Stockton relives legacy of John O'Boyle era

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Stockton relives legacy of John O'Boyle era

After graduating from Northern Illinois University in 1997 with a degree in physical education, Chris Thornton went looking for a job. Any job. Anywhere. His search landed him in Stockton, a farming community on the road between Freeport and Galena.

"I applied everywhere," said Thornton, a Minooka graduate of 1993. "This was my first job out of college. I knew little about Stockton. But I'm a hunter and fisherman and this is an area to do that type of stuff. So I decided to stay."

In his seventh year as Stockton's head football coach, the 38-year-old Thornton hasn't had much time to hunt or fish. In fact, he missed the entire deer season. "But I'm coaching a lot of football," he said.

Yes, indeed. His 13-0 team, which is averaging a whopping 51 points per game and hasn't scored fewer than 44 in any game, will meet Maroa-Forsyth (12-1) in the Class 1A championship game on Friday in Champaign.

It is Stockton's first trip to the state final since 2004, when then coach Brad Fox's team lost to Monmouth 21-14.

But Stockton has a rich football tradition, which Thornton has come to know and appreciate since his arrival. John O'Boyle was the winningest coach in state history when he retired in 1997. In 35 years, he posted a record of 279-74-1, won state titles in 1978 and 1991 and finished second in 1975 and 1977. He won 79 percent of his games. During one 13-year period, he lost only 13 games.

"Everybody knows who John O'Boyle is, what the Stockton tradition is all about," Thornton said. "He's still around town. He comes to all the games and I talk to him once a week. He loves to give me grief about blocking with your hands rather than your shoulder. He doesn't like new-fangled hand blocking."

O'Boyle probably doesn't favor Thornton's wishbone offense, either, but it is hard to argue with success. This year's team has three 1,000-yard rushers and a pair of Class 1A All-State selections, senior tailback T.J. Knutson and 6-foot-2, 240-pound senior centerdefensive end Steve Hawley.

Thornton is a bit surprised by his team's ability to score points in bushels but he isn't surprised to be 13-0 and packing for Champaign. He returned eight offensive starters and nine defensive starters from a 9-2 squad that lost to Freeport Aquin 27-12 in the second round last year.

"We set this as our goal for this year. I knew we would be good and we would be able to run the ball," he said. "We ran the wishbone and the I and the spread earlier. But when we lost our starting quarterback in Week 5 and a sophomore stepped in, we eased the offense back and stuck with running the wishbone."

Knutson has rushed for 2,400 yards and 40 touchdowns. Logan Staver, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior fullbacklinebacker, has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and also is the leading tackler. And junior Colton Broshous has rushed for 1,100 yards.

"Staver is the heart and soul of our team," Thornton said. "He is our leading tackler, our leader. Everybody looks to him. The offense starts with him. He gets the hard yards inside."

When senior quarterback Jordan Fox was injured and lost for the season, his sophomore brother Thomas stepped in. He was on the sophomore team but Thornton thought he was ready for the assignment. And he didn't want to break up his backfield by give the job to the backup, Broshous.

"Thomas manages the offense really well. He makes good decisions on the option. And he has thrown two touchdown passes in the last two weeks," Thornton said.

The offensive line has been very effective. It has been anchored by the two guards, 6-foot, 240-pound Jacob Weltzin and 6-foot-2, 230-pound Jacob Brunner.

On defense, Staver is ably supported by 6-foot-4, 220-pound end Ty Harmston.

In last Saturday's 51-14 rout of Stark County, Stockton amassed 530 yards. Knutson rushed for 185 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown burst. Staver rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns. Broshous rushed for 104 yards and one touchdown. Fox scored twice and threw a TD pass.

"Stockton tradition means a lot," Thornton said. "When the football team does well, the community does well. When they don't, things don't go quite as well. Everybody loves football. We have great support. Everybody is extremely excited about going back Downstate."

Afterward, maybe he'll find time to go hunting or fishing.

Increased velocity has improved Anthony Swarzak's chances of making White Sox bullpen

Increased velocity has improved Anthony Swarzak's chances of making White Sox bullpen

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Anthony Swarzak has thrown harder than ever this spring. He attributes it to an altered mindset rather than mechanics or delivery.

