Remembering Tom Mitchell

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Remembering Tom Mitchell

When I learned that former Brother Rice football coach Tom Mitchell had passed away on Tuesday of an apparent heart attack at 72, I immediately recalled the first time I saw him. It was a snapshot of the kind of man he was and how he always will be remembered.

It was 1968, my first year of reporting high school sports for the old Chicago Daily News, and I was covering a Catholic League football game at Gately Stadium on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

I was standing on the Brother Rice sideline when I was forced to make way for a white-haired, hard-boiled, shouting, screaming man whom I assumed at the time was head coach Tom Mitchell. He had something to say to every player on the field who was wearing a crimson jersey and it wasn't very complimentary, often profane.

Standing a few yards away from him was a much younger man whom I assumed at the time was an assistant coach. He barely said a word or blinked an eye.

"Boy, the head coach really gets excited, doesn't he?" I said to someone.

"Oh, he isn't the head coach. He's Joe Johnston," I was told.

Indeed it was. Joe Johnston was Brother Rice's longtime assistant. He was a gifted line coach who, despite his age, would think nothing of going one-on-one with his teenage linemen during practice. He helped three of them to go to Michigan on scholarship.

In 1981, when Brother Rice won a state championship, I watched from the press box at Northwestern's Dyche Stadium as Johnston joyfully ran around the field hoisting the big trophy as the players gleefully trailed behind.

The Quiet Man? That was Tom Mitchell. The last thing he would ever think of would be to run around a football field carrying a trophy. That wasn't him. In 30 years of coaching, what meant most to him wasn't the W's and L's or X's and O's, but his interaction with players and coaches.

"My mission was to develop kids to the best of their ability," Mitchell said. "At Brother Rice, we didn't get the bulk of talented kids. We had to work hard to maximize their ability. I felt I helped a lot of kids. It my job worthwhile.

"When I first started coaching, we existed in a league where schools gave out scholarships to talented players. We didn't have the privilege of that so many of our teams weren't as talented as the teams in our league. We didn't have the most talented team but no one ever out-worked us."

In 26 years as head coach, from 1967 to 1992, his teams posted a record of 170-95-1, a .641 winning percentage. His Crusaders won a state championship in 1981, beating Reavis 14-0, and finished second in 1985.

He also won three Prep Bowl championships in 1976, 1980 and 1992. He produced such outstanding players as Mark Donohue, Tom Coyle, David Diehl and Jerry Szara.

Mitchell, a consummate gentleman, was one of the mainstays in a golden era of Catholic League coaches in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s that included St. Rita's Pat Cronin, Mendel's Lou Guida, Loyola's Bob Spoo, St. Laurence's Tom Kavanagh and Gordon Tech's Tom Winiecki.

A South Sider who played football at Mount Carmel, Mitchell always said the most fun he had in the coaching profession was to work with his players and his coaching staff, which included Johnston, Eddie Bara, John Langdan, Eddie Staron, Dennis Duffy, Dan Jocoby, Bill Gleeson and his son Tom, who played on his father's 1981 state championship team and later coached at the University of Chicago.


His other son, Tim, didn't play football but served as a statistician. He served as superintendent of the Chicago Park District from 2004 to 2011.

"Over the years there have been many great teams and excellent players that I've had the privilege of of coaching," Mitchell said. "They all had their own personality and it made coaching really special. But there was one constant in all the teams I coached. They all showed great work ethic and strong determination. They never gave up and always tried their hardest."

Donahue, a 1974 graduate who was a two-time All-America offensive lineman at Michigan and played two years in the NFL, recalled a recent reunion with Mitchell and former players.

"We were reminded of how great a coach and man Tom was," Donahue said. "It speaks volumes about a coach when former players reunite, hug and tell stories as if they had played together just yesterday. Coach was one of those guys who had the ability and cared enough to teach, coach and mentor many of us. What a special, special person. I am deeply grateful for having had Tom Mitchell as my coach."

2017 CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area Team

2017 CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area Team

The 2016-17 high school basketball season is finally in the books as the Chicagoland area saw a lot of star performances from throughout the year.

So it's time to unveil the 15-man, three-team, CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area team.

While other awards might only count regular-season accomplishments, the CSN Preps All-Area team is unique because we also include postseason accomplishments and titles when considering the three teams.

Only players from the Chicagoland area are consisdered for the All-Area teams as factors such as strength of schedule, final statistics, team accomplishments and personal awards are all weighed in the final decision.

Here's a look at the three All-Area teams and the CSN Preps Player of the Year. 

First Team

Alonzo Verge, Thornton senior guard (Player of the Year) -- The choice for Player of the Year is Verge after he burst back on the local scene after a year away. Leading the Wildcats back to a Class 4A sectional title game, Verge averaged 26 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals per game as he was the most unstoppable player in the area this season. Verge helped Thornton to a Southwest Suburban Red title while he earned MVP honors at the Big Dipper for leading the Wildcats to victory. 

Ayo Dosunmu, Morgan Park junior guard -- The only junior to make the All-Area team, Dosunmu averaged 18.3 points per game while helping the Mustangs win the Public League Red-South and Class 3A state championship. Although Dosunmu didn't play much in Peoria when the Mustangs won state, they definitely needed him to get there as the junior had some big-time playoff performances. 

Cameron Krutwig, Jacobs senior center -- One of the best players ever to come out of the Fox Valley Conference, Krutwig finishes his career with 1,528 points and ninth in state history with 1,258 career rebounds. A monster senior season saw Krutwig put up 15.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.4 assists per game entering regional finals as he was the area's best post player this season. Led Jacobs to three straight Fox Valley titles, three regional titles in four seasons and a sectional title this season.

