Notre Dame's James runs '42 follow' to success

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Notre Dame's James runs '42 follow' to success

A running back without five dependable offensive linemen blocking in front of him is like a target in a shooting gallery.

Ask Chris James.

Without his offensive line--"the bulldozers," he calls them--Notre Dame's 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior bulldozer wouldn't be what he is, one of the most prolific and explosive and durable ball-carriers in the state.

"Once I knew I would have to rely on them, we built a bond," James said. "They were more excited to block for me this season. We talk to each other in the hallways and on Facebook. We have a tight relationship."

The "bulldozers" 6-foot-2, 226-pound senior left tackle Sean Nicholson, 5-foot-10, 240-pound senior left guard Mike Maligranda, 5-foot-10, 230-pound senior center Bob DeLeonardis, 6-foot-4, 260-pound right guard Nick Bargione and 6-foot-1, 250-pound junior right tackle Mike Mulcrone.

His favorite play is "42 follow," in which he lines up seven yards deep in an I formation and follows 5-11, 215-pound junior fullback Tom Sora between Bargione and Mulcrone on the right side of the line. "It's always open," James said.

With them paving the way, James has rushed 277 times for 1,910 yards and 27 touchdowns for the 7-4 Dons. He has fumbled only twice. In the opening game of the Class 7A playoff, he set a school record by carrying 47 times for 327 yards and seven touchdowns in a 46-27 victory over Grayslake North.

Last Friday, James powered for 164 yards on nine carries and scored two touchdowns, including a 61-yarder, as Notre Dame trounced Steinmetz 35-8. After building a 35-0 halftime lead, James rushed only three times in the third quarter before taking the rest of the night off.

The Dons, who have qualified for the quarterfinals for the first time since 1997, will host Lake Forest (8-3) on Friday in Niles.

College recruiters are taking notice. James has no offers but he has attracted considerable interest from Arkansas, Oregon, Wisconsin, Duke, Ohio State and Purdue.

"Arkansas is my dream school," he said. "I visited there in the off-season. They've been my top school since then. I liked the atmosphere, how they take football so seriously."

Michael Hennessey said what separates James from other running backs is "he has explosiveness and a twitch to his step that he can ignite a long run at any point in time," coach Mike Hennessey said. "He has great 50-60 yard runs straight up and down. Once he gets by a linebacker, the defensive backs are lost trying to catch him."

Hennessey, in his 26th year as head coach at the Niles school, said he could recall only two other running backs who reminded him of James--St. Rita's Billy Marek and Gordon Tech's Leroy Foster. And that covers more than
30 years.

"He is head and shoulders above any running back we have had," Hennessey said. "He is bigger and just as explosive as Foster. Marek was a slasher, not a bulldozer like James. I wouldn't trade Chris for any running back in our league (including Joliet Catholic's more celebrated Ty Isaac)."

James has his own comparisons. Originally, he wanted to wear jersey number 25 because he is a big Reggie Bush fan coming into high school. But friends and teammates compare his style to former Alabama star Trent Richardson, now with the Cleveland Browns, so he opted for number 3.

"My style is comparable to Richardson," James said. "I'm smart, explosive, elusive, strong and durable. And I have size. I still make something happen even if nothing is there."

He stumbled only once, in a 21-6 loss to Nazareth in Week 6. He was limited to only 33 yards in 16 carries. "He got bottled up. The defense took away a lot of things. They blitzed their linebackers a lot and took away our emphasis on the line of scrimmage," Hennessey said.

But the Dons have bounced back. "We've worked our butts off for so long. We're determined to be the best team that coach Hennessey has seen in a long time. We're really motivated," James said.

A year ago, James split carries with senior Connor Garvin, now at Northern Illinois. To prepare for the 2012 season, he added 15 pounds, reduced his speed from 4.5 to 4.43 seconds for 40 yards, engaged in speed training and weight training.

"I knew I had to be durable. I knew the team would need me," he said. "I wasn't patient last year. Now I see how the blocks are set up and I see the hole and explode through it."

