Chicago White Sox

Kendall Johnson out at Glenbard West

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Kendall Johnson out at Glenbard West

He was projected to be one of the top 20 football players in the class of 2013 in Illinois, a swift and athletic running backwide receiver with game-breaking potential, what every college coach and recruiting analyst perceives as a difference-maker.

But Kendall Johnson won't be playing football at Glenbard West next fall. He has been dropped from the squad by coach Chad Hetlet for violating training rules. "It's a sad case," Hetlet said, not wishing to go into details.

Sad indeed. How good was Johnson?

"Definitely a Division I player as a wide receiver or running back," Hetlet said. "He was one of the most explosive kids I've seen. His balance and explosive speed made him special."

Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network said Johnson "is a definite Division I player. He was a top 25 player, maybe top 10 in a very good year for talent in the Chicago area."

As a sophomore, Johnson rushed for 900 yards. He carried 12 times for 183 yards and three touchdowns against Downers Grove North. The 6-foot-1, 186-pounder with 4.49 speed attracted early interest from Ohio State and Iowa. He has a 3.4 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale. He had everything going for him.

But Johnson's troubles began even before the 2011 season started. He was suspended for the first three games because of a disciplinary violation and never seemed to get untracked. He appealed his last transgression but the school's athletic board rejected it.

"I regret the whole thing," the 17-year-old said. "If I had a chance to go back in time, I would go back and change it. But it happened and I have no power to go back. It is rough on me and rough on my family and rough on my teammates, too. We can't play our senior year together. But it's something that is done and I'm trying to improve from it."

Based on his potential, Johnson was invited by Lemming to attend the junior combine at the U.S. Marines' Semper Fidelis All-American Game in Phoenix last January. He impressed onlookers.

"He has big-time ability," Lemming said. "He can run and catch. He has good vision. He ranked in a group of the elite players as a sophomore. But now he has blown a chance at a free education and a good football career."

Lemming pointed out that Johnson is the latest in a line of gifted players produced in the city and suburbs who possessed great potential to play in college and the NFL but didn't make it. The list includes Phillip Macklin of Proviso East, Hubert "Boo Boo" Thompson of Proviso West and Mike Burden of Palatine.

"No area in the country has had so many disciplinary problems with great players," Lemming said. "They had great potential but their careers were derailed by off-the-field issues."

But Johnson remains determined to play football at the major college level, specifically in the Big Ten. "I am looking for exposure and I want to build my reputation back up," he said.

"My dad and I are trying to figure out how to play football. If not, I will be in school for academics and I will try to make my way to college and work my way up. I know people know what I am capable of doing. My dad and I aren't sure what level I can play. And we're not sure if a college coach will take me after this situation.

"It was different things that happened over a period of four years. But one thing that put me in this situation (dismissed from the team) was 100 percent not my fault. I appealed but the school board wouldn't let me come back."

Johnson has received letters from Indiana and Georgia Tech. North Central College in Naperville and Dubuque also have expressed interest. Johnson has talked to North Central coach John Thorne, who built a great program at Wheaton Warrenville South High School in the 1990s, has visited the campus and attended a game. He likes what he has seen.

"Wherever I go, the No. 1 thing is to play football," Johnson said. "This summer I plan to keep in shape and call college coaches and see if I can visit their campus. I want people to know that I'm doing the right things. I probably will go to a junior college for one year and work my way up."

Joining Hall-of-Fame company the latest feat for Jose Abreu, White Sox model of consistency

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USA TODAY

Joining Hall-of-Fame company the latest feat for Jose Abreu, White Sox model of consistency

Just how valuable is Jose Abreu to the White Sox?

Well, whenever you join Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio as the only baseball players ever to do something, you must be pretty darn valuable.

Abreu joined that elite company Saturday night, driving in both runs in the White Sox forgettable 8-2 loss to the visiting Kansas City Royals. Those RBIs brought his total to 100 on the season, making him the third major leaguer ever to hit at least 25 homers and drive in at least 100 runs in his first four seasons.

“Every year after a season I meet with my family and we review my season and my stats. Last year when we had the meeting, I told them next year I’m gonna hit 30 homers, I’m gonna drive in at least 100 and I did it,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “I was able to do it and that’s something that made me feel proud of myself and proud of my family, too, because they have been the ones who have been supported me through my whole career."

