Palandech wields sledgehammer at Plainfield North

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Palandech wields sledgehammer at Plainfield North

Plainfield North isn't old enough to have a football tradition. The eight-year-old school still seeking its first victory in the state playoff. So what do you do when you don't have a tradition? You make one up.

"Our first class started with a sledgehammer," said quarterback Kurt Palandech. "It was placed in the locker room and they would bring it onto the field for games. The motto was: 'Keep hammering.' It was our first tradition and we stuck with it. We don't bring it onto the field anymore for games but we keep it in the locker room."

Now Palandech, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound senior, and his teammates are eager to establish another tradition. The Tigers are looking ahead to becoming the first class to win a state playoff game. They will open against Southwest Prairie rival Oswego in Class 7A. They lost to Oswego 35-7 in Week 7.

"We want to be a consistent playoff team," Palandech said. "We want to let people know that we have a good program. We want to be remembered as the first team at our school to get to make a deep run in the playoff and get to the state title game. We have high expectations."

Coming off a 4-5 finish last year, coach Tim Kane also had high expectations for 2012. With 17 returning starters, he had every reason to believe his team should compete for the conference title and go deep into the playoff for the first time.

"Last year, we expected more," Kane said. "We were inconsistent. We were very young and had a lot of juniors playing key positions. We played well one week, not so well the next week. We were coming off two good years (7-3 in 2009 and 2010) and improving each year. To take a step back was disappointing."

This team has responded to adversity. After being stopped at the 10 in the closing seconds of a 27-22 opening loss to Bradley 27-22 in Week 1, the Tigers won five games in a row before losing to Oswego 35-7. Then they dispatched Minooka 28-20 last week.

"The loss to Oswego was a real setback," Palandech said. "We didn't perform well on offense. It was disappointing. But we can't do anything about it now. It was a learning experience. We looked at the film and saw our mental errors and breakdowns. We had chances to score but couldn't connect. But Oswego is a good team and they took advantage of our mistakes.

"We bounced back against Minooka. It was like a playoff game. It was a must win for them to qualify for the playoff and a must win for us coming off a loss. It was high intensity. We wanted to get the losing taste out of our mouths."

Against Minooka, Palandech completed 11 of 20 passes for 128 yards, including touchdown passes of 11 yards to Brett Fox and 14 yards to Brock Thomas. With leading rusher Jay Roberts sidelined with a thigh bruise, junior Robert Baker stepped up and rushed for 66 yards. Kendall Interial's 96-yard return of the second half kickoff gave Plainfield North a 20-10 lead.

In last Friday's 48-14 romp over Oswego East, Palandech rushed eight times for 181 yards and scored two touchdowns, including an 87-yarder, and threw a short touchdown pass. Roberts returned in style by rushing 15 times for 104 yards and two touchdowns.

"The strength of this team is its senior leadership, the overall attitude of the kids," Kane said. "They have responded to adversity. They put in a lot of time in the off-season and went into this season expecting to be good. It is important to them to be successful."

Palandech has rushed for 600 yards, passed for more than 600 and averages eight yards per carry in the Tigers' I formation. Roberts is a 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior who has rushed for more than 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Other mainstays are 6-foot-5, 305-pound senior tackle Zack Yost, 6-foot-7, 275-pound senior tackle Kiefer Ketelhut, 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior tight endlinebacker Brett Fox, 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior safety Collin Holt, 6-foot, 190-pound senior defensive end Ben Toledo and 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior defensive end Ben Meyers.

In the wake of last year's 4-5 finish, Palandech and his teammates re-dedicated themselves in the summer. They spent a lot of time lifting weights and running pass routes and participating in 7-on-7 competitions. They won the Bolingbrook tournament.

"I'm known for scrambling but I prefer to throw first," Palandech said. "We stick to what we are good at, running the ball and not making mistakes. Physically, we think we can compete with anyone. This team never quits. We always think we are in the game even when we are down."

Palandech wants to play quarterback in college. He has a 4.9 grade-point average on a 5.0 scale and scored 26 on his ACT. He wants to study engineering at an Ivy League school. Last summer, he visited Cornell, Columbia, Penn and Princeton. He also visited Illinois State and Northern Illinois. Illinois, Vanderbilt and Wyoming are evaluating him as an athlete, maybe a wide receiver or defensive back.

"But my goal is to play quarterback in college," he said, noting that he is a three-sport athlete who attended summer camps and was timed in 4.5 for 40 yards and also impressed in agility drills. "I hope some school likes me. I don't have any offers. There is something about being a quarterback in football that is special."

Kris Bryant blasts Cubs to win over Dodgers

Kris Bryant blasts Cubs to win over Dodgers

LOS ANGELES – The “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants started at Dodger Stadium late Friday night, Cubs fans celebrating Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the 10th inning of a wild comeback win.

Until Clayton Kershaw returns to full strength and stares down hitters from 60 feet, six inches and unleashes his entire arsenal, it’s impossible to know how the Cubs would stack up against Los Angeles in October. But it’s still safe to say this would be an epic playoff matchup between two big-market, star-studded franchises, with two iconic ballparks becoming the backdrop, celebrity row after celebrity row.

