Salata, Libertyville make late-season run


Salata, Libertyville make late-season run

The definition of a team player is someone who rushes 24 times for 135 yards and one touchdown in one game, then doesn't complain when he is told he is being replaced by another running back for the next game.

Meet Libertyville's Joey Salata.

"I really have no problem with it," said the 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior who also starts at free safety. "I like to fill in when I can on offense. I like to make an impact. But my first priority is to lead the defense, to make sure everybody lines up correctly and is in the right spot.

"Sure, it is exciting to run for 135 yards. I always take snaps in practice. Brian Swift is our leading rusher (77 carries, 535 yards) and he has been out with a hip injury for three weeks. So week to week, I was ready to play. But he's supposed to be back this week. That's a big plus for us.

"I grew up on offense. Guys who score touchdowns get all the publicity. But as a sophomore I played linebacker and grew to love playing defense. You don't get as much attention but I prefer hitting to carrying the ball. And I love the challenge of playing together as a unit, all 11 guys."

Libertyville's defense has recorded two shutouts in a row. The Wildcats completed a 7-2 regular season with a 40-20 victory at Wauconda last Friday. It is their first winning season since 2006. The Wildcats will play at Machesney Park Harlem in the first round of the Class 7A playoff.

It has been a time of transition for the program. Last year's team was 5-5. It was the last season for coach Randy Kuceyeski, who retired after posting a 133-58 record in 18 years. His 2003 team finished second in the state playoff and his 2004 team won the state championship.

Last year's team had to overcome a lot of adversity. The overriding factor was Kuceyeski's well documented battle with cancer. The Wildcats were 4-3 and shut out Warren to qualify for the state playoff. They lost to unbeaten state champion Rockford Boylan in the first round.

"We realized when we play as a unit and play consistent and everybody does their job, offense and defense, we can compete with anybody. We shows the kind of potential we have," Salata said. "Losing to Boylan gave us a taste of what playoff football is like, so much more speed. So I'm not surprised at what we have done this year.

"This is a core unit, the seniors. We've played together since middle school. We played on the Libertyville Boys Club traveling team in eighth grade. This is what we dreamed about, being seniors and leaders of the team, to have a great senior year and make a run in the playoff.

"Last year, we got experience. This year, we come back every week with a business-like approach. We love having fun. We enjoy being with each other. What is our edge? Our mental preparation. The coaches do a great job of preparing us each week."

In Libertyvlle's 17-0 victory over Zion-Benton two weeks ago, Salata rushed for 135 yards and one touchdown and intercepted a pass for the second game in a row. The swarming defense allowed only three first downs an 55 yards of total offense and forced five turnovers.

In last Friday's 40-20 rout of Wauconda, quarterback Jack Deichl completed 16 of 23 passes for 231 yards. Austin Williams caught seven for 114 yards and three touchdowns. Bryan Scanlan caught four for 52 yards. Conor Simpson rushed for 127 yards.

But while the offense averaged 30 points per game in the first five weeks, the defense has stepped up in recent games. "Our defense has done a great job lately. They've just played very sound football. They haven't given up the big play. They've been physical and smart and that's what we expect of them," first-year coach Mike Jones said.

Jones is no stranger to the Libertyville program. He coached at Grayslake Central for 13 years before moving to Libertyville. He was Kuceyeski's defensive coordinator for eight years so it isn't surprising that the Wildcats' 4-2-5 alignment has been effective.

"With 16 starters returning, I was optimistic," Jones said. "We kept the same defense. Offensively, we've gone more to a wing T from a zone pistol. Why? I wasn't thrilled with the running back eight yards deep in the pistol.

"We're trying to build some consistency. When we do consistently what we are coached to do, we are good. But we have been inconsistent this year, our blocking and tackling and execution."

Libertyville has fallen behind in several games but rarely failed to come back. The Wildcats trailed Barrington by 17 and rallied to win. They lost to Stevenson 14-9 after falling behind 14-0. They trailed Warren by 14 and came back to win.

"There is a lot of fight and determination in them," Jones said. "We could be better. I would like to revisit some games we lost. We laid an egg against Lake Forest (they lost 33-13). But we have come back and our defense is playing well. Going forward, we must be consistent in the playoff."

The key could be 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior quarterback Jack Deichl, who has completed 136 of 211 passes for 1,667 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was 18 of 21 for 235 yards vs. Barrington, 13 of 26 for 201 yards vs. Stevenson and 22 of 33 for 310 yards vs. Warren.

He struggled in recent weeks, according to Jones, until last Friday's game at Wauconda. He was 16 of 28 for 159 yards vs. Lake Forest. If he continues to regain his early-season touch and Swift returns to form and three injured offensive linemen return to the lineup, Jones is optimistic that his team will make a good account of itself in the playoff.

Other players he is counting on are 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior wide receiver Austin Williams, a big-play threat who has caught 42 passes for 575 yards and eight touchdowns, 5-foot-9, 180-pound junior running backreceiver Conor Simpson, who has rushed for more than 500 yards and caught 40 passes for 421 yards, 6-foot, 195-pound senior linebacker Drew Krinitsy, 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior linebacker Kevin Verkler, 6-foot-5, 235-pound senior offensive tackle Brandon Stanfel and 6-foot, 210-pound senior defensive tackle Logan Klepac.