Abreu’s known as an extremely hard worker, a template to follow for many if not all of the youngsters coming up as the future stars of the White Sox rebuild. And so it makes this moment all the sweeter for him and those around him.

“It is especially important not just for me but for my family and my team,” Abreu said. “I think that this is a reward for the effort and all the work you put in for preparation for your season. It’s special when you get this kind of result and consistency in your stats. But the most important thing is it’s a reward for my family. And this organization, maybe we are not in the position we want to be right now as a team, but I know that better times are to come.”

“He works extremely hard,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I think everybody was feeling it for him tonight. He’s been pushing. He fouled a ball off of his left shin the other day, and you see him kind of gimping around there. … He’s not one to do anything to deter from continuing to help the team win first and foremost, but along the way he’s able to collect some individual merit points, so to speak. And put himself in a very special class.”

The big question surrounding Abreu isn’t whether he’s worthy of being the leader the young White Sox of the future need to turn rebuilding mode into contending mode a few years down the line. The question is whether he’ll still be around by then. His final year of arbitration is 2019, meaning if the White Sox are looking at 2020 as the year of true contention, it will take a new contract to keep Abreu in town.

A few things factor into that, of course. No. 1, Abreu could continue this consistently terrific pace and be lured away by another team willing to spend more to acquire his services. No. 2, though, is his age. He’ll be 33 years old when the 2020 season starts, and while that’s not old by most standards, it means he’ll demand a big contract — and likely a lengthy one — as he reaches the latter part of his prime. It’s not to suggest Abreu will dramatically slow down in terms of production, but it will most definitely be under consideration as the White Sox look to keep their window of contention open as long as possible.

For what it’s worth, Abreu is constantly thanking the White Sox organization for the opportunity to do what he’s done over the past four seasons, and he’s said how much he wants to keep playing for this franchise.

What is of no question, however, is Abreu’s worth as a top-of-the-line offensive player. His totals with a week’s worth of games left in the 2017 season: 31 homers, 100 RBIs and a .305/.356/.551 slash line. All those percentages would be his highest since his outstanding rookie season in 2014.

And his worth as a leader, as a guy who could be a rallying point for all these young players, that’s pretty darn valuable, too.

“I haven’t (tonight) made light of what I believe he’s becoming as part of this organization and what he is as far as what he does for the team,” Renteria said. “You got a couple of young men in there that are growing up and becoming a part of what I believe are leaders within that clubhouse. And he’s one of them. He’s certainly deserves it. He’s earned it. He’s worked for it. He’s been in this organization since the inception of his major league career. He’s someone that we all are happy is a part of us.”

With tougher games awaiting, Fire miss opportunity to gain ground in standings

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USA TODAY

With tougher games awaiting, Fire miss opportunity to gain ground in standings

Saturday got off to a good start for the Fire with New York City FC drawing at home, but the Fire were unable to gain ground in the race for second place in the Eastern Conference.

Not only did the Fire fail to gain ground, they lost ground. Philadelphia smashed the Fire 3-1 on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium, leaving the Fire four points behind NYCFC for second and vulnerable to the chasing pack. Atlanta can pass the Fire for third place with a win against Montreal on Sunday, and still would have a game in hand.

Things don’t get any easier for the Fire with a trip at San Jose coming up on Wednesday. The Earthquakes are in the thick of the playoff race in the Western Conference and have one home loss this season.

While Philadelphia has won a majority of its home matches this season, it was the easiest of the three remaining road games on the Fire’s schedule. In addition to the trip to San Jose, the Fire close the regular season at Houston, another team in the playoff hunt that has just one home loss this year.

So Saturday wasn’t such a good day for the Fire.

The game marked the first start for defender Joao Meira since Aug. 16, but midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juninho missed once again. This was the third straight game Schweinsteiger missed and two straight for Juninho.

Philadelphia took the lead on a Chris Pontius header in the 10th minute and added goals in the second half by Pontius and C.J. Sapong to secure a three-goal lead. Luis Solignac, who came off the bench to replace David Accam in the 60th minute, provided the Fire with a consolation goal, but there wasn’t another to make things interesting in the final minutes.

With four games left in the regular season, the Fire have a pair of tricky games coming up with that trip to San Jose before a big one at home against NYCFC.