Fitzgerald, Northwestern get bowl monkey off their backs

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Fitzgerald, Northwestern get bowl monkey off their backs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The best news coming out of Northwestern's 34-20 win over Mississippi State in Tuesday's Gator Bowl, was that the monkey has been destroyed.

It came a year later than had been planned, but the monkey is officially history.

Don't be alarmed PETA members, the monkey is not real.

It's the fictitious animal that has been logged on the shoulders of Northwestern football teams participating in bowl games each of the last five seasons and for years before that. Northwestern won the 1949 Rose Bowl Game against California and the Wildcats haven't claimed victory in a postseason game since.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald thought he could put an end to the Wildcats' lengthy bowl losing streak a year ago when Northwestern met Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston. The stuffed monkey made the trip to Houston but earned a ride home with the Cats when they dropped a 33-22 decision to the Aggies.

Fast forward to Jacksonville and the Gator Bowl where Northwestern was trying to end its nine-game bowl losing streak, a dubious mark that they shared with Notre Dame as the longest losing streak ever in bowl history. Once again, Fitzgerald made certain "Mr. Monkey" was part of the team's traveling party to Florida.

"I gave it to Curtis, Curtis Shaner, long time equipment manager before we left. And I said 'put it in the case and put it away,'" an elated Fitzgerald said at the press conference after Tuesday's game. "After we win, we're going to tear it up and never go back there. I think they said on the podium in the postgame ceremonies on the field after the game, we've never been here before. But now we're here and here to stay with a new streak you can talk about in a positive fashion."

So the monkey has made its last trip with Northwestern. Fitzgerald made it clear, in a laughing manner, that the Wildcats took turns shredding the stuffed animal in the locker room afterwards. He brought the mangled mess to the press conference -- or at least what was left of it -- for all to see.

Afterwards, Northwestern players talked about the relief of not having to discuss about the losing streak any more and what a great sendoff the victory was for the senior class, the winningest group of seniors ever to play at Northwestern.

"I'm so glad that monkey is off our back and that we're the group that did it," said starting right guard Brian Mulroe, a fifth-year senior and a four-time loser in bowl games prior to Tuesday. "We're the seniors who helped end the streak. The sky's the limit for these young guys. We deserve this after what we've put into the program this year. All our hard work has paid off."

Starting quarterback Kain Colter had similar thoughts. Colter did what he could to bring about a win by leading the Wildcats in rushing with 71 yards in 11 carries (6.5 avg.) and added another 76 yards in the air on 9-of-16 passing.

"This means so much to the program. This win's for the seniors," said Colter, a junior. "I feel like a big burden has been lifted off our shoulders."

Fitzgerald may be the most relieved person that the monkey and losing streak are a thing of the past. From his opening press conference on the first day in Jacksonville up until his final media briefing the day before the game, Fitzgerald was asked about the bowl misfortunes in various ways. Some were subtle, some were indirect, some were pointed. But all wanted to know why the losing streak had extended to nine games in a row, including each of the last four years.

Each time, Fitzgerald calmly, patiently and in a positive manner, explained how the Cats have been close, how they've played well for a half or three quarters, but had yet to turn in a full four quarters of solid play.

That's why there may have been some nervous Northwestern fans at EverBank Field on Tuesday, watching their team build a 27-13 lead after three quarters. Would this be the fourth game this year that the Wildcats had led by double figures in the second half, only to see the lead evaporate and end up in a loss? It happened against Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan, the Cat's three losses in a 9-3 regular season.

When Mississippi State scored four minutes into the final quarter to make it a 7-point game, the collars became a little tighter for those wearing purple.

But on Mississippi State's next possession, quarterback Russell Tyler underthrew an intended receiver by 10 yards and Nick VanHoose was there to make the interception. The redshirt freshman cornerback not only made the pick - the fourth of the game by the Cats' defense - but he returned it 39 yards to the 10-yard line.

A penalty moved it to the 5 and while it took three plays from there, Venric Mark's burst off left tackle from three yards out resulted in a score to make it a more comfortable 14-point margin.

Mississippi State never threatened again, failing to get past its own 30 yard line in its final two possessions. And once Northwestern ran out the clock from inside the Bulldogs' 10-yard line the final 1:42, the celebration began.

Fitzgerald was doused with blue Gatorade and immediately jumped into the arms of 300-pound defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt, the culprit behind the coach's soaking. Players paraded near the stands, extending and receiving congratulatory high-fives from joyous Northwestern fans. Fitzgerald later took control of a field microphone, thanked the fans for their support and joined the team and supporters in singing the school fight song.

Afterwards, pictures were taken of any combination of players and coaches, whether it be by class, unit or just friends. Everyone wanted the trophy included in their picture, but no one wanted the monkey to be a part of the celebration. His demise was eminent and with it, NU's bowl game blues.

