Wood spearheads T.F. North's title bid

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Wood spearheads T.F. North's title bid

Pressure is being told by your coach that if you average 35 points per game, your team will have a successful season.

That's what legendary coach Vergil Fletcher of Collinsville told Tom Parker in 1966-67.

Parker averaged 33 points per game and Collinsville went 24-3 and reached the sectional final.

Fast forward to 2012-13. Thornton Fractional North coach Tim Bankston, who once had 25 points and 12 rebounds in a state championship game and didn't make the all-tournament team, had a similar message for Nick Wood.

"He said I should get 20 points and 12 rebounds per game and we could win the state title," said Wood, a 6-foot-6 senior. "So I have to come out and play my A game every night, be a leader and stick their best big man.

"That's a lot of pressure. But I know I can do it. (Bankston) wouldn't put pressure on me if he didn't think I could do it. I know I have to put up more points to help my team win."

The Calumet City school has what it takes. Wood is one of five returning starters from a 15-14 squad that negotiated the toughest schedule in school history. The Meteors are 9-1, coming off an exhausting seven-games-in-nine-days marathon, and meet Normal Community on Wednesday in the opening round of the State Farm Classic in Bloomington.

"Last year wasn't indicative of how good the team was," Bankston said. "We played tough teams on the road and only a few got out of hand. Our kids had to mature. We put kids in the fire early and often. We knew we'd be good this year."

Bankston, one of the stars of Simeon's 1984 state championship team, has been preparing for this season. In 2007, his team was 29-2 but lost in the first round of the regional. In 2008, T.F. North was 19-11 but lost to state runner-up Simeon 43-40 in the supersectional.

"If we keep improving, we can be pretty good," he said. "Potentially, we can win it all. This team reminds me of 2008. We have seven players who can hurt you on any given night. On defense, they are tenacious. They have a don't quit attitude."

How's this for not giving up in the face of overwhelming odds? Trailing by four points at Plainfield North with 30 seconds to play and the home team with the ball in its hands, T.F. North was down to two sophomores, two juniors and a player who never had played basketball before. The first seven had fouled out. The Meteors won by two.

"That's the mark of this team," Bankston said. "They won't quit."

The coach said the effort is spearheaded by Wood, a Division I prospect who is averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds per game. He is complemented by two outstanding guards, 6-foot-1 senior Greg McClain (10 ppg) and 5-foot-11 senior D.J. Deere (12 ppg).

The other two starters are 6-foot-4 junior Quamaine Harris (6 ppg, 7
rpg) and 6-foot-4 senior Danye Coleman (4 ppg, 3 rpg). Punch off the bench
is provided by 6-foot-8 senior Marquise Todd (6 ppg, 3 blocks) and two
sophomores, 6-foot-1 Devante Henry and 5-foot-8 Sidqu Salazar.

"The strength of this team is defense," Bankston said. "I like the way they understand the game. They are one of the smartest teams I have coached. They know what needs to be done in certain situations. And they are unselfish."

T.F. North could get even better. Bankston hopes 6-foot-3 senior Ashanti Randolph will be declared eligible in January. An all-conference player who averaged 13 points pler game a year ago, he is battling academic issues.

"He could be our best player," the coach said. "If he is back, we are a state championship contender for sure. Without him, we'll have to see. What are the odds? Fifty-fifty."

What Bankston knows for sure is the players on the floor play hard and play together. "Sometimes that makes up for a lack of talent. We are a blue-collar team. We try to outwork you. We try to turn you over. There is no secret to what we do. If Harris and Coleman continue to get better and our sophomores don't get rattled when the pressure is on, we will do well," he said.

Wood agrees. He knows he is the team's standard-bearer, the one player who Bankston can count on every night. He averaged 14 points and seven rebounds last season. He worked hard in the off-season to prepare for the challenge, knowing more would be expected of him.

"I'm playing harder this year and being a leader," he said. "The ball comes through me a lot more. In the off-season, I got more physically and mentally tough to approach the game. All summer, I worked out and did basketball drills and spent time in the weight room. I'm a lot better now.

"People see that I can put the ball on the floor, that I'm shooting better, that I'm finishing around the basket better, that I'm stronger around the basket. In my mind, nobody can beat me around the boards even if they are 6-foot-8 or 6-foot-9."

Wood acknowledges that the presence of Randolph would be a big plus and "bring a lot to the table. If he comes back, our chances are better. But even if he doesn't come back, we are contenders," he said.

"Last year, we had a new group. We were getting used to playing with each other, how to bring it all together. This year, we know all of our roles and how to play together. We have size and skill. We have role players who step in.

"What is our edge? It depends on how far Deere and I can take the team, if we can put them on our backs. We know the team looks to us to get us through. We know we have our own job to make the hard shot or be the leader. Leadership is the key to being successful."

Recruiting News and Notes: Ben Bryant commits to Cincinnati

Recruiting News and Notes: Ben Bryant commits to Cincinnati

Ben Bryant (QB), Lyons Township

Lyons Township senior three-star quarterback Ben Bryant (6-foot-3, 195 pounds), who originally gave Wisconsin his verbal commitment only to have the Badgers rescind his verbal scholarship offer, has given Cincinnati his verbal commitment.

