Keeler makes it big -- all of a sudden

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Keeler makes it big -- all of a sudden

When you've visited a half-dozen college campuses, weighed all of your options and finally decided to make a commitment, effectively putting an end to the grueling recruiting process, you can afford to relax, take a weekend off and go fishing.

Which is exactly what Barrington's Jack Keeler did. There he was, catching a Northern pike on a lake in Barrington Hills. "Fishing is like a hobby. I go three times a week...bass, pike, bluegill," he said.

After all, he didn't much care for the recruiting process. "I didn't want to wait to make my decision. I wanted to get done with recruiting. What didn't I like about it? All the worrying over what will happen next," he said.

So the 6-foot-7, 290-pound offensive tackle was elated and relieved when, after visiting six other schools, he made a trip to Wisconsin and came home a Badger.

"My family went to Wisconsin. The academics are fantastic. I like the guys on the team and the coaches. They offered me while I was visiting. The whole deal was fantastic. I had visited six other schools and nothing else measured up. I could see me at Nebraska but Wisconsin was my favorite."

Keeler was influenced by Barrington teammate Dan Voltz, a senior offensive tackle who also is committed to Wisconsin. "I talked to him before I committed. He helped me out and reassured me that I was making the right decision," he said.

When it came down to it, he chose Wisconsin over Nebraska. When it comes down to it, Keeler and Voltz might be battling for a starting job on Wisconsin's offensive line. Curiously, Voltz was well known after his junior season. Keeler was not. But he has made the most of what exposure he has been able to get, landing 19 offers.

"I went to a Barrington game last year," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network. "I went to see Dan Voltz, who I had rated as one of the top 100 players in the nation. But the kid who was most impressive was Keeler."

"He has blown up all of a sudden," Barrington coach Joe Sanchez said. "He is a legitimate 6-foot-7, 290-pound tackle with great athleticism and flexibility. He has room to mature and develop. College coaches see that he has a great upside."

Sanchez didn't know much about Keeler when he transferred from Cary-Grove to Barrington after his freshman year. Sure, with his frame and size, he had potential. But he needed to get acclimated to his new environment. It took some time. He wasn't promoted to the varsity as a sophomore and didn't start right away as a junior.

"Then the light bulb went on," Sanchez said. "All of a sudden, everything came together for him. He displayed his potential to play at a high level. You never know when the light bulb will go on for a kid. But he had success and got confidence."

Keeler said he finally figured it out. "I just figured out I was the biggest guy on the field and that I can take down anyone. It kind of clicked. I'm a big guy who can stay low and finish well. I have good hands and a good attitude," he said.

It took time for college coaches to assess Keeler's talent and come to the conclusion that he is a major Division I prospect. But offers from Illinois, Miami, Missouri, Nebraska, Tennessee, Wisconsin, West Virginia and others proved he was a keeper. He wasn't the most highly rated or the most publicized player in what has been characterized as one of the richest crops of offensive linemen ever produced in Illinois. But he could be the best.

"It was a pleasant surprise. I didn't think it would be that big," said Keeler, referring to all the recruiting hoopla. "Nebraska was the first Big Ten school to offer, at the end of February. From then on, it started to snowball. I knew I was the real deal."

But he thinks he can be even better. He didn't make all-conference last year. So he is highly motivated to earn all-conference, all-area and all-state recognition in 2012. With that in mind, he has begun five-times-a-week workouts at a new strength and conditioning facility in Barrington, Crossfit.

"I'm upgrading all of my skills, trying to be a better football player," he said. "I say to myself: 'You are a great football player but you have room to get better.' My goal for next season is to have the best season of all."

Which means he might have less time to go fishing.

How Ozzie Guillen's harsh honesty resonated with Avisail Garcia

How Ozzie Guillen's harsh honesty resonated with Avisail Garcia

Ozzie Guillen delivered Avisail Garcia some tough love last winter that he figured the White Sox outfielder needed to hear.

They encountered each other during the Venezuelan Winter League season when Garcia played for the Tigres de Aragua and Guillen managed for the Tiburones de La Guaria. Guillen was so taken aback to find Garcia hitting low in the Tigres’ lineup that he offered an assessment on the spot.

For any number of reasons, Garcia has responded with a career season that has him on the verge of his first All-Star assignment. The right fielder is fifth in the American League fan vote as of Monday with 1,292,694 votes.

“About time,” Guillen said. “We've been waiting for this moment. A lot of people bet he would have failed. I know because at work, every week I talk about him. People keep waiting on him to be what he was. I think right now he has more experience. He doesn't live in the past, like 'oh it's the next Miguel Cabrera' or 'he's this guy, he's the best we've ever had.' That's why he got better. It's about time this kid. What he's doing right now I think it's fun. He's showing his potential. I see a lot of players with potential who never make it. I think it started getting too late for him, now he's back on the map.”

Garcia entered Monday hitting .331/.372/.532 with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs in 296 plate appearances. While he didn’t remember the specifics of their conversation, Garcia knows Guillen’s main intent was to help him forward. He’s encouraged that his fellow countryman has confidence in his abilities.

“He’s a great human and everything he said to me is going to work for me,” Garcia said. “I just listened. Always listen. I appreciated what he said. He gave me a lot of advice.

“He’s a great person. People that really know, know he is and we appreciate everything he does and that’s it.”

Guillen appreciates what Garcia has done this season after several years of middling play amongst high expectations. Through 72 games, Garcia has produced 2.3 f-Wins Above Replacement, giving him a career mark of 0.9.

Acquired in July 2013 from Detroit in a three-team deal that sent Jake Peavy to Boston, Garcia arrived with high expectations that he hadn’t been able to live up to thus far. Garcia has had those expectations since he first reached the majors when scouts nicknamed him ‘Mini Miggy’ after Cabrera. Guillen is glad to see Garcia has started to play up to his potential, especially after he was aghast to find him hitting in the bottom third of Aragua’s lineup.

“I saw him batting seventh and I was all over him,” Guillen said. “I said 'You should be embarrassed you're batting seventh in winter league, you have to be third, or fourth. This is winter league.' When you go to there and you play in the big leagues, it makes it easier. Now he's picked it up. Hopefully he will keep it up. Hopefully he'll keep it up and make some money. That's what we want. Some cash. Take it home.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon working on another potential White House visit

Cubs manager Joe Maddon working on another potential White House visit

WASHINGTON – Less than six months after the Cubs toured the White House as one of the final stops on their World Series victory tour, manager Joe Maddon is angling for another visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Maddon’s childhood friend from Hazleton, Congressman Lou Barletta, is working to arrange a private tour this week while the Cubs are in Washington for a four-game showdown against the first-place Nationals.

“I’m staying in touch with my boy Louie,” Maddon said Monday. “Who knows? We might end up going over there again.”

This wouldn’t be the East Room spectacle the Cubs enjoyed in January, when President Barack Obama’s final official White House event became a kind of farewell gift to his staffers with Chicago connections.

Barletta, a Pennsylvania Republican who made immigration a central part of his platform as Hazleton mayor, declined a position in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet. Barletta asked Maddon, who stays involved with his hometown through his Hazleton Integration Project, to attend a luncheon on Wednesday for young Republicans.

“And then maybe something else will be in the making after that,” Maddon said. “But for right now, the one thing I got in my back pocket is Louie.”