St. Rita, Law looking for their props

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St. Rita, Law looking for their props

St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare says he likes to "stay under the radar." But he admits he wants his team to earn its just desserts and bristles when it doesn't. Like now. Some polls rate the Mustangs, some don't. And DeCesare can't understand why.

"Guys who do polls don't understand ratings. They don't understand the value of playing against top competition," he said. "We have played a national schedule. We can play against anyone on any given night."

St. Rita is 13-5 after crushing Bishop McNamara 90-66 on Friday night. The Mustangs have a date against Curie and 6-foot-9 Cliff Alexander on Tuesday and meet Hales Franciscan on Friday.

"Potentially, this is the best team I've had at St. Rita," said DeCesare, in his fourth season. "We're still young. We start two sophomores and two juniors. But we have four starters back from last year's 16-11 team (that lost to Whitney Young in the sectional). We have a lot of experience and the kids are battle-tested."

In an attempt to prepare for the rugged Catholic League grind and the postseason tournament, DeCesare arranged for a schedule that to date has featured five highly rated out-of-state opponents, including Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas, Scott County of Kentucky and St. Raymond's of New York.

"We have seen every style of basketball from fast pace to slowdown and we have had a great deal of experience playing against the shot clock," he said. "We have a lot of versatility. We play together as a team. The kids understand the value of finding the open man and sharing the ball.

"We have four guys averaging in double figures. When we do that, we are tough to beat. When we don't, we have lost. We're trying to find our edge. I don't think they understand how good they can be. Once they do, the sky is the limit. The key is to bring the same intensity every night. We will win as a team, not as individuals."

Which is in sharp contrast to a year ago when St. Rita was led by one of the most prolific scorers in the state, 6-foot-2 do-everything Tony Hicks, who averaged 25 points per game. Hicks, an All-Stater and the recipient of the Tony Lawless Award as the most outstanding player in the Catholic League, is at the University of Pennsylvania.

This year's leader is 6-foot-6 junior Victor Law, who was an All-Catholic League selection last season. He is averaging 13 points and nine rebounds per game. He had 19 rebounds in a recent game. Against McNamara, he had 18 points and 10 rebounds while Dominique Matthews scored 21 points.

"He is one of the most versatile players in the state," DeCesare said of Law. "He has a great work ethic. His ceiling is very high. If he continues to stay the course, he will be a Division I player. He also has great leadership skills."

Law began honing his game as a second grader by playing against his older sister, Simone, who played at Marian Catholic and now is a sophomore at Loyola. A McDonald's All-America candidate, she constantly beat her younger sibling in one-on-one match-ups in the drive-way of the family's home in South Holland.

"We worked out together. It was like Reggie and Cheryl Miller. It was always embarrassing to lose to my older sister," Victor said. "But she was a good player and showed me how to be good. She pushed me to be better. Finally, in seventh grade, when I was 6-foot-2, she stopped playing me. I was too good for her. One of my goals always was to beat her."

He wasn't sure which school he wanted to attend. His original choices were De La Salle or Homewood-Flossmoor. However, after attending a tournament at St. Rita with his grammar school team, he changed his mind.

"I really liked it," he said. "It had a family feel. The love I got here was different than any other school. People knew who I was as a student and as a basketball player."

Law, a three-year starter, lines up with 6-foot-2 junior Dominique Matthews (15 ppg), 6-foot-3 junior Scott Kingsley (10 ppg), 6-foot-4 sophomore point guard Charles Matthews (11 ppg, 5 assists) and 6-foot-8 sophomore Myles Carter (6 ppg).

DeCesare said Dominique Matthews is "the most underrated guard in the city." Charles Matthews, Dominique's brother, is one of the leading prospects in the class of 2015 in Illinois.

Top reserves are 6-foot-2 junior Treston Forbes, 5-foot-9 sophomore Armani Chaney and 6-foot-4 sophomore Brandon McRoy.

"Our style hasn't changed," Law said. "The guy (Hicks) was hot all last year. We didn't want to go away from him. If he's hot, give him the ball.

