Neuqua's Rhattigan, Waubonsie's Guido renew friendly rivalry

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Neuqua's Rhattigan, Waubonsie's Guido renew friendly rivalry

Sometime before Saturday's rematch in the Class 8A quarterfinals, Neuqua Valley's Joey Rhattigan and Waubonsie Valley's Austin Guido will exchange text messages. Something along the lines of "Good luck!" or "Have a good game!" rather than "I'm going to kick your butt!"

Rhattigan and Guido are two of the most prolific running backs in Illinois. They also are good friends and fierce competitors. They grew up playing on the Naperville Patriots youth travel team. In the off-season, they train with former NFL player Kevin Kasper, a Hinsdale South graduate, at Extreme Speed Gym in Plainfield.

"We are good friends but very competitive," Guido said. "I talked to him before my game (on Saturday). I congratulated him on his good game (on Friday). No matter what the outcome of the game is, we'll remain good friends."

At Extreme Speed Gym, they engage in several drills. They push a tread sled for a certain length of time to see how much distance they can achieve. And they push a prowler, with weights on both sides, usually against each other. "He has his good days and I have my good days," Guido said.

"We talk, we joke, we have a competitive relationship," Rhattigan said. "We'll probably talk more when the season is over. I'll probably send him a text this week."

They prefer to do their talking on the football field. Imagine, they might have ended up in the same backfield. Guido and a dozen Waubonsie Valley starters played with Rhattigan and his friends in youth football. All were slated to attend Neuqua Valley but the school boundary was redrawn when Metea Valley was opened. So Guido went to Waubonsie Valley.

In 11 games, Guido, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior, has rushed 292 games for 2,236 yards and 30 touchdowns. He has amassed over 200 yards in seven games. In last Saturday's 28-7 victory over Oak Park, he ran behind fullback Demario Webb a season-high 39 times for 232 yards and two touchdowns.

"I knew there would be a lot of pounding the ball," he said. "Saturday mornings after Friday games are rough. The team comes in for a light jog or ride bikes. Then I come home and take an ice bath for 30 minutes and apply ice. How sore am I? It depends on the game. But my body usually is tired and sore after a big game."

Rhattigan, a 6-foot, 205-pound senior, has rushed187 times for 1,968 yards and 32 touchdowns. He has been on a tear in the state playoff, rushing for 228 yards and four touchdowns in a 56-20 rout of Naperville North and
344 yards and five touchdowns in a 44-33 upset of defending Class 8A champion Bolingbrook.

"I really can't explain it," he said. "When you put the season on the line, you try to do better than your best. During the regular season, I played six half-games because of the score. In the playoff games, I'm into the fourth quarter and getting more carries. I like to carry the ball."

So what about this Saturday's rematch? What do they remember most about their first meeting, Neuqua Valley's heart-stopping 35-34 double overtime decision on Oct. 5?

"Our team's attitude at halftime," Rhattigan said. "Going into halftime, we were focused and ready to play the second half. What stands out is our motto: finish. I don't remember the score, even if we were behind. Our attitude was about focusing and finishing."

Neuqua Valley trailed 14-7 at halftime as Guido rushed for 134 of his 252 yards in the first two quarters. But Rhattigan finished with 131 yards rushing and three touchdowns and quarterback Dylan Andrew completed 15 of 21 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns as Neuqua Valley rallied to win.

"The second overtime sticks out the most," Guido said. "After scoring a touchdown, the captains (Guido, Troy Fumagalli, Dylan Warden, Austin Lacke) decided to go for a two-point conversion. It failed. It was a miscommunication. I messed up. I went the wrong way. There were a few things that went wrong."

Rhattigan and Guido have something else in common. Neither has a scholarship offer. Both want to play at the highest level in college that they can and their success this season has stirred some interest. But letters in the mail are one thing and an offer or an invitation to visit a school is quite another.

Rhattigan is a straight-A student with a 30 ACT who is talking to Princeton and Harvard weekly. He also is hearing from Penn State, where his brother is enrolled.

"Would I give up an Ivy League education for Big Ten football?" he said. "That's something I'll have to think about after the season."

