Top Gun Combine benefits local prospects

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Top Gun Combine benefits local prospects

High school football players who aspire to compete at the next level attend combines to get exposure to college recruiters. But there is a risk. For example, if an athlete is timed in 4.8 seconds for 40 yards instead of 4.4 or 4.5, his chances of landing a scholarship offer are slim to none.

Scott Hoffman claims his Top Gun Combine is different. He admits some combines are in business for the sole purpose of making money but he insists his one-day event, which will be conducted on Sunday, Dec. 16, at Players U, 412 Business Center Drive, in Mount Prospect, is designed "to train athletes to better themselves to get an opportunity to play in college."

"I wouldn't disagree with the idea that some combines can create negative exposure for someone who has positive exposure," Hoffman said. "But a kid who has had no exposure has a chance to get on the radar of colleges, if he has had limited or no contact with college recruiters.

"But Top Gun is 100 percent different. It isn't a traditional combine. Our combine is designed for specific position training, not just to run the 40-yard dash or participate in 5-10-5 drills or the long jump, which are typical combine tests. More importantly, we will put kids through football drills...defending receivers, running routes, 1-on-1 drills. We see playing ability on the field. We are evaluating football talent, not just track talent."

Hoffman knows the pluses and minuses of combines. A former All-State quarterback at Elgin, he was recruited by Florida, played at Purdue and played professionally in Germany for a year. His father was an All-State running back at Weber, played at Illinois and coached at St. Rita, Weber and Elgin.

After he blew out his knee and retired from football, he founded his own financial services company. He expanded his company to the United Kingdom and reconnected with American football as a volunteer coach and offensive coordinator. When he returned to the United States in 2005, he got the bug to return to coaching football.

He coached at St. Edward in Elgin and at Harper College in Palatine and privately tutored quarterbacks. In January, 2010, he purchased Top Gun. At the time, it was a quarterback competition company. But Hoffman expanded to a full-time, year-round football position training company with a staff of seven coaches to train all positions.

"We want to increase the ability of players in Illinois to compete with athletes in the elite conferences, like the SEC," Hoffman said. "They have to do more than their high schools ask of them if they want to play at the next level. If you don't, you fall behind when you are compared with elite conferences that workout year-round."

In case you haven't noticed, the nation's elite programs -- from USC to Oklahoma to Texas to LSU to Alabama to Florida to Georgia -- are recruiting in the Chicago area. Some didn't recruit locally until a few years ago. Some are scouring the city and suburbs for the first time.

"The world has gotten smaller through technology," Hoffman said. "Recruiters are able to sit in their office and see highlight tape on kids from Illinois. If they see something they like, they come into the state to meet him face-to-face."

Hoffman's camp on Dec. 16 has attracted 94 players from 48 high schools. One of the top-rated prospects is junior quarterback Bret Mooney of Jacobs, a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder whom Hoffman said is "as good as I have seen as a 16-year-old." Veteran coach Bill Mitz of Jacobs, who formerly coached at Stevenson, predicts Mooney is a future star.

How can Hoffman's staff improve Mooney's skills in one day?

"Most importantly, at the end of the day, is a quarterback's accuracy in the pocket and on the move," he said. "What can we do to help them in a short time? We help them review fundamentals and get their eyes to the target area as quickly as possible. We can't increase their arm strength in one day but we can improve their accuracy and quickness."

At the end of the day, Hoffman's staff selects the best players to compete on an elite 7-on-7 team that participates in regional and national tournaments in the spring and summer. It gives the youngsters an opportunity to gain a lot of exposure and a chance to compete and train with other elite athletes.

A year ago, Waubonsie Valley running back Austin Guido and Grayslake North quarterback A.J. Fish were the headliners on Top Gun's elite 7-on-7 squad.

Hoffman insists Fish had the ability to play football in the Big Ten but he opted to sign with Virginia to play lacrosse. Fish is one of the leading lacrosse players in the nation and Virginia is the top-ranked college program. So it was a good fit, what Fish wanted.

"But he could have played in the Big Ten. He was that good. He was cat-quick laterally, as good as I have ever seen. I don't know if he had a Top 25 arm but he could have played in the Big Ten because of his vision and lateral movement. Colleges made a mistake by not offering him," Hoffman said.

The Top Gun event is open to all skill-position players in the classes of 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 -- quarterback, running back, tight end, wide receiver, linebacker, defensive back -- who want to prepare for the 2013 season and have aspirations to play in college.

For information, call Hoffman at (847) 346-5635 or email Scott@TopGunQB.com.

How a fan's kind gesture surprised Mark Buehrle on his big day

How a fan's kind gesture surprised Mark Buehrle on his big day

It’s one of the more iconic moments in White Sox history, and now Mark Buehrle has a key piece of memorabilia after a fan’s kind gesture.

