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.

62 Days To Kickoff: North Chicago

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62 Days To Kickoff: North Chicago

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 @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25.

School: North Chicago

Head coach: Addonte Adams

Assistant Coaches: Jamal Patterson OC Wilton Hill Joshua Franklin Orlando Kilpatrick

How they fared in 2016: 3-6 (2-5 Northern Lake County conference), failed to qualify for the 2016 IHSA state playoffs.

2017 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 25 – @ Waukegan

Sept. 1 – vs Robeson

Sept. 8 – @ Round Lake

Sept. 15 - vs Grayslake North

Sept. 22 - @ Grant

Sept. 29 – vs Wauconda

Oct. 6 - vs Grayslake Central

Oct. 13 - @ Antioch

Oct. 20 - vs Lakes

Biggest storyline: Can the Warhawks get back to winning and into the state playoff field in 2017?

Names to watch this season:  Senior LB Garrett Turner Senior WR/DB Ishaun Walker Senior QB/ATH Dyshaun Gates

Biggest holes to fill: The Warhawks return a ton of starters from a season ago, however just one starter is back on the offensive line in senior OC Joseph Gaiden.

EDGY's Early Take: It's been a while since the Warhawks have been a threat in either the conference or in the state playoffs, yet that could change in 2017. North Chicago went young last season and gained a ton of playing experience in 2016. If head coach Addonte Adams can get his Warhawks to buy into his program, this has the potential of becoming a team to watch this fall. 

It’s a business, but Blackhawks still feel sting of emotional deals

It’s a business, but Blackhawks still feel sting of emotional deals

Coach Joel Quenneville stood in the United Center hallway, summing up what had been a difficult Friday.

“Very emotional deals,” he said on Saturday morning, as Day 2 of the NHL Draft commenced. “A lot to process there.”

Indeed, the Blackhawks had a busy and difficult day on Friday, trading defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona and swapping Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad in a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Quenneville was seen by media leaving a coaches meeting in between the Hjalmarsson and Panarin/Saad trades on Friday morning and he wasn’t at the Blackhawks’ table on Friday, unusual for the opening night of the draft. But he said his absence wasn’t about the trades.

“Not at all,” he said.

Still, as Quenneville said, big moves are a lot to process, even for a team that’s done its share of shedding players since the 2010 offseason. General manager Stan Bowman said Friday was filled with, “high emotions… when you make some difficult decisions.” Jonathan Toews said on Friday night that, “everyone’s kind of shocked” by recent events, including Marian Hossa’s loss. Toews added he was wary of saying the team was better today, out of respect for departed players.

“It’s hard to sit there and say that without sounding like you’re being disrespectful to two teammates you care for and know were huge parts of the team,” he said.

We talk about the business side of hockey all the time. You make the tough decisions and then you move forward. But there’s a human element to all of this that’s easy to forget. Players, especially those who are with an organization for a long time as Hjalmarsson was, make their impact on and off the ice. Teammates and coaches are spending endless amounts of time together, and those bonds, coupled with what they all go through during regular seasons and Stanley-Cup runs, endure. Saying goodbye is difficult.

For Quenneville, seeing Hjalmarsson leave was very difficult.

“Well, certainly Hammer, he’s one of those heart-and-soul guys and was instrumental in winning some championships for us. You feel for him and what he meant to his team and his teammates and fans here and the city of Chicago. He’s one of those guys that you have an appreciation to watch and see how he competes and knowing what he fights through to stay on the ice in a lot of games. He’s a heart-and-souler. Those guys are hard to see go,” Quenneville said. “Bread Man wasn’t here long enough to really get that consistency over term. But Hammer really did give a lot to the organization. And we are very appreciative of the Bread Man, because he could wow us and entertain us and a great kid, as well.”

Still, there’s the positive side. Quenneville and Toews are thrilled to have Saad back in the fold. Toews and Saad had great chemistry, the first time around and Quenneville said he’ll put those two together to start the season – “I know that [Patrick Kane] finds a way to make it happen, no matter who’s playing at center or on his left. It really adds a one-two punch that hopefully we get consistency and predictability in that area,” Quenneville said.

Saad should also help fill at least some of the void left from Hossa.

It’s another offseason during which the Blackhawks are feeling the losses, professionally as well as personally. You process, you deal with the sting and then you proceed. That’s the business.

“As a coach, we’re in the short-term business, we’re thinking about now,” Quenneville said. “So we’re going to do everything we can to better ourselves right now and looking to win today. And that’s our challenge and that’s what we look at.”