"We have been in a lot of tough battles this year," said Salata, who didn't carry the ball at all until three weeks ago, when Libertyville defeated Lake Zurich 3-0. "We have been through pressure situations. We have been down against good teams. When we are down, it doesn't bother us. We have been in that situation and found a way to win."

Together again: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane reunite on top line vs. Devils

Together again: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane reunite on top line vs. Devils

When coach Joel Quenneville has put Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane together it’s usually been during the postseason.

It’s rare when it happens in the regular season and when it does, it seems like an in-case-of-emergency move. But in this case, it may be more of a get-the-captain’s-production-going move.

The Blackhawks made a few more line changes on Thursday, including combining Toews and Kane, as they prepared for Friday night’s game at the New Jersey Devils. Marian Hossa moved to right wing on the second line with Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov. Marcus Kruger and Nick Schmaltz flip-flopped as third- and fourth-line centers. Tyler Motte and Ryan Hartman were the third-line wings while Dennis Rasmussen and Jordin Tootoo were on the fourth line.

Coach Joel Quenneville said the line changes, including Kane’s move to the first line, were because the Blackhawks continue to look for balance. To a point, that’s true; the Blackhawks still haven’t come close to getting that four-line rotation with which they’ve found so much success. But considering how successful the Toews and Kane combination has been for each, you’d have to think it’s to help bolster Toews’ point totals. Toews has just two assists through the first seven games.

“Right now I think Jonny, his production isn’t where you look at his play – we still always like the way he plays, he’s so useful in so any different ways,” Quenneville said. “I think maybe we get more balance on both lines. We’ve been trying a number of different looks in our top two groups there. over seven games we still need to be better in a lot of ways. hopefully we can find it.”

Still, if you can get your top players producing points, it’s worth a try. And Kane and Toews, regardless of how long they’ve been apart, usually click immediately upon reuniting.

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“Yeah, I guess change can be good in this sense. We can probably produce a little bit more offense and have the puck a little bit more throughout the game,” Kane said. “I’ve played with Jonny a bunch before. Obviously, not as much lately. But I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a fun way to play hockey. Obviously he’s one of the best players in the game, and probably in my mind, the easiest player to play with. It’ll be fun to get back out there with him and try to create something, try to produce and have some fun with it.”

As for that usual second line of Panarin, Anisimov and Kane, remember: as we’ve seen before, it can be put together again fast.

“They get a lot of shifts and a lot of looks. It’s not like we’re too far away from going back to it at any time. It’s always close and available,” Quenneville said. “Maybe we get more balance and a little more scoring across the board.”


- Defenseman Gustav Forsling (upper body) did not skate on Thursday and will not travel to New Jersey. Quenneville is still hoping Forsling can play on Sunday vs. the Los Angeles Kings.

- Forward Andrew Desjardins (lower body) continues to improve. Quenneville said Desjardins could be skating in the next day or so.

- Corey Crawford will start vs. the Devils.

Illini announce athletics hall of fame with Dick Butkus as first member


Illini announce athletics hall of fame with Dick Butkus as first member

Illinois announced Thursday the establishment of a university athletics hall of fame, and who better than Dick Butkus to be the first inductee?

According to the announcement, Illinois has discussed creating an athletics hall of fame to honor past student-athletes for years, but this is the first time it's been acted upon — not necessarily a surprise now that Josh Whitman, a former Illinois football player, is now in charge of the department.

"The University of Illinois has an incredible and storied history in athletics," Whitman said in the announcement. "Legendary names in sports history are found throughout the Illini record books, and we are excited to honor them in our new Hall of Fame. Since the athletic program's inception in 1890, some of the world's greatest athletes have competed in the orange and blue. Ultimately, as we begin to populate the Hall of Fame, our collection of recognized greats will compare favorably with that of any institution in the nation."

Butkus, of course, is the obvious choice to be the first announced member of the hall of fame's inaugural class.

Regarded by many as the best linebacker and defensive football player ever, Butkus spent three seasons in Champaign, twice a unanimous All-American selection. Playing both center and linebacker at Illinois, he finished in the top six in Heisman Trophy voting in 1963 and 1964, a shocking accomplishment for someone playing a position other than quarterback, running back or receiver.

Butkus made 374 tackles in three seasons and is one of just two players — the other being Red Grange — to have his number retired at Illinois. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame (thanks to his remarkable career with the Bears), and the annual award for the best linebacker in college football is named after Butkus.

"The University of Illinois has played an extremely important role in my life," Butkus said in the announcement. "I have many life-long relationships that began at the U of I and have always been proud to call myself a Fighting Illini. To be recognized in the inaugural class of the Athletics Hall of Fame is a terrific feeling. I'm very proud of what my teams and I accomplished, including the 1963 Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl victory. Thank you for this honor."

The Illini will announce the entire inaugural class in February, with induction coming next September.