Vying for a relief role with three days left in camp, the veteran is right where he wants to be — with a shot to make the White Sox Opening Day roster. A nonroster invitee to camp, Swarzak is one of five healthy pitchers in a competition for the final two spots in the bullpen. With a fastball that has averaged nearly 96 mph this spring, Swarzak has a 3.86 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings.

"All you want is an opportunity in camp," Swarzak said. "I knew I was going to get an opportunity in camp here. I've kind of been around a little bit. I've got some innings under my belt. When you're going into camp as a guy with experience, you're generally going to get a fair look. And that's all I wanted, a fair chance to show the team what I can do and hopefully someone makes a decision.

"I'm throwing the ball pretty well, definitely how I wanted to coming in."

A starter early in his career, Swarzak's average fastball velocity ranged from 91-92 mph from 2011-15. After going up a tick to 93 last season, Swarzak has thrown even harder this spring. According to Brooksbaseball.net, Swarzak's fastball touched 97 mph and averaged 95.75 mph in his one contest in front of a PitchTrax system this spring on March 21.

But Swarzak, 31, said the only adjustment he has made is a mental one.

"Early on in my career you get so conscious of injuries from other people, veterans talking to a young guy, 'Just be careful man, you only have so many bullets,'" Swarzak said. "Subconsciously you kind of save some for whenever you might need it down the line. And I think these last few years I'm getting to that age where nothing is guaranteed for me so I'm kind of letting it all out there and I think I found another gear somewhere. I don't think it's anything delivery-wise or body-wise, I think I'm just trying harder to throw hard for the first time in a long time and it's working."

Swarzak's former life as a starting pitcher could serve him well. With Carlos Rodon likely to start the season on the disabled list, the White Sox could turn to a combination of Dylan Covey and Swarzak in a bullpen-esque type of start on either April 8 or 9.

Swarzak threw 30-plus pitches and struck out five in 2 1/3 innings at Mesa, Ariz. on Friday before he headed to the bullpen to throw a few more. Of Swarzak's 217 big league appearances, 32 were as a starter.

"He has been able to do that," manager Rick Renteria said. "He's started in the past. So, he does certainly fit that potential role. I know (Don Cooper) has been talking about trying to stretch him out a little bit, get two or three innings out of him. He can fill in for us in terms of multiple innings."

Swarzak threw a side session on Monday morning. He's next to scheduled to throw in Wednesday's Cactus League finale. But he has already accomplished all he wants to this spring short of making the team.

"I did everything I needed to do," Swarzak said. "I'm happy with how it has gone and we'll see how it goes the next few days."

Ex-Bear Brandon Marshall an early favorite at NFL owners meetings

Ex-Bear Brandon Marshall an early favorite at NFL owners meetings

PHOENIX – Brandon Marshall never needed a whole lot of encouragement to step before a microphone but the NFL, which sometimes wished he'd put a sock in it, has now invited the former Bears wide receiver to speak up.
 
The NFL extended an invitation for Marshall, whose time in Chicago ended in some measure because of his insistence on pursuing the media portion of his career, to address the league higher-up's ostensibly as part of a communications bridge-building. Marshall jumped at the chance.
 
"They thought it was important for a player to come up and give a player's perspective and talk about the relationship between owners and players," Marshall said on Monday at the outset of the NFL owners meetings. "I think it's evident that our relationship could be so much better."
 
Marshall has been part of Showtime's "Inside the NFL" in recent years, flying to New York to participate in taping the show, and ultimately accepting a trade from the Bears to the Jets in 2015, which obviously cut down on his commute. The Jets released Marshall earlier this month, after which Marshall signed on with the Giants.
 
He told owners this week, "If we want our game to continue to be on that [positive] track, that it's on being super successful and being a pillar in our community and being a thread in our community, we have to make sure our relationship as players and owners is good."

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bears tickets right here!]
 
The immediate response was more than a little positive: Per San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York:

https://twitter.com/JedYork/status/846400103472480256
 
Marshall predictably welcomed the forum and wants to see it expanded.

"I'd like to see more players be more involved in our owners meetings," Marshall said. "And not only at the owners meetings, but any time we're talking football, we should have players at the table. Commissioner Goodell is always open-minded. He always has that open-door policy. So I think he'll continue to listen and continue to evolve this part of our business."