Guido has been talking to Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, Wyoming, Drake and Dayton for most of the season. "If our team keeps playing well and I keep playing well, I know good things will happen," he said.

With five new starters in the offensive line, Waubonsie Valley coach Paul Murphy wasn't sure if Guido would pile up such staggering numbers and be such a difference-maker this season. But he has been persuaded.

"He has a great knack for finding the seams and squaring up his shoulders to get first downs," Murphy said. "He has a second gear that all great backs have. He is a tough match-up for anyone in the open field. He takes a pounding but he is very strong for his size. He has great vision, great work ethic, great attitude and great desire. He won't go down."

But he'll have to get past Rhattigan on Saturday in Naperville.

"This season has unfolded with memories that I'll never forget," Rhattigan said. "We'll take pride for a long time in being the best team at Neuqua Valley since it opened (in 1997). We hope our team sets a standard for other teams to be their best, to be better if they can.

"You can't predict your record at the beginning of the season but you can predict how much effort you will give. We turned out to be 11-0 up to now. I'm confident we will be 14-0.

"Last year, we lost five in a row and finished 5-5. We were underachievers. We should have been better. It was disappointing. But it provided motivation for this year's team. Last year gave us a chip on our shoulders to play well this year. We didn't want to be disappointed this year."

This is becoming Willson Contreras' team, whether or not Cubs add Alex Avila or another veteran catcher

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USA TODAY

This is becoming Willson Contreras' team, whether or not Cubs add Alex Avila or another veteran catcher

This is slowly becoming more like Willson Contreras’ team, whether or not the Cubs add a veteran catcher like Alex Avila before the July 31 trade deadline. Yadier Molina took the in-game, All-Star photo of Nelson Cruz and Joe West, but Contreras is coming for moments like that, too.

In a Cubs clubhouse filled with calm, serious young players who were fast-tracked to Wrigleyville, Contreras is the one who got left exposed in the Rule 5 draft at the 2014 winter meetings and spent parts of eight seasons in the minors before making his big-league debut.

As much as the Cubs needed that ice-cold demeanor from guys like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell to end the 108-year hex, they will use Contreras’ fire to try to win the World Series again.

“I feel like I’m in the heart of the team,” Contreras said. “I’m behind the plate. I just want to play with my energy, no matter if I hit or not. We need that energy for the second half. And it’s going to be there.”

The Cubs flipped a switch after the All-Star break, sweeping the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves and moving to within one game of the Milwaukee Brewers, their play screaming at Theo Epstein’s front office to keep buying. Contreras caught the first 45 innings of that six-game winning streak where the rotation finally clicked and hit .409 (9-for-22) with two homers, three doubles and seven RBIs on that road trip.

Contreras is a power source when a 49-45 team talks about going on a run and the defending World Series champs point to all this room to grow in the future. The model will be staring at Contreras this weekend at Wrigley Field when the Cubs try to keep the St. Louis Cardinals down (46-49) and give their front office something to think about (sell?) between now and July 31.

“We look at Yadier Molina,” catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello said. “We know that he’s just an intelligent baseball player. I always try to remind Willson: 'That’s what we’re trying to accomplish, making you not only a threat offensively and defensively, but with your mind.'

“He’s always listening. He wants to learn. He plays with high intensity, high emotion. I always challenge him to be a smart player. That’s the best compliment you can get.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

After a disappointing first half where it looked like the vaunted pitching infrastructure might collapse — and veteran catcher Miguel Montero went on an epic rant that could have foretold a divided clubhouse in the second half — Contreras seemed to be in the middle of everything.

With Contreras behind the plate, Jake Arrieta began his salary drive toward a megadeal, Jose Quintana dazzled in his Cubs debut, Jon Lester recovered from the worst start of his career and John Lackey pitched well enough to delay any awkward conversations about going home to Texas instead of going to the bullpen.

“It was never tough,” said Arrieta, who has chopped his ERA from 5.44 to 4.17 since the middle of May. “It was just a matter of him getting to understand what we like to do as starters.