After starting 4-1, Notre Dame lost to Nazareth and Marist to fall to 4-3. But the Dons defeated Joliet Catholic 42-33, marking their first victory over the perennial state power in 23 years.

"That was a turning point. It was a very lifting thing to beat Joliet Catholic," Hennessey said. "They are the mark of excellence in our conference. It wasn't just another game. It was a big game in the season, a steppingstone. Our kids have been resilient and able to fight back."

SportsTalk Live: David DeJesus discusses time spent with Joe Maddon, World Series criticism

SportsTalk Live: David DeJesus discusses time spent with Joe Maddon, World Series criticism

"Be sexy."

That was one of two rules manager Joe Maddon told David DeJesus when the Tampa Bay Rays acquired him in 2013.

DeJesus appeared on SportsTalk Live on Wednesday to discuss his time spent with Maddon in Tampa Bay.

"Just be yourself out there," DeJesus said of Maddon when the Rays traded for him. "I want you to have fun and I want you to just have that ora of 'just don't worry, just go out there and play.' It kept the whole team loose."

DeJesus also shared his thoughts on Maddon's questionable managerial decisions in the World Series.

Hear that, and more, in the video above.

Between Cubs' victory lap and Hall of Fame vote, Sammy Sosa barely staying in the picture

Between Cubs' victory lap and Hall of Fame vote, Sammy Sosa barely staying in the picture

Sammy Sosa has stayed so far off the radar that his long-running absence from Cubs Convention didn't even come up during last weekend's Q&A session with ownership.

And the Cubs can't go viral all the time and dominate every offseason news cycle, with the National Baseball Hall of Fame revealing the election results on Wednesday and welcoming Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez as part of its 2017 class.

But it's become out of sight, out of mind for Sosa, who barely crossed the 5-percent threshold (8.6) needed to remain on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot for another year.

Sosa — a seven-time All Star, 1998 National League MVP and the franchise's all-time leader with 545 home runs (and 609 overall) — hadn't gained any traction at all during his first four years under BBWAA consideration, hovering between 12.5 and 6.6 percent.

It's complicated with Sosa, a diva personality who experienced a dramatic late-career renaissance and got named in a New York Times report that exposed him as one of the players who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2003 (during what was supposed to be an anonymous survey).

The Cubs have undergone a complete makeover since Sosa walked out in 2004, leaving him without many allies in the organization. It's nothing personal, but in the past the Ricketts family has hinted that Sosa could mend certain fences and fill in some of the blanks he once left open during an unconvincing performance in front of Congress.

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The Cubs brought Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg to meet President Barack Obama during their Martin Luther King Jr. Day visit to the White House and keep adding former players to the front office. It's awkward after a World Series run where so many alumni showed up to do TV work, throw first pitches, spray champagne or simply watch a rare playoff game at Wrigley Field.

— If Sosa's looking for a roadmap, Manny Ramirez did his penance and cooperated with Major League Baseball to the point where Cubs president Theo Epstein shockingly hired him as a Triple-A Iowa player/coach in the middle of the 2014 season, something that would have been unthinkable during their clashes with the Boston Red Sox.

As a hitting consultant, Ramirez took a come-and-go-as-you-please arrangement, becoming a national story during the 2015 playoffs but largely staying away from the 2016 championship team, perhaps gearing up for his independent-ball comeback in Japan this year. Even after failing multiple drug tests, one of the greatest right-handed hitters of his generation still finished at 23.8 percent in his first year on the BBWAA ballot.

— Lee Smith (34.2 percent) — a drafted-and-developed Cub and the franchise's all-time leader with 180 saves — didn't come close in his 15th and final time on the BBWAA ballot. Smith had been grandfathered when the Hall of Fame narrowed the eligibility window to 10 years, possibly trying to squeeze Steroid Era symbols like Roger Clemens (54.1 percent) and Barry Bonds (53.8 percent).

— This will make Cub fans feel old: Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano are Hall of Fame-eligible for the first time in 2018, when based off this year's returns Trevor Hoffman (74) and Vladimir Guerrero (71.7) should be building momentum toward the 75 percent needed for induction into Cooperstown.