that is the most likely solution (if the Cubs get that far, of course), Joe Maddon wouldn't lock anything in right now.

The Cubs manager doesn't live by etching relief roles in stone, preferring to employ his best pitchers at the most opportune spots, whether that is in the ninth inning or not.

So with the most dominant closer in the game now in the fold, Maddon wasn't ready to just move the rest of the Cubs pitchers down an inning and leave it at that.

"I do things with leverage moments. It really opens up the sixth, seventh and the eighth [innings]," Maddon said while rattling off the options at his disposal including former Cubs closer Hector Rondon and top setup man Pedro Strop. "It's incredible. It's like a lineup. 

"You throw one more guy in the lineup and what it does with the rest of the group. Same thing happens with the bullpen. You put the anchor at the back side and then it really permits you to do other stuff."

Maddon is one of the top bullpen managers in the game and now has plenty of relief options to work with. 

Beyond Chapman, Rondon and Strop, there's also the emergency of young Carl Edwards Jr., Joe Nathan's comeback tour, new left-hander Mike Montgomery and then bullpen stalwarts Travis Wood and Justin Grimm.

Maddon admitted he stresses more about the Cubs bullpen each day than anything else, but that was prior to acquiring a guy who has saved 165 games over the last five seasons while posting a 1.91 ERA and ridiculous 15.7 strikeout per nine ratio.

[RELATED: Aroldis Chapman trade gives Cubs intimidating closer]

Plus, the emergence of another trustworthy option out of the bullpen alleviates the stress placed upon the rest of the relievers, keeping them fresh down the stretch.

"He's the kind of guy that permits you not to run other people down and then possibly the trickle down effect," Maddon said. "It's not a problem. It's a great situation to be in. 

"My perspective as the manager, being the steward of this group, I have to try to figure this out the best I can."

The Cubs have struggled to find consistency from their group of left-handed relievers all season, but the arrival of Chapman helps ensure there's an option Maddon feels comfortable with in October in case lefties like Bryce Harper come up in a big moment late in the game.

The Cubs also don't have to worry about facing Chapman in the postseason now, flipping the momentum to their side.

"Just think about it: You never want to see him coming into the game when the other team has the lead," Maddon said. "Now, all of a sudden, we have the edge on our side. It's kind of fun to have.

"What we're talking about here right now is theory. It all looks good on paper and I believe it's gonna work out. But you also have to go out there and perform on a daily basis.

"He's good. We're gonna put him in there in the right moments and hopefully it's gonna make everybody else running better. You never want to face him in the ninth inning."