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."

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

A milk carton was a more likely place to find Bobby Portis than on a basketball floor playing big minutes for the majority of his second season.

He could often be found in the locker room before games and listening to the older players talk to the media afterward, trying his best to fight off the frustration and admitted confusion that comes with the regression of not getting playing time.

When Portis did play, he looked nothing like the confident and borderline cocky rookie who often referred to himself in the third person in interviews. He didn't know when he would play, how long he would be out there or even worse, what was expected of him.

The trade of Taj Gibson at the deadline — preceded by the temporary benching of Nikola Mirotic — put Portis back in the spotlight and he's intent on making the most of it during the last 23 games of the regular season.

"It's fun. You know go out there every day just to know that it's another day I'm going to play," Portis said. "That's the biggest thing for me. I feel like that's already a confidence builder right there, just coming into every game knowing that I'm in the rotation. It's great fun to go out there and play."

It's no secret the front office the Bulls want Portis to succeed and not add him to the ledger of some of the first-round disappointments that can be recalled in recent memory.

The trade of Gibson was certainly underlined with the mantra that Portis should play and the way was going to be cleared for Portis, one way or another. Scoring 19 with eight rebounds against the Celtics on national TV right before the All-Star break probably gave Portis enough validation considering he was thrust into the starting lineup at power forward soon after.

"I don't care about nobody judging me," Portis said. "At the end of the day I'm going to play basketball. That's my job. I'm going to go out there and do the things I do well. I feel like sometimes people misconstrue just because you don't play and they can say some things like that. I don't really care about anybody judging me at this point. At the end of the day I'm still going to be Bobby Portis at the end of the day."

Well, clearly, the third person thing hasn't left the second-year forward, but he said he stayed in the gym waiting on his opportunity, even through a quick but confusing stint to Hoffman Estates to the D-League.

"Just being hungry. Humble and hungry," Portis said. "You know one thing I always strive off of is being humble and hungry. That kept me sane. My mom, I talked to her a lot. She kept me grounded. It's kind of tough not playing and going through the season knowing that some games you might play, you might not play. You know it's about waiting your turn, but at the same time you have to keep working."

Being the fifth big in Fred Hoiberg's rotation didn't leave him a lot of room for Portis to get much run or even find a rhythm, and like many others who've found themselves out of the rotation unexpectedly, it was without much of an explanation.

"Nah, I didn't really know what I could do to get minutes," Portis said. "The one thing that I know that I always do is just come in here every day, work as hard as I can, let the dominos fall how they fall. Every day I come in here, just bust my butt for some minutes, but sometimes it wouldn't work."

Now that he has found himself into Hoiberg's good graces, his improving range has allowed both units to play similiarly.

"I think Bobby has done a real nice job," Hoiberg said. "He was a huge part of our win against Boston in our game right before the break. He just goes out and plays with so much energy. What I really like about him right now is he has no hesitation on his shot. He's stepping into his 3 with good rhythm."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bears will not use franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bears will not use franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Nick Friedell (ESPNChicago.com) and Danny Parkins (670 The Score) join David Kaplan on the panel.

NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that the Bears will not use the franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery for the second straight year. Is that the right move? And what will Ryan Pace do with all of his team’s cap space?

The Bulls are winning but their new, young point guard doesn’t know his role. Will anything ever change with the Bulls?

That plus Scott Paddock drops by to recapping a thrilling Daytona 500 finish.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: