Hoscheit a two-way star for St. Charles East

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Hoscheit a two-way star for St. Charles East

Last summer, St. Charles East's Joe Hoscheit had a big decision to make. Should he opt to play baseball or football in college? It wasn't an easy decision. But it wasn't as difficult as losing to three unbeaten teams in one season.

"I like both sports equally," Hoscheit said. "But I started to get recruiting attention for baseball. Northwestern offered first. Then Valparaiso. I was talking to Air Force and Wright State. Size-wise, I felt I had a better opportunity to play baseball.

"In football, I got a lot of letters but no offers. I didn't go to any combines. I had my mind set on baseball as I began to get recruiting attention so I went with it. Baseball was a better fit. I knew I wouldn't get much bigger and I'd have to get faster to play football. I had a chance to go farther in baseball."

So Hoscheit accepted a scholarship to Northwestern. He'll play outfield and catch for the Wildcats. Last spring, he had a .430 batting average for a conference champion.

"I have more talent in baseball," he said.

He also has the academic skills to compete at Northwestern. He ranks No. 15 in a class of 550 and scored 29 on the ACT. He plans to major in business.

But Hoscheit admits there are things that he experiences on the football field on Friday nights that he doesn't feel in baseball, things he began feeling when he began to play the game in fourth grade, things he will feel on Friday night when St. Charles East plays at Wheaton North in the opening round of the Class 7A playoff.

"It's a family experience in football. There is nothing like the camaraderie, the atmosphere of playing on Friday nights, playing together as a team. You don't get it with baseball," he said.

Hoscheit, a 6-foot, 215-pound senior who starts at fullback and middle linebacker, has emerged as the leader of a 6-3 team that has rebounded from two 3-6 seasons in a row and losses to three unbeaten teams.

Coach Mike Fields is touting Hoscheit for All-State recognition and the Defensive Player of the Year in the Upstate Eight's River Division.

"There is no one like him in our conference. He is a throwback football player. He loves to mix it up," Fields said.

Hoscheit is the Saints' leading tackler. He has rushed 61 times for 300 yards, caught 12 passes and scored 10 touchdowns. In last Friday's 26-0 victory over Elgin Larkin, he rushed nine times for 102 yards and scored on runs of 32 and 12 yards. He also set up another touchdown with a 32-yard burst.

He comes off the field only for kickoffs and kick returns.

"I like defense because you hit someone on every play. But I also like to block and carry the ball as a fullback," he said.

After experiencing two 3-6 seasons, Hoscheit and his teammates are having more fun this year, despite losses to unbeaten Cary-Grove, Neuqua Valley and conference rival Batavia. After shaky starts, they felt they played Neuqua Valley and Batavia to a standstill.

"People asked me: 'Why couldn't we play some lesser opponents?' But this is a great group of kids. They proved they can play with anyone. They aren't intimidated by anyone. I'm excited by what our kids are doing. They are competing and that's all you can ask for as a coach. Everybody is dinged up and tired at this time of the year but we're still getting better," Fields said.

He wasn't so positive after going 3-6 last year.

"We had some opportunities but couldn't finish. We could have been 5-4 easily. But it didn't work out. We couldn't capitalize on opportunities. But these kids have turned close games and opportunities into victories," the coach said.

"Our juniors and seniors have meshed well together. There aren't a lot of I's but a lot of we's on this team. The kids have bought into the idea that team comes first. Even with only five returning starters, our goals were to compete for the conference title and qualify for the playoff for the first time since 2009 and we did it.

"I've been coaching for 18 years (the last four as head coach at St. Charles East) and each team is different. But this is one of the best groups I've had. They care about each other. They don't want to let anyone down. They have bought into the team concept."

The offense is led by Hoscheit, 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior tailback Erick Anderson, 6-foot, 180-pound junior quarterback Jimmy Mitchell, 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior tight end Andrew Szyman, 5-foot-9, 165-pound junior wide receiver Mitch Munroe and 6-foot, 195-pound senior guard Ian Crawford.

Anderson, who missed four games with a shoulder injury and pulled groin, is the leading rusher with 440 yards. He averages five yards per carry and also has caught seven passes for 125 yards. The Saints are 5-1 with Anderson in the lineup. Mitchell has passed for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Defensively, Hoscheit, Szyman at end, Munroe at cornerback, 6-foot, 185-pound junior linebacker Michael Candre and 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior safety Anthony Sciarrino are the mainstays.

"In each of the last two years, we started 0-5. It put a damper on our mood. We lost games we shouldn't have lost. We weren't finishing games. The teams could have come together more," Hoscheit said.

"This year the juniors and seniors are a tight knit group. Losing to those three unbeaten teams was tough but we won games we should have won. Every person has each other's back, no matter if you're playing or not. Everybody is upbeat about the team and the program.

"We're not doing anything different, the coaches tell us, but the difference (between this team and the last two years) is the players are capitalizing on opportunities this year and finishing games. It's a terrible feeling to have two losing seasons in a row."

Hoscheit wears No. 34 because his grandfather and older brother once wore the same number. The fact that Walter Payton also wore No. 34 is a bonus, he said. He leads by example, not vocally. And he insists he didn't have any personal goals going into the season.

"Sure, I dreamed about playing pro baseball and pro football. But realistically I realize I'm not at that level yet. I have to keep working to have a chance to be there," he said. "But it's awesome for the coach to think I'm good enough to be defensive player of the year in the conference."

It isn't by accident. Hoscheit credits his past two years of varsity experience and his hard work for reaching such stature...getting used to the speed of the game, watching miles of film, studying each opponent, reading keys, preparing to make plays.

So how has he been preparing for Wheaton North?

"We need to have our best week of practice, mentally and physically. We haven't been perfect yet. But this needs to be perfect. We have to play a team game and play four quarters," he said.

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

White Sox fall to Diamondbacks in series opener

Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

Luis Robert the latest high-end acquisition for White Sox

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

MMQB's Peter King's thoughts on Trubisky, Howard, White and the Bears offense

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”