“He’s learned really quickly. He’s a tremendous athlete back there. I’m very confident that I can bury a curveball, or I can throw a changeup in the dirt, and I know that guy’s going to block it, even with a guy on first or second base. There’s not a ton of guys around the league that you can feel that much confidence in.

“Willson’s been great, and he’s only going to get better.”

Quintana, who breezed through seven scoreless innings against the Orioles (12 strikeouts, zero walks) after that blockbuster trade with the White Sox, gave this review of Contreras: “We were on the same page really quick, believe me. We talked before the game about how we want to go, how we want to call our pitches. He called a really good game, and I appreciate that.”

The Cubs will still be looking for a more-PC version of Montero, whether it’s someone like Avila, who works for his dad, Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila, or circling back to an old target like Texas Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy (essentially off-limits to a division rival when the Brewers shopped him last summer). Dropping Montero in late June forced Victor Caratini up from Triple-A Iowa, making Contreras the senior catcher with a World Series ring at the age of 25.

“It’s almost like a quarterback in the NFL — there’s so much for them to absorb,” manager Joe Maddon said. “When you come from the minors to the major leagues as a catcher, most of the time in the minor leagues, you’re just developing physical abilities, physical tools, blocking, footwork, throwing, maybe pitcher/catcher relationship.

“But understanding the calling of a game — it’s hard to really develop that on the minor-league level. You have the manager, then maybe a pitching coach and there’s a lot going on. You don’t have that time to put into the game plan or to sit down and talk to this guy. It’s a little bit more superficial. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way — it’s just the way it is.”

Whatever the Cubs do next, it will be with the idea of preserving Contreras in mind. Of the six big-league catchers qualified for the batting title, only two other catchers — World Series winners Buster Posey (.917) and Salvador Perez (.824) — have a higher OPS than Contreras (.822) so far this season. Among National League catchers, Contreras also has the most errors (13) and runners thrown out (19). Outside of Bryzzo, Contreras has the highest WAR (2.6) on the team.

If you think Contreras is emotional, energetic and entertaining now, just imagine what he will be like when he really knows what he’s doing.

“He asks all the right questions,” said Borzello, who won four World Series rings as a New York Yankees staffer. “We go over every game, and between every inning, we talk. We’re working in the right direction. I think he wants it as much as anyone I’ve ever been around.”

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Thursday's unit: the tight ends.

1. Will Zach Miller make the 53-man roster?

Miller didn’t play a single down from 2012-14, and has missed seven games in two seasons with the Bears, but he’s been productive when on the field: 110 targets, 81 receptions, 925 yards and nine touchdowns. But the Bears signed Dion Sims to an $18 million contract and then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, moves that seemingly put Miller in a precarious position heading into Bourbonnais. Not helping Miller’s case is the Lisfranc fracture he suffered last November, which kept him sidelined through OTAs and veteran minicamp in May and June. He’d be a valuable player for the Bears to keep around, but at the same time, training camp could be a perfect storm for Miller to be among the cuts.

“They’re going to cutting it close for training camp,” coach John Fox said of Miller (and Danny Trevathan) in June. “But right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason.”

2. What can we expect from Adam Shaheen?

Shaheen was among the bright spots during May and June, hardly looking like someone who played his college ball at Division II Ashland while going against NFL defenders. But those were just shorts-and-helmets practices without any contact, so it’d be premature to project anything about Shaheen off of them. The real test for Shaheen will be when he puts the pads on in Bourbonnais and gets his first experience with the physicality of the NFL after a few years of being head and shoulders — literally — above his competition in college. It’s unlikely Shaheen will live up to his “Baby Gronk” hype in Year 1, but if he handles training camp well, he could be a valuable red zone asset for Mike Glennon as a rookie. 

“You don’t know until you put the pads on,” Shaheen said. “That’s what I’m excited for.”

3. How productive can this unit be?

Between Sims — who had a career high four touchdowns last year with the Miami Dolphins — and Shaheen, the Bears have two new, big targets for an offense that tied for 24th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns a year ago. If Miller sticks around, this group would have enviable depth. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears liked what they saw from Brown last year (16 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD in six games). There are fewer questions about the tight ends heading into training camp than the receivers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Glennon leans on this unit, especially early in the season.