Wheaton Warrenville South reloads for 2012

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Wheaton Warrenville South reloads for 2012

Looking to get a preview of the 2012 high school football season in Illinois?

Circle Wednesday, June 27, on your calendar. That's when Wheaton Warrenville South will host the 16-team Red Grange Classic, a 7-on-7 competition that will feature most of the top-rated programs in the state in Class 7A and 8A.

The participants are Wheaton Warrenville South, Montini, Bolingbrook, Maine South, Glenbard West, East St. Louis, Naperville North, Naperville Central, Wheaton North, Batavia, Elk Grove, Lincoln-Way East, Simeon, Hubbard, New Trier and Lyons.

The winner will qualify for the national 7-on-7 tournament in Hoover, Alabama, in July. Last year, Maine South defeated Montini in the inaugural event that featured eight teams.

In addition, while some of the state's leading passers, receivers and defensive backs will engage in 22-minute contests, the linemen will compete in an eight-event challenge. The 16 schools will participate in a 7-on-7 competition at Wheaton North at the sophomore level.

"Nationally, 7-on-7 is becoming a big thing competitively," Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch said, noting that Illinois-bound Aaron Bailey of defending Class 8A champion Bolingbrook and Northwestern-bound Matt Alviti of Maine South will be two of the highly rated quarterbacks who will be showcased at the June 27 event. "It is good to teach the passing game and pass defense."

It will give Muhitch an opportunity to begin evaluating his stable of quarterback candidates to see if he has another Reilly O'Toole in the making. They are senior-to-be Don McKee and juniors-to-be Ryan Graham, Alex Wills, Barrett Davis and Casey Paraday, a transfer from Springdale, Arkansas.

Last year, Muhitch's quarterback corps was riddled with injuries and he was forced to bring up a sophomore to start in the state championship game. After an 0-2 start, losing to highly rated Glenbard West and Maine South, WW South rallied to finish 10-4, losing to unbeaten Rockford Boylan in the Class 7A final.

He has a knack for filling in the blanks, solving problems and finding the right players to fit into the right positions. In 10 years, he has won 84 percent (106-21) of his games. The Tigers won state titles in 2006, 2009 and 2010 and finished second in 2007 and 2011. In the last seven years, they have lost only nine games, four last year.

Muhitch expects more of the same in 2012. He returns his entire offensive line, including 6-foot-4, 265-pound tackle Frank Garcia, 6-foot-5, 250-pound tackle Kyle Joyce and 6-foot-5, 225-pound tight end Brian Welch. "When I have that, life is good. The group has been together for two years. I see some good things," the coach said.

"The key is this summer we will do a lot of soul-searching to find kids for right spots. We need to find a running back (to replace Northwestern-bound Dan Vitale) and a quarterback and complementary receivers."

Muhitch doesn't plan to change his multiple offense. Once again, he will spread the field. Last year, he gave the ball to Vitale. This year, he will give the ball to senior-to-be Brandan Adams, who didn't play much last season, or 6-foot-3, 210-pound Josh Wilson, who played at Mount Carmel as a freshman and Downers Grove North as a sophomore.

The defense needs a complete overhaul. Muhitch already has shifted some offensive players to fill holes in the defense. Hollis Henry, a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder, has moved from left guard to rush end. Muhitch is optimistic about 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive lineman Dan Chism, who saw little playing time last year because of a knee injury, and safety Kevin Giltz. But he is looking for linebackers.

WW South's best player and best athlete is wide receiver Corey Davis, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder whose brother Titus came on strong as a senior and was Rookie of the Year in the Mid-American Conference last year at Central Michigan. Muhitch predicts the same storyline for Corey, who also returns punts and kickoffs.

"Corey should be one of the best players in the class of 2013, one of the best receivers in the Chicago area," Muhitch said. "He has been an up-and-coming athlete for the last two years. Nobody knew much about his brother but he had a great senior year for us. I see the same storyline for Corey."

Another good storyline is kicker Jesse Padalik, who follows in a line of former WW South stars Dan Conroy (Michigan State), Nick Campos (Indiana) and Nick Immekus (Illinois). "He is as good a kicker as Conroy and as good a punter as Campos," Muhitch said.

But the schedule hasn't changed. WW South opens at Glenbard West, then hosts Maine South in Week 2. It won't be easy, of course, but Muhitch is hoping to improve on last year's 0-2 start.

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."