"It was a much harder decision this time around compared to the first time I committed," Bryant said. "When I committed the first time (to Wisconsin) I had two offers. This time around I had a lot of options and some great offers, but Cincinnati is the best place for me."

Bryant is thrilled to have ended his recruiting process again and can now focus on his upcoming senior season while also putting to rest the entire ordeal with Wisconsin.

"I've put the whole Wisconsin deal behind me and I stand my statement that I sent out on my Twitter account and that's all I have to say. I had some great offers and options and it was a great problem to have. I can just focus now on my team this summer and having a great senior season."

Bryant joins Simeon wide receiver Jayshon Jackson and Mount Carmel senior offensive linemen Jeremy Cooper as part of the Bearcats Class of 2018. 

Jeff Griffin (DL), Homewood-Flossmoor

Northern Illinois continues to do well with filling out its Class of 2018. The Huskies added another Chicagoland piece when Homewood-Flossmoor senior defensive linemen Jeff Griffin (6-foot-2, 260 pounds) became the team's ninth in-state commitment and 14th overall pledge.

"I visited NIU (last Saturday) and that visit really sold me on NIU," Griffin said. "I always wanted to stay closer to home for school and once NIU stepped up and offered me it was a hard offer to turn down. After the visit on Saturday I was sold on NIU so I called up the coaches and committed."

Griffin is also hoping to help NIU add a few more pieces from Homewood-Flossmoor's talented senior class.

"I'm definitely already talking to Justin (Hall) and Mario (Wright II) about joining me at NIU."

Seniors' athlete Justin Hall and linebacker Mario Wright II have both listed Northern Illinois as one of their favorite schools this summer. 

[RELATED: Recruiting News and Notes - Jyran Mitchell commits to NIU]

Indiana State recruiting

Indiana State head coach Curt Mallory has been on fire when it comes to the Sycamores recruiting this summer. Mallory, who was a long-time assistant coach at various stops in Illinois, now has an amazing 24 verbal commitments — including two recent additions in Bishop McNamara safety Giavion Mason (6-foot-0, 190 pounds) and Lindblom wide receiver CJ Rutherford (6-foot-0. 170 pounds).

So why the Sycamores?

Rutherford pointed towards the strength of the coaching staff as a big factor in his decision.

"I really love the coaching staff at Indiana State," Rutherford said. "Coach Mallory brought in a staff that has a lot of experience and several of his coaches worked with him when he was at Michigan. The coaches made us feel comfortable and at home at Indiana State and I'm just excited to be a part of helping the football program win."

Recruiting News

Who are the Top 5 uncommitted players remaining in the Class of 2018?

Carterville tight end Luke Ford (6-foot-7, 245 pounds) has offers from literally every Power 5 school in the nation. Ford originally committed to Arkansas.

Oswego DT Noah Shannon (6-foot-2, 290 pounds) was committed to Minnesota but reopened his recruiting process. Shannon has shown heavy interest in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana and Arkansas.

Bolingbrook DT Dashaun Mallory (6-foot-2, 265 pounds) added a camp offer from Michigan State, and has a Top 3 list of the Spartans, along with Iowa State and Toledo. 

Waubonsie Valley tight end Charles Robinson (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) listed Iowa State, Minnesota and Mississippi State as his Top 3 favorite schools.

Bolingbrook wide receiver I'Shawn Stewart (5-foot-11, 165 pounds) camped earlier this summer with Wisconsin and also made a recent visit to Syracuse. 

58 Days to Kickoff: St. Viator

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58 Days to Kickoff: St. Viator

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Jul. 31, we’ll unveil the @CSNPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25.

School: St. Viator

Head coach: Dave Archibald

Assistant coaches: Chase Murdock (DC/LB), Kyle Jenkins (DL), Gregg Kirkwood (DB), Frank Laterza (Asst. DB/ST), Bob Lamick (OL), Casey Lynde (WR), Al Panzeca (RB), Dan Hall (K), Mike Tubridy (Football Operations)

How they fared in 2016: 6-5 (4-3 East Suburban Catholic Conference), made the Class 6A state playoff field, defeated Rockford Boylan then lost to Lake Forest.

[MORE: 59 Days to Kickoff - McHenry]

2017 regular season schedule:

Aug. 25 – @ Rolling Meadows

Sept. 1 – Lake Forest

Sept. 8 – @ Marian Catholic

Sept. 15 - Benet Academy

Sept. 22 - Carmel

Sept. 29 – @ Marian Central Catholic

Oct. 6 - St. Patrick

Oct. 13 - @ Nazareth Academy

Oct. 20- @ Notre Dame

Biggest storyline: Can the Lions make a deeper run this fall?

Names to watch this season: senior QB/K Bryce Hellgeth, senior DL/OLB Michael Wittich 

Biggest holes to fill: The Lions will need to find a go-to receiver with the graduation of standout tight end Cole Kmet (Notre Dame). St. Viator will also be inexperienced on the defensive line.

EDGY's early take: The Lions had a nice season in 2016 and return 12 starters back (seven offense, five defense). If St. Viator can fill in a handful of key spots, they have a great shot of getting back into the playoffs.