Already overwhelmed by a series of gifts from the White Sox on Saturday afternoon, Buehrle was in disbelief when 17-year-old Tommy Maloney walked onto the field during a number-retirement ceremony and presented him with the flipped-through-the-legs ball from 2010 Opening Day.

The memento was one of four gifts Buehrle received from the White Sox along with a new truck, a four-seat All-Terrain Vehicle and a personalized piece of art created by White Sox outfielder Ron Kittle commemorating many of the highlights of the pitcher’s White Sox career. It was just another part of an overwhelming, emotional day for Buehrle, who was honored for his 12 seasons in a White Sox uniform.

“Pretty cool,” Buehrle said. “I don’t recall signing it for him when it happened. I don’t really remember where it went. But one, for him to give that up, that was pretty awesome.”

Maloney’s father, Matt, contacted the White Sox earlier this month to see if Buehrle wanted to meet with the fan who had the ball from a moment in White Sox history that has been replayed thousands upon thousands of times.

The Maloneys also reached out to the White Sox back in 2010, too. They informed the club they had the ball that Buehrle retrieved and flipped through his legs to Paul Konerko, who caught it with a barehanded to retire Cleveland’s Lou Marson in the fifth inning of the April 5, 2010 contest. Buehrle autographed the ball in 2010, but neither he nor the White Sox asked for Tommy Maloney, who was 8 at the time, to hand it over.

“At that point it’s just a cool ball, it’s not part of White Sox history,” said Brooks Boyer, White Sox vice president of sales and marketing.

As he looked for a unique artifact for Buehrle to offer another layer to Saturday’s ceremony, Boyer came across Matt Maloney’s most recent email. He definitely thought Buehrle would have interest in reuniting with the fan who held a key artifact from a play that has become legendary around these parts over the years.

But Boyer also asked if the Maloneys would want to donate the ball to Buehrle.

“We didn’t have the unique thing,” Boyer said. “We just didn’t have it.

“Here it is.”

How it had gotten in Tommy Maloney’s hands in the first place was interesting enough. The Munster, Ind., high schooler said his father got tickets for the 2010 season opener and he left school early to watch Buehrle, his favorite pitcher as a kid. The seats were in the first row behind the far right edge of the White Sox dugout, the same ones he was in for Saturday’s ceremony.

After the improbable play to steal a hit from Marson, Buehrle fell to his knees, which brought manager Ozzie Guillen out of the dugout. Somehow Guillen retrieved the ball and upon returning to the dugout, flipped it to Maloney, who had earlier asked him for a ball several times. Even though it was a prized possession, Tommy Maloney said he’d have no problem surrendering it again if he were asked.

The White Sox rewarded Maloney for his sacrifice as club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf determined that the youngster would present Buehrle with the ball on the field. But the White Sox didn’t tell Maloney he would present the ball until Saturday, surprising him with the news about an hour before the game.

“It’s awesome the way it played out,” Maloney said. “He’s such a great guy. He was hugging me in the dugout. He looked at me when I went up there to give him the ball and said, ‘Give me a hug.’ ”

Maloney not only stood on the field before the ceremony, he had a chance to briefly meet Buehrle in the dugout. He also received another autographed baseball. And after he was applauded by the sellout crowd, several fans stopped by Maloney’s seat to pose for a picture.

Buehrle was touched by the gesture.

“I was like, ‘Brooks, we’ve got to do something here,’ ” Buehrle said. “’He can’t just give the ball and walk out of here empty-handed.’ So I ended up signing him a ball and I don’t know if we have something else in mind, but it was pretty awesome.”

Jon Lester, Cubs rotation trends in right direction with win over Marlins

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USA TODAY

Jon Lester, Cubs rotation trends in right direction with win over Marlins

MIAMI – Jon Lester dropped his head and wiped the sweat from his face. The Cubs ace didn’t jerk his neck and twist his body, hoping the swing and the sound somehow fooled him. The slow turnaround revealed the obvious – his 75-mph curveball flew over the left-field wall and nearly into the Clevelander bar billed as an adult playground.  

Lester gripped the next ball, stared out into the visual noise at Marlins Park and went to work on Saturday after J.T. Realmuto’s three-run homer in the first inning. This is the stuff, determination and tunnel vision that’s been the antidote to the pressures of playing at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and made Lester such a big-game pitcher.

Lester retired the next 13 hitters he faced, 15 of the next 16 and 18 of his last 20 at a time when the Cubs needed that kind of performance to buy time for their young hitters, survive a brutal schedule and weather a series of injuries. 

A 5-3 win pushed the Cubs to 38-36 as Lester (5-4, 3.83 ERA) and the overall rotation continue to trend in the right direction.