Northwestern looking to end bowl game drought

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Northwestern looking to end bowl game drought

It was 1949 and the baby boom era was emerging. The average salary in the United States was a paltry 3,600 a year. A gallon of gas cost 26 cents. A loaf of bread was half of that. The cost of an average-size new home was about 14,000.

And in the sports world, Northwestern beat California in the'49 Rose Bowl Game.

The world just hasn't been the same since. Fortunately salaries have gone up, though bread, gas and new homes have skyrocketed 10-fold. But unfortunately, Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since.

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Not that the Wildcats haven't had the opportunities. Nine times since the win over California, Northwestern has gone bowl-ing. They've yet to hit a strike or convert a split.

But as they say in the sports world, this is a different team. It's a different group of players, a new attitude with fresh faces. There's a belief that this can be the group that breaks the curse.

The Cats have been close on a number of occasions. Three times in the last four years, they've come up a touchdown or field goal short. Seven, three and seven point margins along with an 11-point defeat dot the resume of the fifth-year seniors who will wear the purple one final time.

That comes on Tuesday when Northwestern tangles with Southeastern Conference member Mississippi State at the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

It's a new venue for the Wildcats. They've never played a game in Jacksonville. Fact is, they've only made four previous trips to the state of Florida for a football game - bowl games in Orlando (1997) and Tampa (2010) and one-time visits to Florida (1966) and Miami, FL (1968). All four resulted in losses but the current NU team was only involved in one of them, the Outback Bowl loss two years ago, a 38-35 defeat to Auburn in overtime.

What isn't new for Northwestern is playing in a postseason bowl game. The Wildcats are making their fifth consecutive postseason appearance during coach Pat Fitzgerald's seven seasons as head coach. While the ending isn't what Fitzgerald is looking for, the consistency in playing in a bowl game is.

"Ending our bowl-game losing streak is the next step in where we want to go as a program," Fitzgerald told the media following his team's first practice in Jacksonville. "The consistent success we've had in the program of being in the postseason for five successive seasons is something we're proud of. Winning a bowl game is the next step.

"We've been close in our previous four but as the ole saying goes, 'close is only good in a couple of things and football isn't one of them.'

"I'd be really ecstatic for our seniors. They've meant so much to us, leaving our program as our all-time winningest senior class. To leave with an exclamation point if they finish the job would be a strong statement for their leadership and what they've meant to build our program to where it's at today."

Northwestern has been oh-so-close to recording its first bowl win since the '49 Rose Bowl. It certainly looked like it was going to happen in the 2010 Outback Bowl in Tampa against Auburn.

Trailing by 14 points with three minutes to play, Northwestern scored twice in the final minutes, including having to convert a 2-point conversion with 75 seconds left after the previous PAT was blocked. Auburn kicked a field goal on their first possession in overtime and NU tried to match it, only to have the kick clang off the right upright. But a roughing the kicker penalty gave the Cats another opportunity. On 4th-and-goal from the 2, Fitzgerald went for the element of surprise. He called for a fake field goal, but it wasn't successful, giving the Tigers an unexpected win.

Fitzgerald said the team came to Jacksonville with one message in mind.

"We're here to win. That's pretty simple," he said. "When it's time to work, we're going to work to win and work to be champions. When it's time to have fun, we're going to enjoy ourselves.

"At the end of the day, it's about executing for four quarters. For the most part in our previous games we haven't been able to do that. We've played a half really well, we've played three quarters really well, but we haven't put together a full four quarters. And that's our challenge against a very good football team."

Offensive guard Brian Mulroe is one of the staples of a talented line that features three seniors and a pair of sophomores. He has a team-leading 39 career starts over the past three seasons and is one of the senior representatives on the team's Leadership Council that Fitzgerald created after last year's loss to Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

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The 6-4, 295-pound senior has experienced all four of the Wildcats bowl game losses since 2008. He's determined not to end his career with another L.

"It's been tough the last couple of years, especially to see the seniors end their season that way," he said. "I don't want to see our class end our career that way. We don't want to be in that locker room crying.

"We're going to come out on top and we'll be yelling and screaming and celebrating. It really motivates you to give your all so you can finish with a win in a bowl game."

The underclassmen feel the same way. They want to end the bowl game drought so that it will stop being a topic of conversation. It would instead, enable them to boast of being the group that started a new trend in school postseason play.

"It would mean a lot to put an end to that streak," starting quarterback Kain Colter said. "I feel like everyone on this team is motivated to be known as the team to get that bowl win for the first time in a long, long time. The seniors have done a good job in building the foundation that we have. We're on the rise right now and a lot of that is credited to them.

"If we could send them off the right way and add another part to their legacy and continue on to our legacy, that would be great."

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.