Nojel Eastern, Evanston senior guard -- Another prolific four-year player, Eastern was a third-team CSN All-Area selection last season. After a solid regular season that saw him average 18 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks per game, Eastern elevated his play to an elite level in the state playoffs in helping the Wildkits to a Class 4A sectional title. Eastern put up 31 points, 10 rebounds and six steals in the Super-sectional loss to Whitney Young and 29 points and 17 rebounds in a win over Waukegan for the sectional title. 

Lucas Williamson, Whitney Young senior guard -- The unsigned senior had a final year to remember as Williamson helped the Dolphins to a Class 4A state title. The 6-foot-4 Williamson averaged 17.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and 77 percent from the free-throw line. Also the MVP of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, Williamson improved dramatically as a perimeter shooter over his four-year high school career.

Second Team

Nana Akenten, Bolingbrook senior forward -- The Nebraska commit was able to combine high-flying above-the-rim plays along with a lethal perimeter jumper. The 6-foot-6 Akenten shot 49 percent from the field and 45 percent from three-point range during the season. Akenten put up 14.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game for the Raiders, as they finished third in Class 4A. The MVP of the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic, Akenten has as much upside as anyone on this list. 

Evan Gilyard, Simeon senior guard -- After a four-year varsity career, Gilyard will go down as one of the better floor leaders that Simeon has ever had. The senior led the Wolverines to back-to-back city titles and back-to-back trips to Peoria as he averaged 15.9 points, 3.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range and 86 percent from the free-throw line. The A.C. Williamson award winner at Pontiac, Gilyard is committed to UTEP. 

Elijah Joiner, Curie senior guard -- After helping Curie win a Class 4A state title last year, Joiner had a very strong senior season as he averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. Joiner helped the Condors win a Red-Central conference title while he had a 40-point game on rival Kenwood. An all-tournament selection at Pontiac, Joiner is committed to Tulsa. 

Teyvion Kirk, Joliet West senior guard -- This uncommitted senior had a tremendous season on both ends of the floor for the Southwest Prairie champion Tigers. The 6-foot-3 Kirk averaged 19 points, four rebounds and three assists per game this season as he recently set his final four schools to Arkansas, Middle Tennessee, Ohio and St. Bonaventure. Kirk helped Joliet West to a sectional title last season and a regional title this season while earning all-tournament honors at Pontiac.

Justin Smith, Stevenson senior forward -- A CSN third-team All-Area selection as a junior, Smith is back on the list after a stellar senior season. Smith put up 21 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in the regular season for the Patriots as he put down some of the best dunks in the area over the last three years. Smith won a state title as a sophomore starter alongside Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw and emerged as a star in his own right this season. Smith is currently committed to Indiana.

Third Team

Kyle Sliwa, Fremd senior guard -- One of the area's most efficient shooters, Sliwa hit some of the biggest clutch shots of the season. Sliwa twice helped Fremd beat rival Conant with game-winning three-pointers, including a buzzer-beater to win a sectional title. The 6-foot-1 Sliwa averaged 16.4 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range. Named MVP of the Mundelein Thanksgiving Tournament, the Wheeling Hardwood Classic and the Mid-Suburban West, Sliwa helped Fremd to a 31-0 start and fourth-place finish in Class 4A. 

Dillon Durrett, Wheaton-Warrenville South senior forward -- The area's most improved player was the DuPage Valley Conference's best player after only averaging 2.3 points per game as a junior. Durrett was versatile on both ends of the floor for the Tigers as he averaged 17 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-3 Durrett often had to play bigger for a small team that won multiple in-season tournaments and went unbeaten in conference play.  

Jack Nolan, Benet senior guard -- Clutch players are tough to come by and Benet had a good one in this senior point guard. After Nolan helped lead the Redwings to a second-place finish in Class 4A last season he averaged 18 points per game and made 40 percent of his three-pointers. Also averaging three assists and two rebounds per game, Nolan was all-Tournament at Pontiac, MVP of the Loyola-New Trier Thanksgiving Tournament and an all-conference in the ESCC.

Tai Bibbs, West Chicago senior guard -- It wasn't quite the season that West Chicago hoped for but Bibbs still put up huge numbers, averaging 26 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while drawing a lot of Division I offers. The 6-foot-3 Bibbs was a two-time all-Upstate Eight Valley selection and he was the Valley's Player of the Year this season. Bibbs won MVP of the West Chicago Thanksgiving tournament and also was all-tournament at Dayton as he put up a tournament-best 32.8 points per game.

Demarius Jacobs, Uplift senior guard -- The best player in the Public League Red-North, the 6-foot-3 Jacobs was one of the premier two-way guards in the city. Jacobs helped the Titans win the Red-North and stay in the CSN Preps Power Rankings for most of the season as he averaged 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. An All-Tournament selection at Proviso West, Jacobs signed with Southern Illinois in the fall. 

Stagg quarterback Kyle Neputy goes 1-on-1 with Edgy Tim

Stagg quarterback Kyle Neputy goes 1-on-1 with Edgy Tim

Student first, then athlete.

Stagg junior quarterback Kyle Neputy has unquestionably taken the student portion of student-athlete to heart. Neputy, who is a high-honors student and touts an impressive 4.73 GPA, has drawn steady recruiting interest from college programs on several levels, including multiple Ivy League schools. Cornell has already extended Neputy an offer.

Neputy, a big, strong and athletic quarterback who measures in at 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds, has the overall size and physical upside to draw looks at multiple positions this spring and summer.

I caught up with Neputy at the fifth annual Franklin Dodgeball Madness Tournament at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton. Proceeds from the tournament benefited the school, the DuPage Hundred Club, Team Red, White and Blue and The Pat Tillman Foundation.

Watch the interview in the video above.