Rochester seeks 3rd title in a row

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Rochester seeks 3rd title in a row

Rochester coach Derek Leonard had hoped that he and his father Ken, the longtime coach at Sacred Heart-Griffin in Springfield, would qualify for the state finals. "It would have been a lot of fun but it didn't happen," Derek said.

Last Saturday, his father's team lost to Morris in the semifinals. Last year, the elder Leonard lost to Joliet Catholic in the semifinals. The year before, he lost in the quarterfinals. Derek won state championships in 2010 and 2011 and is seeking another against Rock Island Alleman in the Class 4A final on Friday in Champaign.

"We've been lucky and we've been blessed," Derek said. "It's all about hard work. The kids want to be like the kids ahead of them. The interesting thing is Rochester only has had football since 1998. A lot of these parents never played football. They never had a program."

Leonard, 31, in his eighth year as head coach at Rochester, is a graduate of Sacred Heart-Griffin. He played for his father. After attending Illinois College, he coached at Prairie Central in Fairbury for two years, then became head coach at Rochester.

"Being in a position to win three state titles in a row is pretty cool," he said. "I never would have dreamed of that when I became head coach eight years ago. This is awesome. It speaks about the coaching staff, the hard work of the players, the community and the youth football program.

"To make it to this level three times and the semifinals the year before that means you have to be clicking on all cylinders, not just one element. And being a small public school (enrollment: 670), it's something everybody can be proud of."

How good is this team? Leonard admits his 2010 squad, headed by quarterback Wes Lunt, wide receiver Zach Grant and running back Colton Glazebrook, was his dream team. "They were a once-in-a-lifetime team, so much talent. They went 14-0 and could have beaten any team in any class," he said.

"Last year caught me off guard. We won in a different way. We had an average defense but got hot offensively at the right time. This team reminds me of two years ago. It has a lot better defense than last year and more balance on offense."

Rochester, which is 51-3 in four years under Leonard, has won 11 games in a row since dropping a 29-26 to Sacred Heart-Griffin in Week 2. The Rockets, who are averaging 41.6 points per game, crushed Harrisburg last Saturday 49-22, scoring on seven of their first eight possessions to build a 49-0 lead at halftime.

Offensively, Rochester is led by quarterback Austin Green and running back Garrett Dooley. Green, who is committed to Eastern Illinois, has passed for 2,800 yards and 25 touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his passes. He also has rushed for 900 yards in a spread option offense.

Dooley, a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who is committed to play linebacker at Wisconsin, has rushed for 1,400 yards and 30 touchdowns. And receiver Blake Pasley has caught 75 for 1,100 yards.

"Last year, Lunt (now at Oklahoma State) would kill you with the pass," Leonard said. "But Austin can beat you with his legs and arms. It makes it more difficult to defend our offense. We were more one-dimensional last year."

Defensively, Dooley and 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior linebacker Reed Watson anchor the 4-4 alignment. Drake Leeper, a 6-foot-1, 250-pounder, is Rochester's best lineman on both sides of the ball.

Leonard scouted Rock Island Allman on Saturday night in its 23-7 victory at Evergreen Park. Two years ago, Rochester defeated Alleman 24-7 for the Class 4A title. "We know what they do and they know what we do. We must stop their option, their run, and make them pass. If they just run on you, you're in big trouble," he said.

Rock Island Alleman (12-1), which lost only to Rock Island 10-7 on a last-second field goal, is a defense-minded team that has allowed only 116 points. The Pioneers, led by Chad Weatherell, John Tracey, Tom Noe, Ben West, Scott Schilb and Adam Hoogerwerf, have permitted no more than one touchdown in nine games.

"We have a good tackling team," said coach Dave DeJaegher, who is 34-4 in the last three years and produced state runner-ups in 2005 and 2010. "We run a 5-2 defense. That's what we've always done. We've stuck with it. It's what I know how to coach, what I am comfortable teaching.

"We won't blow anyone away with statistics but we like to mix it up. It's a fun group to coach. They came in determined after losing a heart-breaker (19-18 to Evergreen Park in the second round) last year. They came in with an attitude to have a good senior year. Everybody steps up at different times."

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd discuss the latest slump and how much does Artem Anisimov's injury play a role in their struggles?

Konroyd tells us he was surprised by Ryan Hartman's benching in Tampa.

The guys play the game, playoff minutes or press box minutes?  They run through the players who are on the bubble when it comes to postseason play.

They also discuss the Hawks chances of overtaking Washington for the President's trophy.

Plus, Konroyd breaks down possible first round opponents: St Louis, Calgary and Nashville.

