Defense stuffs offense in state football finals

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Defense stuffs offense in state football finals

I used to enjoy covering the state high school football championships at Illinois State's Hancock Stadium in Normal and at Illinois' Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Walking the sideline in cold weather and sometimes rain was part of the atmosphere. Sitting in the press box just wasn't the same.
But I've discovered that watching the state finals on television, eating hot turkey sandwiches and pumpkin pie, from the comfort of my den is even more enjoyable for someone who covered the most memorable state final of all, the first one, Glenbrook North's thrilling 19-13 overtime victory over East St. Louis in 1974.
Ever notice how many schools have been there before, how established and tradition-rich programs make frequent appearances in the state finals, how rare it is for a first-time qualifier to make the trip to Champaign?
My expectations for the 2012 finals? I couldn't wait to see how Mount Carmel's defense would attempt to contain Glenbard North's Justin Jackson. I was eager to see the duel of unbeatens in Class 7A, Glenbard West vs. Lincoln-Way East. How good is Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell? Could Montini win four in a row?
I couldn't imagine that 2012 could generate as much excitement as 2011. Who could surpass the spectacular offensive performances of Joliet Catholic's Ty Isaac, Montini's Jordan Westerkamp and John Rhode, Bolingbrook's Aaron Bailey, Rochester's Wes Lunt and Zack Grant, Aurora Christian's Anthony Maddie and Dakota's Jake Apple?
There were more turnovers and penalties than highlight clips last weekend. But there were plenty of heroes. Every championship team needs at least one difference-maker and the winners on Friday and Saturday had them, especially on defense.
Simeon's Jabaree Winston, Maroa-Forsyth's Jack Hockaday, Mercer County's Zach Nelson and Devin Morford, Aurora Christian's Brandon Mayes and Joel Bouagnon and Rochester's Austin Green and Garrett Dooley.
Montini's Dimitri Taylor and Fred Beaugard, Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell, Marcus Terrell and Nyles Morgan, Glenbard West's Hayden Carlson, Ruben Dunbar and Henry Haeffner and Mount Carmel's Don Butkus, Draco Smith and Justin Sanchez.
It was punishing and unrelenting defense, not high scoring offense, that proved to be the difference-maker for Montini, Crete-Monee, Glenbard West and Mount Carmel. Montini, Glenbard West and Mount Carmel each allowed only one offensive touchdown.
Have you ever seen a more physical game than Glenbard WestLincoln-Way East? Have you ever seen a more devastating tackle than Hayden Carlson's crushing stop of Tom Fuessel that preserved Glenbard West's victory in the closing seconds? How many times do you think that tape will be replayed?
What drama! Fourth-and-10 at Glenbard West's 13 with two minutes to play. Fuessel, a Northern Illinois recruit and the Chicago Sun-Times' choice as the best quarterback in the Chicago area, appears headed for a game-winning touchdown until he is flipped helmet over shoulder pads and out-of-bounds by the 6-foot, 180-pound Carlson at the 6. It was the last of Carlson's 14 tackles for the game.
A few days ago, while offering a scouting report on Glenbard West and praising the Hilltopper defense as "the best I've seen," Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg said junior safety Hayden Carlson was the best defensive back he had seen all year. And he offered proof, a prelude to the Fuessel hit.
"He knocked (Northwestern-bound) Matthew Harris out for three weeks on a clean hit," Weinberg said. "He is a great football player. He covers a lot of ground."
The state finals offer an interesting contrast, from small schools to large schools, from schools with enrollments of only 300 students to schools of more than 2,000. Small schools emphasize fundamentals. Large schools take advantage of athleticism.
Glenbard West, which emerged as the No. 1 team in the state in the wake of its 10-8 victory over Lincoln-Way East, rode its "Hitters" mentality to a 14-0 season and its first state championship since 1983.
It wasn't unexpected. In his preseason evaluation, coach Chad Hetlet said the 2012 squad "should be one of the faster teams we have had, a skilled team with a lot of speed, good size up front on both sides of the ball and not a lot of highlight players but good players at all positions, no below average players at any position."
"Potentially," he said, "it could be the best team we have had."
At Glenbard West, it is all about being physical. Bill Duchon started the "Hitters" tradition in the 1960s and Jim Covert, his handpicked successor, maintained the same philosophy. When Hetlet arrived in 2007, inheriting a program that was 1-8 the year before, he picked up the torch that Duchon and Covert had left behind.
Hetlet, 40, learned under Bob Bradshaw, who coached for 25 years at Woodstock and eight at Johnsburg. "I learned the old-school method of football. I listened to coaches talk and kept my mouth shut," he said.
"I learned running the ball with a physical presence up front and stopping the run on defense. You might have less talent but if your kids are more physical and play harder, you have a chance to win. When kids buy into being physical, they are tough to stop."
Hetlet spent one year as defensive coordinator at Hinsdale Central, where he got a good look at Glenbard West. When the head coaching position opened up, he researched the history of the program. When he was hired, he knew exactly what his game plan was going to be.
"The selling point for me was they always were a smash-mouth style of football team," he said. "You want to go into a program that is familiar to what you know. It was a perfect marriage for me."
He retained the Hitters program that Duchon had established. He got instant approval from former Glenbard West players who still lived in Glen Ellyn. Duchon and Covert were very supportive. The school administration and the community, too. Everybody wanted to see the program return to the way it was.
After a 6-5 start in 2007, Glenbard West has taken off. In the last five years. Hetlet's teams have posted a 59-5 record with one state championship and one second-place finish.
"What we talk about all the time and remind the kids is they come from a long line of great physical football players," Hetlet said. "It started with them making a name for themselves. Duchon had gold helmets. Covert had 100-percent helmets. They had their own thing. They were hitters, all of them, a bunch of tough kids.
"I believe in that. That's what we have to do to be successful. It isn't the only way but it's the only way I know. We won't finesse people. We will be successful as long as we are physical and stop the run."
Hetlet's thing is a green G on the side of the helmet. The players don't earn it until they go through the off-season workouts. Parents are invited to the ceremony.
"It goes with the tradition, who we are," Hetlet said. "We don't want to pretend that we are the Duchon or Covert era. We want people to think we want to replicate what they did. We don't want to steal what they did. We want people to talk about us."
After Saturday, everybody is talking.