"But I thought we could have gone farther in the state tournament. Some things we could have done better, small things that could be corrected. This year we've seen every type of basketball team and style of basketball. We all want to come together for one goal--win the state title."

The formula for success, DeCesare and Law agree, is try to get better every day and go undefeated in March.

"I want to be known as an all-around player," Law said. "Basketball isn't a one-dimensional game. I'll do whatever it takes to win...score, rebound, defend, take a charge, block out, steal the ball. My goal is to get a double-double or triple-double in every game.

"I want to keep pushing myself every day, one day at a time. I want to rise to the occasion every day and step up. How far can we go? We can go all the way. We're doing great things right now, even though we are young. We're playing at a high level. The key is not to waste opportunities. The coach is putting us in the right position to take advantage of our opportunities."

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.

High School Lites Football Roundup: Week 1

High School Lites Football Roundup: Week 1

High School Lites kicked off this week as IHSA football started all over Illinois. The season debut of High School Lites featured highlights from all over the Chicagoland area -- including the show's debut in Northwest Indiana for our Viewer's Choice Game of the Week.

Be sure to follow our Preps account on Twitter @CSNPreps for the latest scores, stats and highlights from the area's best high school teams. 

HIGHLIGHTS

High School Lites Football Montage: Week 1

Highlights: No. 22 Maine South 44, No. 11 Montini 13

Highlights: Fenwick 34, No. 9 Phillips 26

Highlights: No. 7 Palatine 28, No. 12 Stevenson 20

Highlights: No. 14 Prairie Ridge 26, No. 18 Cary-Grove 14

Highlights: No. 2 Glenbard West 17, No. 15 Bolingbrook 7

Highlights: No. 5 Lincoln-Way East 49, South Bend Adams 12

Highlights: No. 20 Oak Park-River Forest 21, Simeon 14

Highlights: No. 24 Barrington 41, Glenbrook South 15

Highlights: Kaneland 48, Brooks 20

Highlights: Von Steuben 41, Amundsen 18

Highlights: Viewer's Choice Game of the Week: Valparaiso 49, Gary West Side 0

CSN Drive: Lincoln-Way East Football -- Episode 2: Ron Tomczak's Legacy Lives On

In the Gym at EFT: WR Skill Development

TOP 25 SCORES

No. 1 Loyola Academy 36, Milwaukee Marquette 7

No. 2 Glenbard West 17, No. 15 Bolingbrook 7

No. 3 Homewood-Flossmoor 56, Downers Grove South 6

No. 4 Glenbard North 35, Naperville Central 6

No. 5 Lincoln-Way East 49, South Bend Adams 12

No. 7 Palatine 28, No. 12 Stevenson 20

Fenwick 34, No. 9 Phillips 26

No. 22 Maine South 44, No. 11 Montini 13

No. 13 Waubonsie Valley 16, Lake Park 8

No. 14 Prairie Ridge 26, No. 18 Cary-Grove 14

No. 16 Hinsdale Central 42, American Fork (UT) 12

No. 17 Neuqua Valley 35, Metea Valley 7

No. 19 Nazareth Academy 56, Dunbar 12

No. 20 Oak Park-River Forest 21, Simeon 14

No. 21 Batavia 34, Belleville West 24

No. 23 Libertyville 29, Elk Grove 0

No. 24 Barrington 41, Glenbrook South 15

No. 25 Crete-Monee 42, T.F. South 7

A decade later, Ron Tomczak's legacy lives on at Lincoln-Way East intrasquad game

A decade later, Ron Tomczak's legacy lives on at Lincoln-Way East intrasquad game

When Ron Tomczak passed away suddenly in 2007, Lincoln-Way East head coach Rob Zvonar lost much more than a valuable assistant.

The 69-year-old Tomczak, who spent two-thirds of his life coaching football, had been a mentor and a friend to Zvonar, who leaned on the Hall of Famer for guidance as the young Griffins program took shape in the early 2000s. Zvonar relished having an experienced voice in coaches meetings and the locker room. More than that, he appreciated that same voice calling him "out of the blue" on any given night with words of advice and support.

