Illinois hoping Big 10 season provides identity

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Illinois hoping Big 10 season provides identity

CHAMPAIGN -- Who is Illinois? The schools new slogan is, "Our State. Our Team," but is this a team that even knows its identity?

The Illini are struggling to stay healthy in coach Tim Beckmans first year, which has led to many young players, including true freshmen, playing significant minutes. The biggest health issue, however, is at quarterback.

Junior signal-caller Nathan Scheelhaase returned to the starting lineup on Saturday for the first time since Illinois' win over Western Michigan on Sept. 1. His time behind center was brief, however. After a pair of turnovers, Beckman pulled the starter in favor of sophomore Reilly OToole.

After the game Beckman refused to be drawn into commenting about the quarterback controversy. He toed the party line, insisting that the starting position will be won over the next few days.

"We will evaluate the film and practice next week and make a decision against Penn State. We will make sure we have the one who performs best throughout the week at quarterback," Beckman said.

Likewise, the players played down any notion of a controversy at quarterback. OToole even praised his counterpart in advance.

"Scheelhaase just didnt have his burst tonight. He's close; hes getting better every day and next week, hell be great," the sophomore said.

As far as team identity goes, however, the players were not concerned that their non-conference season would define them. Likewise, the lack of clarity at the quarterback season was not going to distract the Illini from their goal of reaching a Big 10 championship.

"The only thing that affects the team is how many points we put on the board. Thats the only thing that matters at the end of the day," Scheelhaase said. "Everyones confident in what were doing at the quarterback position and we just have to go out as quarterbacks and execute."

Receiver Ryan Lankford echoed that sentiment, citing personal improvement as the key rather than consistency behind center.

"We have to do our job, we cant be worrying about who is starting. Youre one-eleventh of the team, youre just the position you play," he said.

The Illinois players indicated an eagerness to view the start of the conference season as a fresh start for the team. Each player mentioned 12112, the date of the Big 10 championship game in Indianapolis, as their primary goal and the only thing they want to focus on in the coming weeks.

Its still early, we have a lot of football left and we havent played our best yet, OToole said.

To get to their best football Lankford says the team should look to each other for support.

"Were a new team, this is a new era. We have to do things better, we have to come together. Were all weve got, so we have to band together," he said.

62 Days To Kickoff: North Chicago

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62 Days To Kickoff: North Chicago

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O'Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Jul. 31, we'll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25.

School: North Chicago

Head coach: Addonte Adams

Assistant Coaches: Jamal Patterson OC Wilton Hill Joshua Franklin Orlando Kilpatrick

How they fared in 2016: 3-6 (2-5 Northern Lake County conference), failed to qualify for the 2016 IHSA state playoffs.

2017 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 25 – @ Waukegan

Sept. 1 – vs Robeson

Sept. 8 – @ Round Lake

Sept. 15 - vs Grayslake North

Sept. 22 - @ Grant

Sept. 29 – vs Wauconda

Oct. 6 - vs Grayslake Central

Oct. 13 - @ Antioch

Oct. 20 - vs Lakes

Biggest storyline: Can the Warhawks get back to winning and into the state playoff field in 2017?

Names to watch this season:  Senior LB Garrett Turner Senior WR/DB Ishaun Walker Senior QB/ATH Dyshaun Gates

Biggest holes to fill: The Warhawks return a ton of starters from a season ago, however just one starter is back on the offensive line in senior OC Joseph Gaiden.

EDGY's Early Take: It's been a while since the Warhawks have been a threat in either the conference or in the state playoffs, yet that could change in 2017. North Chicago went young last season and gained a ton of playing experience in 2016. If head coach Addonte Adams can get his Warhawks to buy into his program, this has the potential of becoming a team to watch this fall. 

It’s a business, but Blackhawks still feel sting of emotional deals

It’s a business, but Blackhawks still feel sting of emotional deals

Coach Joel Quenneville stood in the United Center hallway, summing up what had been a difficult Friday.

“Very emotional deals,” he said on Saturday morning, as Day 2 of the NHL Draft commenced. “A lot to process there.”

Indeed, the Blackhawks had a busy and difficult day on Friday, trading defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona and swapping Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad in a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Quenneville was seen by media leaving a coaches meeting in between the Hjalmarsson and Panarin/Saad trades on Friday morning and he wasn’t at the Blackhawks’ table on Friday, unusual for the opening night of the draft. But he said his absence wasn’t about the trades.

“Not at all,” he said.

Still, as Quenneville said, big moves are a lot to process, even for a team that’s done its share of shedding players since the 2010 offseason. General manager Stan Bowman said Friday was filled with, “high emotions… when you make some difficult decisions.” Jonathan Toews said on Friday night that, “everyone’s kind of shocked” by recent events, including Marian Hossa’s loss. Toews added he was wary of saying the team was better today, out of respect for departed players.

“It’s hard to sit there and say that without sounding like you’re being disrespectful to two teammates you care for and know were huge parts of the team,” he said.

We talk about the business side of hockey all the time. You make the tough decisions and then you move forward. But there’s a human element to all of this that’s easy to forget. Players, especially those who are with an organization for a long time as Hjalmarsson was, make their impact on and off the ice. Teammates and coaches are spending endless amounts of time together, and those bonds, coupled with what they all go through during regular seasons and Stanley-Cup runs, endure. Saying goodbye is difficult.

For Quenneville, seeing Hjalmarsson leave was very difficult.

“Well, certainly Hammer, he’s one of those heart-and-soul guys and was instrumental in winning some championships for us. You feel for him and what he meant to his team and his teammates and fans here and the city of Chicago. He’s one of those guys that you have an appreciation to watch and see how he competes and knowing what he fights through to stay on the ice in a lot of games. He’s a heart-and-souler. Those guys are hard to see go,” Quenneville said. “Bread Man wasn’t here long enough to really get that consistency over term. But Hammer really did give a lot to the organization. And we are very appreciative of the Bread Man, because he could wow us and entertain us and a great kid, as well.”

Still, there’s the positive side. Quenneville and Toews are thrilled to have Saad back in the fold. Toews and Saad had great chemistry, the first time around and Quenneville said he’ll put those two together to start the season – “I know that [Patrick Kane] finds a way to make it happen, no matter who’s playing at center or on his left. It really adds a one-two punch that hopefully we get consistency and predictability in that area,” Quenneville said.

Saad should also help fill at least some of the void left from Hossa.

It’s another offseason during which the Blackhawks are feeling the losses, professionally as well as personally. You process, you deal with the sting and then you proceed. That’s the business.

“As a coach, we’re in the short-term business, we’re thinking about now,” Quenneville said. “So we’re going to do everything we can to better ourselves right now and looking to win today. And that’s our challenge and that’s what we look at.”