As a quiet, humble homebody who sometimes sounds boring on purpose, Bryant doesn’t have a Hollywood personality. But this is also someone who loves the big stage and wants to be the best. The Cubs won this round with Bryant, who launched his 34th and 35th home runs in a 6-4 victory, an MVP-worthy season becoming the sequel to his Rookie of the Year campaign.

When a crowd of 48,609 got loud in the seventh after Dodgers cleanup hitter Adrian Gonzalez drove Justin Grimm’s 94-mph fastball over the right-center field wall for a 4-2 lead, Bryant responded the next inning with a home run off Joe Blanton that landed in the center-field seats blacked out for the batter’s eye. 

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Here’s how Bryant could win it in the 10th inning, and why manager Joe Maddon will want Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward in a playoff lineup:

In the middle of a frustrating offensive season where he’s felt the weight of a $184 million contract, Heyward led off the ninth inning by ripping a double into the right-field corner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Heyward hustled to third base when new Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz couldn’t handle strike three against Jorge Soler. Heyward ran home to score the game-tying run when a Jansen wild pitch sailed toward the backstop.

But a $250 million team is extremely resourceful, even with Kershaw (back) not pitching for two months, one of 27 players the Dodgers have stashed on the disabled list, tying a major-league record. The Dodgers have cycled through 14 different starting pitchers, relying on depth and a strong lineup and an imposing back end of the bullpen to surge into first place in the National League West. 

“How about last year?” Maddon said. “We beat up on the Mets during the season, we go (into the playoffs) and we can’t even touch them. It’s such a different animal. People get hot or people get cold and actually the weather gets cold and everything does change.

“I know what we’re talking about. I’m not going to diminish the fact I’m going to be paying attention. But things change. Trends can be so trendy, to quote Yogi. So I don’t get too far ahead, because things can change very quickly.”   

In the Gym at EFT: Wide receiver skill development

In the Gym at EFT: Wide receiver skill development

In the first edition of EFT Football Academy, TF North graduate Landon Cox, who was a star wide receiver at Northern Illinois and later in the NFL, shares some tips on how to become a better receiver and be more efficient on the field.

Cox is a Performance Specialist and wide receiver coach at EFT. In this segment Cox works on a few different techniques with Warren Township junior wide receiver Micah Jones.

EFT has evolved into the premier elite performance training facility in the Midwest, where every EFT football coach has NFL experience and the dedication to helping each player reach their potential. The EFT Football Academy is designed to assist in the development of grade school, high school, and collegiate football players.

Some of their off-season training experience includes 70+ active NFL athletes, six Super Bowl Champions, six Olympics, and more.

[MORE: High School Lites Football Roundup: Week 1]

In addition, performance includes explosive power development, positional movement pattern development, proper spring and change of direction mechanics, and more. Every EFT workout focuses on improving each athlete's overall abilities like speed development, agility and mobility, acceleration and deceleration, and strength and condition — just to name a few.

Former Bears wide receiver Devin Hester called it "the best workout in the world."

Watch Cox's tips in the video above, and be sure to look out for next week's edition on CSNChicago.com.

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

LOS ANGELES – In their never-ending search for young pitching, the Cubs discussed a Matt Moore deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, but wouldn’t consider trading Kyle Schwarber. To get Moore at the Aug. 1 deadline, the San Francisco Giants had to surrender the runner-up to Kris Bryant in last season’s National League Rookie of the Year race (Matt Duffy), plus two more prospects.

Moore finished one out short of a no-hitter on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, throwing 133 pitches against a deep Los Angeles lineup, two-plus years after having Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Whether or not Moore helps shift the balance of power in the National League West, the Cubs should still have enough pitching.

To get through October. As long as John Lackey (shoulder) comes off the disabled list in early September and the rest of the rotation stays healthy. Surviving next season and beyond could be a different story, if Jake Arrieta becomes another team’s 2018 Opening Day starter, if Jon Lester breaks down in the middle of that $155 million megadeal and assuming Lackey finally retires around the 3,000-inning mark.

All that makes Mike Montgomery an interesting lefty swingman if the Cubs are going to maintain The Foundation for Sustained Success.

“I think he is a major-league starter, regardless of what happens tonight,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s wild 6-4 comeback win that took 10 innings at Dodger Stadium. “This guy has the ability to be a solid major-league starter based on his strength level, his delivery, the variety of pitches that he throws. The strike-throwing ability is exceptional. He’s got all those different things going on.

“Just be a little bit patient with (him) and let him get his feet on the ground somewhere, because he’s the kind of guy that can take off if he gets comfortable in his environment.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

If Montgomery didn’t ace this audition, he also didn’t bomb against a first-place team in front of a big crowd (48,609), either, showing the potential the Cubs saw in making last month’s trade with the Seattle Mariners.

Montgomery kept the Cubs in the game before Bryant’s clutch performance, allowing three runs in five innings and minimizing the damage on a night where he didn’t have pinpoint control (four walks, hit batter, wild pitch, 49 strikes across 91 pitches).

The Cubs are in trouble if Montgomery somehow winds up in this year’s playoff rotation, but he checks a lot of boxes for the future as someone with youth (27), size (6-foot-5), first-round/top-prospect pedigree, a high groundball rate and a service-time clock that won’t make him a free agent until after the 2021 season.