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AP

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White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

The two fastballs that soared to the backstop on Wednesday night should give you a strong indication that Carlos Rodon was far from perfect.

But in making his first start of the 2017 season, the White Sox pitcher also offered his team plenty of signals that his health isn’t going to be an issue.

Rodon returned to the mound for the first time since last September and brought the goods that made him one of baseball’s top pitching prospects several years ago. Given he’d missed three months with bursitis in the left shoulder and the potential value he offers to a franchise only half a season into its first rebuild in 20 years, that was plenty for the White Sox to overlook the rust Rodon showed in a 12-3 White Sox loss to the New York Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He started a little rough early obviously, got some high pitch counts,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And then he kind of settled down.

“Having him back in the rotation and getting him back out there on the big league field, coming out of there feeling good, healthy. I'm sure he will continue to get better as he continues to get out there and move forward.”

Renteria said he wasn’t surprised that Rodon struggled with his command as much as he did against the Yankees. The issues the pitcher displayed in uncorking a pair of wild pitches, walking six batters and throwing strikes on only 41 of 94 pitches were also present during Rodon’s four rehab starts in the minors.

But as long as the stuff was there, the White Sox would be OK with any issues that accompanied the performance. Rodon began to alleviate those concerns immediately when he earned a called strike on the game’s first pitch with a 93-mph fastball to Brett Gardner. Featuring a four-seamer with an absurd amount of movement and a nasty slider he struggled to control, Rodon checked all the boxes the White Sox hoped for from a pitcher they believe will be a frontline starter for years to come. Rodon also was pleased by how he felt before, during and after the contest.

“I was pretty excited,” Rodon said. “I was going a little fast in the first. But it was good to be out there. Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for.”

Well, it’s not ALL you can ask for, but it’s pretty damn good out of the gate given how slow Rodon’s return took. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to BrooksBaseball.Net and touched 97 mph. His two-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 95. And his slider, though he couldn’t control it, nor locate it for a strike, averaged 86 mph.

“You could see (Omar Narvaez) going over to try to catch some balls that were having tremendous run,” Renteria said. “That's (Rodon). He's got some tremendous life, he's just trying to harness it the best that he can and being able to execute where he wants to get as many strikes as possible.”

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The strikes were about the only thing Rodon didn’t bring with him. He walked Gardner to start the game and issued two more free passes after a Tim Anderson error allowed a run to score and extended the first inning. Rodon threw 37 pitches in the first, only 15 for strikes.

He also reached a full count to each of the batters he faced in the second inning. Rodon walked two more with two outs in the third inning after he’d retired six batters in a row.

And there were those pesky first-inning wild pitches that resembled something out of ‘Bull Durham.’

But all in all, Rodon and the White Sox ultimately saw enough in the first outing to be pleased.

“Great stuff, great life, but the goal is to put it in the zone and let them swing it to get guys out early,” Rodon said. “That’s not what happened. I’ll get back to that.”

“It’s a tough loss, but it’s better to be with the guys out on the field grinding than sitting on the couch and watching, for sure.”