"Every time I think about what just happened on this field, I start to tear up a little bit," said Quentin Williams who started the Northwestern scoring when he returned an interception 29 yards to the end zone on the third play of the game. "This is just a fantastic happening for our school. We've worked so hard to get to this point and it paid off today. I've been here for five years and to finally get a win is just amazing.

"I can just imagine how everyone feels back home and how they're celebrating. This win is for anyone who's ever strapped on the Purple and White at least once in their life. Without doubt, the best feeling I've had in my five years at Northwestern. We're doing some good things around here and it's going to take us places."

And no monkey will be accompanying the team on these journeys.

High School coaches 'leave no stone unturned' in helping players explore next level

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Photo at top: Loyola Academy assistant coach Paul Pryma extends his hand toward a Steinmetz High School player during pregame introductions on Feb. 21. (Andres Waters/MEDILL)

High School coaches 'leave no stone unturned' in helping players explore next level

By Andres Waters
Special Contributor to CSNChicago.com

After Loyola Academy held off rival New Trier 43-40 to win the 2017 Zion-Benton regional championship, Ramblers head coach Tom Livatino had a special message for his players.

"That's the best celebration that I have ever been a part of," Livatino said. "Because everybody was completely about love. You guys love each other and we all can tell. I'm really, really proud just to be one of our coaches."

While the speech was a powerful way for Livatino to tell the players of his appreciation, he and other high school coaches engage in something much bigger to show players how proud they are: college recruiting.

In addition to time spent planning and practicing, coaches also sacrifice countless hours each week helping their players find opportunities to play at the next level.

"It's a really long part of the process, but to be honest, it's a part of the job that I absolutely love," Livatino said. "We demand so much of our players in every aspect. And, from a basketball standpoint, the least I could do is everything in my power to help them out."

Less than 48 hours after the Ramblers completed their season with a loss to Evanston Township in the Waukegan Sectional semifinal, Livatino was back in his office holding individual meetings with each player.

Starting with the 10 departing seniors, Livatino discussed the factors that go into choosing a college for high school athletes.

His conversations with the two players who already committed, senior guards Ramar Evans and Matt Lynch, focused on how they felt about their next steps. With the others, Livatino asked whether they wanted to play at the next level and, if so, which schools they wanted to attend that shared an interest in them. The conversations held with the Ramblers' juniors are very similar.

"I wasn't just looking for basketball, I was looking for a fit academically and socially," said Lynch, who committed to Division III St. Norbert College. "[Livatino] said St. Norbert would be the best fit for me. It fit everything I was looking for."

Read the full story at Medill Reports Chicago.

CSN Chicago, in partnership with Northwestern University,  features journalism by students in the graduate program at Medill School of Journalism. The students are reporters for Medill News Service. Medill faculty members edit the student work. Click here for more information about Medill.

From dunks to deliveries: Former No. 1 pick LaRue Martin's unlikely success story

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Photo at top: La Rue Martin poses for a photo at a National Basketball Retired Players Association event. (Photo courtesy of La Rue Martin)

From dunks to deliveries: Former No. 1 pick LaRue Martin's unlikely success story

By Elan Kane
Special Contributor to CSNChicago.com

LaRue Martin Jr. thought his future was set. The Portland Trail Blazers had drafted him No. 1 overall in the 1972 NBA draft. Money and fame awaited.

Fifteen years later, he started work as a UPS driver, struggling to find uniform pants that fit his 6-foot-11 frame.

"There is life after sports," Martin said. "Period."

It's been 45 years since the draft and Martin, a former Loyola University star, is now the UPS Illinois district public affairs and community services manager. He is labeled by many as one of the biggest busts in NBA draft history, but he is fine with that designation.

"I don't believe in saying anything negative, you have no control over that," Martin said. "I took care of my family, did what I had to do and I'm the type of person I can't dwell off the negatives. I can't. I kept my head up high and moved onto a positive mode of life and it has treated me very well."

Martin averaged 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds in 14 minutes per game in just four seasons with the Trail Blazers. He blames his low numbers on his lack of playing time, but many believe he was just not good enough.

"He didn't get playing time because he [stunk]," said Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan, who has covered the NBA for decades. "[Former No. 1 overall draft pick Michael] Olowokandi didn't do much but I think he did more than that."

Martin is used to the criticism.

"As a young man, reading the papers all the time, that bothered me, I must admit that," Martin said. "But I hold my head up high now because I've been very successful in the corporate world."

Read the full story at Medill Reports Chicago.

CSN Chicago, in partnership with Northwestern University,  features journalism by students in the graduate program at Medill School of Journalism. The students are reporters for Medill News Service. Medill faculty members edit the student work. Click here for more information about Medill.