David Lenti has his own identity at Mount Carmel

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David Lenti has his own identity at Mount Carmel

The process of organizing Mount Carmel's football team for each season begins in the summer when the brothers Lenti, Frank and David, discuss personnel. Who will play offense? Who will play defense? Who fits into Frank's split-back veer offense? Who can fill spots in David's 5-2 defense?
Mention Mount Carmel football and three things immediately come to mind--Frank Lenti, winning (nine state championships, a state-record 325 victories) and the split-back veer triple option offense.
David Lenti speaks for the defense. And his message is loud and clear. His defensive unit always is an intimidating presence.
"We have a unique and great relationship," Frank said. "He can be upfront about what I need to hear without hurting my feelings and vice-versa. Nobody is going to outwork him or out-prepare him. I never worry about what our defense will do. He always has a plan. He does his homework. He knows what the other team will do next. His kids are fundamentally sound and play with tenacity."
This year, while Frank's offense has averaged 38.8 points per game, David's defense has allowed only 110 points. The Caravan has shut out five opponents, held nine to one touchdown or less and permitted only two to score more than 15 points.
"It will be a smash-mouth game against Glenbard North (in the Class 8A final)," said Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg, whose team lost to Mount Carmel 45-10 in the quarterfinals. "Their defense is extremely disciplined. They never are out of position, always in the right spot. They have a lot of good players and they are well-coached. They play hard and are physical. They don't make mistakes."
Frank is the oldest of the six Lenti children. David is the youngest. He graduated from St. Francis de Sales in 1980. At DePaul, he managed Hall of Fame coach Ray Meyer's team that included Mark Aguirre, Terry Cummings and Clyde Bradshaw.
After graduating in 1984 with a degree in education, he served as a student teacher at Mount Carmel under football coach Bill Barz. When Barz left for Illinois Benedictine, Lenti was hired full-time and taught math for 14 years. For the last 15 years, he has been vice-president of institutional advancement. Translated, that means he is in charge of fund-raising.
When Frank became head coach in 1984, he hired David, who coached at the sophomore level for two years, then assisted on the varsity for three years before becoming defensive coordinator in 1989. They have been together for eight of Frank's nine state championships.
"He coaches the offense and I have the defense," said David, 51. "He trusts me to run the defense. We put a game plan together on our own, me and my assistants."
What does he look for in a defensive player?
"Every position is different, of course, but speed is the first priority, a kid who likes to stick his nose in there, who likes to tackle and hit people," David said. "You have to run to the ball. You have to have kids who can run. Everything is built around speed for us, fast and physical."
A defensive lineman must have good size and strength and exceptional quickness. A linebacker must have a lot of grit--"football moxie," David said--and run real well. The best athletes are earmarked for linebacker and defensive back. A solid defense starts with them, the brothers agree.
But the game plan has changed over the years. In 1989 and 1990, for example, when opponents ran 80 percent of the time, the outside linebackers were fast defensive linemen. Now, to combat the spread offenses, they are more physical defensive backs.
"You need more speed on the edge to control the spread. You have to be more athletic at the linebacker position," David said. "You looked for more run stoppers before. Now you look for kids who can stop the run and rush the passer. We try to put more pressure on the quarterback."
Don't forget the defensive backs, especially in this era of pass-happy spread offenses.
"The defensive back always plays pass first. We look for a kid who is smart and can read offenses, someone who can determine whether a play is a run or a pass," Lenti said.
He isn't ready to declare that this year's defense is the best he has produced, not until after Week 14. He compares it to 1992...no stars, no standouts, just a lot of kids with great chemistry, great resilience and a don't-give-up attitude.
He reminds that the 1992 defense, nicknamed the "Ninja Turtles" because they were so undersized, also hoisted a state championship banner. The biggest name was future NFL star Simeon Rice, who wasn't highly recruited out of high school but blossomed at Illinois.
This year's unit features two Division I recruits in the line, 6-foot-3, 260-pound junior Enoch Smith and 5-foot-11, 285-pound junior Steven Richardson. Other key contributors are 6-foot-1, 212-pound senior lineman David Denne, 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior linebacker D.J. Romero, 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior strong safety Justin Sanchez and 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior free safety Deontae Brown.
Romero is the team's leading tackler despite missing six weeks with a foot injury. He returned for the playoff. 
"These kids aren't worried about who gets his name in the newspaper or who gets publicity or who is being recruited," Lenti said. "They just want to get the job done."
For Lenti and his defensive assistants--Pete Kammholz, Mark Antonietti and Bill Nolan--the job of preparing for Saturday's state championship game against Glenbard North began after the semifinal victory over Neuqua Valley. The two finalists arranged for a film exchange.
At 8 a.m. Sunday morning, the coaching staff met at the school. They broke down three films of Glenbard North. Frank Lenti and his offensive coaches met in one room and David Lenti and his assistants met in another. The meeting didn't break up until about 5 p.m.
"We analyze all the offensive plays, the tendencies, their favorite plays, plays that could pose problems, what they like to run in certain situations, what they like to exploit, how they will attack your defense, their best athletes, best linemen, best pass plays, best run play," David said.
They begin the agonizing process of putting together a game plan, then go home, do more homework and finalize the game plan in a series of telephone conversations. When the staff arrives at school at 7 o'clock on Monday morning, it is all finalized.
At exactly 7:02, the coaching staff meets the players in the media center. Frank outlines the practice schedule for the week and a brief rundown of the bells and whistles that go into Thanksgivingchampionship week, which is a new experience for this team. Mount Carmel traveled to Champaign in 2005, 2006 and 2010 but hasn't won a state title since 2002.
"There is some motivational stuff. Mark Antonietti introduces the game plan for the kicking game. Then the offensive players go to one classroom with Frank and the defensive players stay in the media center to go over the defensive game plan with me, Pete, Mark and Bill."
Playing on Thanksgiving weekend and taking a bus to and from Champaign on Saturday for the state championship game is a new and thrilling experience for the players. For Frank, David and Pete, who has been on the staff for 31 years, it is a familiar theme.
"You come across a different group of kids every year," David said. "It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them, their first time, maybe their only time. We appreciate it we are playing in a state final. We used to take it for granted. But we appreciate it more now.
"Every year is as meaningful as the year before. It's all about the kids. These seniors have never been to Champaign before. It is the juniors' first experience. We like to take the approach that it is more about us playing to our standard rather than the school we are playing."

