Bret Curtis: Glenbard South's version of Butkus

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Bret Curtis: Glenbard South's version of Butkus

Bret Curtis wears No. 51. Some high school athletes wear Nos. 23 or 34 or 77 or 18 or 32 because famous professionals wore them. If you have to be told that Dick Butkus once wore No. 51, you have never played football.

Curtis has been wearing that number since second grade.

"When I was playing with the Lombard Falcons youth football team, my dad showed me who Butkus was and I saw him on film. I wanted to be like him," said Glenbard South's 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior middle linebacker. "I used to be a defensive end but the coach moved me to linebacker as a sophomore. He thought I had athletic ability. I liked defensive end but I like linebacker more because I have more control over the game."

Like Butkus did.

Curtis is the Metro Suburban Conference's defensive player of the year. He is Glenbard South's leading tackler. He has recorded 11 sacks. He has interest from Illinois, LSU, South Carolina, Toledo, Northern Illinois, Illinois State and Western Illinois. As a senior, he has straight A's in Advanced Placement (AP) courses. He wants to study aerospace engineering.

"He isn't a blue chipper," coach Jeremy Cordell said. "But he is a special kid, our leader, our catalyst. He works hard. He is very aggressive. The way he flies around the ball gets other kids excited."

Curtis' message to college recruiters? "I'm not looking for a Division I school or a chance to play in the NFL. I just want to play in college. I'm probably not the best athlete and I'm probably not that fast. But I'm a good pass rusher. I can hit, I like to get dirty, I'm good at stopping the run and I love the game. I'm just a football player," he said.

In his third year, Cordell has built a competitive program at the Glen Ellyn school. Last year's team was 2-3 and finished 7-4, losing to Class 6A champion Prairie Ridge in the second round of the playoff. This year's team also started 2-3 but has rallied to win its last four games in a row.

In last Friday's 41-28 victory at Rock Island, quarterback Alex Jeske completed 8 of 13 passes for 122 yards and running backs Justin Gjerazi and Zach Smith each rushed for 117 yards and one touchdown. Sophomore linebacker Jack Curtis returned an interception for a touchdown.

"It was an exciting 2 12-hour bus trip home from Rock Island," Cordell said. "We beat a state-ranked team and we won convincingly in all three phases of the game. We're starting to get in a playoff mode."

On the way home, the coaches and players tried to figure out who their first-round opponent would be. They thought they would play Lake Forest. But the Raiders will meet St. Patrick at Hanson Stadium on Saturday night in the opening round of the Class 6A playoff.

"Our motto is: take the next step. We want to go beyond where we went last year," Cordell said.

"Coach Cordell is bringing a new mindset to the team and we want to put Glenbard South on the map. We want to make it a football school. We want to establish our own identity," Bret Curtis said.

"He (Cordell) can make a difference. He had a rough time in his first year (4-5). He preached to the choir. But we took steps forward last year and got momentum going. I like the work he puts in, more than other coaches. He likes hard-nosed football.

"The defense has stepped up since last year. We have more speed. We like to fly around. At quarterback, Jeske has a great head on his shoulders and makes great decisions. We don't have a lot of Division I players and we aren't big but we have good athletes who do the job and like to play football."

On defense, Bret Curtis is surrounded by 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior linebacker Matt Loos and 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior lineman Darnell Barrett.

The offense, which has averaged 48.5 points in its last four games, features Jeske, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior; Gjerazi, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior; Loos at running back; Smith, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior; and 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior running back Clark Gary. Gjerazi has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last four games and Jeske has passed for over 1,300 yards.

"How do I explain averaging 48.5 points in our last four games? We haven't made any changes in the lineup or installed any new plays or come up with any gimmicks," Cordell said.

"Our offensive line has improved, our backs are doing a better job of seeing the holes and we're getting better as a football team. Our formula has been to get better as a team. Our kids have committed to the process. They want to get better."

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

PHOENIX – Rob Manfred is open to the idea of an All-Star Game at a fully renovated Wrigley Field, but the Major League Baseball commissioner won't make any guarantees about the 2020 target date the Cubs have proposed in a joint lobbying effort with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office.

"I'm not going to get into specific years," Manfred said Tuesday during a Cactus League media event at the Arizona Biltmore. "Because there's a number of clubs – we're fortunate – that have interest in particular years. And I don't want to say anything that would suggest that I'm anywhere near making a decision."

During last month's Cubs Convention, president of business operations Crane Kenney expressed optimism in a Super Bowl-style bidding process, and not the old way of simply alternating the showcase event between the American and National leagues each year.

The Cubs will point to their starring role in a World Series that beat the NFL's "Sunday Night Football" in head-to-head TV ratings and saw more than 40 million people tune in for Game 7. By 2020, the $600 million Wrigleyville development is supposed to be finished, and Emanuel helped broker the deals that moved the NFL draft to Chicago the last two years after a long run at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

"I will say this: A renovated Wrigley Field would be a great location for an All-Star Game," Manfred said. "Chicago is a great city. And over time, we have tried to go to cities that would be great locations for the game – and to reward cities that had made substantial investments in either new or renovated facilities."

The Cubs still see potential roadblocks, needing City Hall's help with an increased security presence around an urban neighborhood ballpark that hasn't hosted the Midsummer Classic since 1990.

Kenney also acknowledged that All-Star Games have been used as bargaining chips in public negotiations in cities like Miami and Washington – Marlins Park (2017) and Nationals Park (2018) will make it four straight All-Star Games for NL stadiums – while the Ricketts family used private mechanisms to fund the project after striking out on other proposals. 

Nemanja Nikolic channels his inner MJ in jersey number

Nemanja Nikolic channels his inner MJ in jersey number

Jersey numbers can be a big deal in soccer. Who is the team's No. 10? Who is the No. 9?

Nemanja Nikolic, a forward who joined the Chicago Fire this offseason as a Designated Player, didn't have the choice of either number that is famously associated with marquee attacking players because both were taken by returning players on the Fire. Instead, he landed on a number more famous in Chicago sports than in soccer.

Nikolic will be wearing 23.

The Fire announced the jersey numbers for the 2017 season with Nikolic's 23 a part of the list. Every returning player kept the same number as last season.

It goes without saying that wearing the No. 23 in Chicago comes with an extra bit of notoriety. Ever since Michael Jordan donned the No. 23 for the Chicago Bulls, it has been a common sight to find the best player on a Chicagoland high school basketball team wearing No. 23. That doesn't translate to the world of soccer, but in Chicago fans will notice.

A spokesman for the club said the number was more coincidence than intentional MJ reference, but if Nikolic has a good season don't be surprised to see signs at Toyota Park referencing Nikolic's jersey number.

In the preseason some of the players have been wearing different jersey numbers from what they will in the regular season. Nikolic has been wearing No. 9 in preseason matches.

Here is a list of the other newcomers and the numbers they will be wearing:

Jorge Bava: 1

Dax McCarty: 6

Djordje Mihailovic: 14

Juninho: 19

Daniel Johnson: 20

Stefan Cleveland: 30