No sign Bears locked into drafting a QB in 2017 as Ryan Pace underscores 'best available' tack

No sign Bears locked into drafting a QB in 2017 as Ryan Pace underscores 'best available' tack

PHOENIX – NFL owners meetings, like the Scouting Combine, invariably involve hallway conversations regarding quarterbacks. Why doesn’t Colin Kaepernick have a job? Why does Mark Sanchez have one? Will Jay Cutler take one? This year, despite a 3-13 record last season and a continuing slide toward irrelevance, the Bears are in intriguing part of those conversations, or maybe, whispers.

The reason, beyond the obvious fact that the Bears stand at No. 3 in a QB-lite draft, is because the Bears not only have done significant things at the position – cutting Cutler, signing Sanchez and Mike Glennon, not signing Brian Hoyer – but one NFL source said to keep an eye on the Bears as potentially being involved in at least one future blockbuster after this season.

More on that in a moment.

First of all, every indication is that GM Ryan Pace is absolutely NOT locked into or about to allow himself to be pressured into drafting a quarterback in 2017. Certainly not at No. 3, maybe not at all. Maybe this is pre-draft posturing, misinformation or misdirection, and Pace has said in the past that he wants to draft quarterbacks but hasn’t in his first two Bears drafts. But still:

“We’re going to draft the best players available, wherever that may be,” Pace said on Tuesday. “And if it’s a quarterback, it’s a quarterback. But we’re going to take the best players available. I think now some of those things are unforeseen. You can’t predict some of those things. But right now I like the way Sanchez blends with Glennon and with Connor Shaw.”

Whether the public likes Pace’s moves at quarterback, or whether they’re good, bad or anywhere in between is just offseason speculation for now. The NFL will start giving him meaningful feedback sometime this September. What Pace has in fact done, regardless of analyses at this point, like it or not, is create options for himself and his coaches. And those extend beyond 2017.

Some context here: Even with some measure of job security in the short term, Pace is tasked with winning in the future as well as the present. He has addressed the 2017 quarterback situation, if not spectacularly, with Glennon and Sanchez specifically. But think beyond ’17; because Pace is.

More context: GM’s and head coaches like and need options. Doubts about Glennon, Sanchez, Connor Shaw or some rookie notwithstanding, Pace has the Bears positioned with options, not necessarily good options, but arguably best-available for the most part.

A little more context: Dowell Loggains may not have quelled all doubts about his play calling, but Cutler, Hoyer and Matt Barkley all had their best NFL stretches, albeit short, under his stewardship. 

Pace has effectively positioned the Bears for not one or two, but as many as a half-dozen spins of the quarterback wheel looking for a winner. It is a place the Bears were not in for most of Cutler’s tenure outside of brief Hoyer and Josh McCown bursts.

Within this context, consider the Pace’s chances for a strike at THE priority position for the franchise:

Spin 1: Mike Glennon

Pace announced the former Bucs quarterback as the Bears’ starter. Probably is. But Matt Flynn was the Seahawks’ starter when they free-agent signed him away from Green Bay in 2012. He lost his starting job by the end of training camp to a rookie third-round draft choice, Russell Wilson.

The Bears chose Glennon over Cutler and Hoyer because of upside; if Glennon plays to his perceived ceiling, the Bears have him under contract for two more years.

Spin 2: Mark Sanchez

When all the cynical subsides, consider him a low-risk spin who has been good enough to stand a career 37-35 as a starter. McCown amounted to something and still is after age 30, even with bad teams. Hoyer played some of his best football the past two seasons, after age 30. If Loggains resuscitates Sanchez’s career at age 30… .

Spin 3: The rookie

How, where and even if – make that a big IF – the Bears make their first Ryan Pace draft pick of a quarterback doesn’t come around for another month. But whomever the Bears select, if they select a quarterback this draft, gives Pace another spin of the QB wheel.

Spin 4: Kirk Cousins

CSNChicago.com confirmed that the Bears called on Cousins’ availability, even with the specter of Washington’s franchise tag hanging over him. But as one NFL source noted, Cousins is on a one-year deal ($23.94 million tag guarantee), it is his second and presumably last tag, and he has spurned long-term Washington offers to this point.

Glennon’s contract commits the Bears to $16 million this year. After that, minimal guarantee. Sanchez, one-year deal. Cousins, one-year deal.

Next offseason… . 

Spin 5: Jimmy Garoppolo

The Eastern Illinois quarterback wasn’t deemed worth a No. 3 pick in 2014, in either round one or two. He hasn’t put enough on film to make him worth that pick now.

But if the Cleveland Browns don’t trade for him, or New England hasn’t turned to him and locked him up contractually, he would be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. It will take a long-term market deal but at least he wouldn’t cost a high No. 1.

Spin 6: Connor Shaw

He is already clearly getting a preseason look, as he did last year, and is ahead of evaluations that accompanied David Fales and some other Bears hopefuls. He’s found money if he develops into something, but Warren Moon, Tony Romo and Kurt Warner were all undrafted free agents, too.