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

The tumult around the Bears quarterback position this offseason – signing Mike Glennon, cutting Jay Cutler, not signing Brian Hoyer, now signing Mark Sanchez – was to be expected. (Well, not all the brouhaha around Sanchez; if there has ever been more hyperventilating around the arriving backup quarterback, it’s escaping my recollections of a quarter-century on the beat.)

All of that, and a lot of the noise around Mike Glennon is really missing a larger point. A couple, really.

GM Ryan Pace established fixing the quarterback situation as a top priority, something it has been just about since Jim McMahon left, with the exception of a few Jay Cutler years. Doing that to any meaningful degree with the castoff options available in free agency or via trades wasn’t ever going to happen. What Pace has done with the quarterback situation, however, is more than a little intriguing.

The quarterback additions and subtractions, coupled with also suggest a draft plan far from locked in on a quarterback. The signings of Glennon and Sanchez don’t mean the Bears have solved their quarterback position, but it does mean the Bears have positioned themselves with the distinct option of NOT taking a quarterback – this year.

But here’s the bigger point.

Even with the optimum quarterback solution unavailable – Pace arguably did go best-available in his and the coaches’ minds with Glennon and Sanchez, all derision aside – Pace’s goal needs to be building a team that can reach a high playoff level regardless of quarterback.

Meaning: defense. And while the 2017 free agent and draft classes did not offer must-have quarterbacks in most evaluations, there are those elite-level defensive talents, and every indication is that the Bears will look there, in the draft, and should be. It had that feeling when the Bears, with ample, money to spend, backed away from day one free-agency runs at a couple of pricey defensive backs. The Bears simply think they can do better for less in the draft.