It's the reason Zvonar made what he called a "no-brainer" decision that fall to honor Tomczak's legacy as a father, coach, mentor and friend a mere six months after the legendary coach's death. So when the Griffins took the field for their annual intrasquad game a week before their regular season began, they did so during the Ron Tomczak Black and Blue scrimmage.

Ten years later the tradition has carried on, and then some.

Thousands from the Frankfort community gathered in the team's stadium last Friday night to watch the 2016 Griffins take the field for the first time, and also to honor the legacy of a man instrumental toward helping build the program into one of the premier teams in Illinois. 

Tomczak coached at T.F. North for 16 seasons, earning 89 victories in his tenure. He coached the Meteors to a pair of playoff berths, including a 10-2 season and berth in the state semifinals with his son, Mike, under center. Mike went on to Ohio State, leading the Buckeyes to two Big Ten championships before a 15-year NFL career with stops in Chicago, Green Bay, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Ron continued his coaching career at Lincoln-Way East in 2001, serving as an assistant under Zvonar one year after the program’s inaugural season. Ron's son, Steve, was also an assistant at East during that time, and when Zvonar approached him and the Tomczak family about honoring their father at the annual scrimmage, they were thrilled.

"Coach Z was gracious enough when my father passed to say, 'This is what we're going to do, and we're going to do it every year really big and make it a big celebration,'" said Steve, who runs Body Tech Total Fitness in Frankfort, where Ron also worked in his later years. "That's the type of person (Zvonar) is, the type of man he is. He said as long as I'm here we're going to do this."

Added Ron Jr.: "Coach Z, I think my dad taught (Zvonar) a lot when he initially started, and he looked to my dad as a mentor."

Ron was a perfectionist, a trait that's easy to see has rubbed off in the way Zvonar leads a Griffins group with state-title aspirations in 2016.

Ron Jr. recalled his father putting together practice plans for the fall as soon as the Fourth of July rolled around. Months before the official start of the IHSA season he had the equipment room organized to a fault and his practice plan for two-a-days completed. Ron spent just as much time with the scout kickoff team as he did with the first-team offense, and he always made time to coach up anyone who asked for it.

"If anybody wanted to work he was there," Ron Jr. said, "if there was one kid or there were 40 kids out there."

When he returned to Lincoln-Way East as an assistant - he also taught driver's ed at the school - his passion, drive and work ethic rubbed off on the rest of the coaching staff.

"Most men his age would be retired on the golf course," Zvonar said, "and he was still coming out here in his late 60s coaching football. He meant so much to me as a mentor."

It's why simply honoring Ron, who was inducted into the IHSA Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 1986, with a scrimmage in his name wasn't enough. Zvonar makes a point each season of instilling in his team the importance Tomczak had on both him and the program. Though the 118 players on this year's East team are too young to remember Tomczak, they understand what he meant to the program because of Zvonar.

The highlight of the night is a spaghetti dinner inside the stadium, with proceeds going directly to a scholarship in Ron's name. Candidates from the team submit letters, must be in good standing academically and have an eye toward playing football collegiately. The coaching staff then selects candidates to present to the family, which makes the final decision in May on one to two players to receive the scholarship.

"I don't want to just say, "Hey, it's the Ron Tomczak scrimmage,'" Zvonar said. "We've got to go back and talk about who he was and what he stood for. And if we can continue to pass his legacy down to other generations, we sure will."

Added wide receiver Nick Zelenika, whose brother John - now at Illinois Wesleyan - was awarded the scholarship in 2015: "Coach Z talks a lot about him. He got this program rolling. He set the example for this program. Coach Z looks up to him as a role model, and we have a ton of respect for him. He definitely set an example for our high school."

The Tomczak family has been an integral part of the Lincoln-Way East program, and the impact Ron had during his time will continue to help define its future successes. It will also come full-circle next season when his grandson, current sophomore starting defensive back Jake, joins the varsity team. Another one of his grandsons, Max, will start at Lincoln-Way East next fall. But even when the last Tomczak has played his final snap for the Griffins, Ron Tomczak's legacy will live on each year as a reminder of what it takes to build a winner, and how to do so the right way.

"He was near and dear to our hearts," Zvonar said. "And as long as I'm here we'll always remember him.”