A perspective: With a defense at its levels during the Brian Urlacher era, the Bears could reach the NFC championship game with what they have at quarterback now. They did, twice, with Rex Grossman and with Cutler. Sanchez got to AFC championship games in each of his first two seasons. The Bears reached a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. They went 13-3 in 2001 with a solid-but-unspectacular Jim Miller as their quarterback. They reached the 2005 playoffs with Kyle Orton as their starter most of that year, and should have been in the 2008 playoffs with him as well. The Bears reached the NFC championship game in 2010 with Cutler.

There is a common denominator in all of these situations, and it is within Pace’s grasp, and that was an elite defense. Rex Ryan had one with the Jets and Sanchez, Grossman and Orton and Cutler had theirs with Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris, Charles Tillman, etc.

Forget the quarterback situation for now. Nothing anyone, including Pace, can really do anything about it (other than land possibly Deshaun Watson, based on their turnout at his Pro Day).

But if Pace and his personnel staff do this right, they can lay in the foundation for something elite on defense that will transcend the quarterback, or at least allow the Bears to play more than 16 games in a season even if they do not have a great quarterback. With the Urlacher core defense, the Bears went to postseasons with four different quarterbacks.

The prime directive now for Ryan Pace is to create precisely that model again.

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Perhaps the best thing about the Johnny Oduya trade back to the Blackhawks, for both parties involved, was that Oduya wasn't needed immediately.

It's not that the Blackhawks didn't want the veteran defenseman, who helped them win Cups in 2013 and 2015, back in the lineup as soon as possible. Oduya was coming off an ankle injury, one he re-aggravated and missed about a month when he was with the Dallas Stars. He needed time to fully heal and with the Blackhawks in good shape in the standings and with solid depth at defense, he could.

Now with the playoffs right around the corner, Oduya is feeling more like himself.

Outside of missing two games that were the second halves of back-to-backs, Oduya has been playing steadily since March 9. Oduya's minutes have ranged from around 16 to 21 in games. He said he's now 100 percent healthy from his injury and he's feeling the difference on the ice.

"It makes a big difference," Oduya said on Thursday, prior to facing the Stars for the first time since his trade back to Chicago. "I mean, obviously sometimes you get more or less lucky, depending on what you get and the style of play and what you do or not. Skating is a part of my game I try to use as much as possible to get in good position and try to take away time from the opposition as much as possible.

"Even with battling and things like that, of course it's nice to feel more confident," Oduya added. "In any situation, you're in you want to feel confident on the ice."

The Blackhawks have seen that confidence in previous postseason runs and are looking to see it again in Oduya. Coach Joel Quenneville considers Oduya, "Mr. Reliability."

"You look back at what he delivered for us, not just the regular season, but he's been solid and reliable in the playoffs. He's assumed some important matchups and important minutes," Quenneville said. "Last year, we didn't have him on the back end and watching him this year, it was the perfect fit him coming back."

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The Blackhawks' defensive group hasn't changed much since Oduya's first stint here. The system probably hasn't been altered much, either. Still, Oduya's not taking anything for granted and is trying to get back on the same page quickly.

"Same as the last time I came into a great hockey team and I really just want to get up to speed and up to date as quickly as possible," Oduya said. "Little things that may have changed. I want to fit in as well as I can. That's the idea anyone has coming in late in the year. The guys here make it pretty easy; the coaching staff is familiar with the way I play and helps speed up things a little more."

The Blackhawks are trying to be their best heading into the postseason. So is Oduya. He needed a little extra time to get back to health and he may still need a little time to get back to speed, but he's just about there. 

"I feel pretty good. Of course it's a lot easier when you have guys around you you've seen before, a coaching staff," Oduya said. "It's a work in progress, anyway. I want to be better, I want to evolve with the team and want us to be better, too. It's a work in progress."