Class of 2013 could be best since 1985

634722.png

Class of 2013 could be best since 1985

Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network and other football analysts and historians claim that the class of 1985 was the most talented group ever produced in the Chicago area. And it's hard to argue against the evidence.

According to Lemming, 141 graduates earned Division I scholarships. The elite list included St. Rita linebacker and Player of the Year John Foley (Notre Dame), Whitney Young lineman and No. 1 NFL draft choice Russell Maryland (Miami), Simeon lineman Bobby Wilson (Michigan State), St. Laurence linemen Tim Grunhard (Notre Dame), Paul Glonek (Iowa) and Jeff Pearson (Michigan State) and Forest View linebacker Brad Quast (Iowa).

Also Sandburg linemen Jeff Alm (Notre Dame) and Dave Postmus (Illinois), Bogan end Frank Hartley (Illinois), Libertyville lineman Brian Wilcox (UCLA), Lockport lineman Brad James (Illinois), Mount Carmel receiver Chris Calloway (Michigan), St. Laurence defensive back Stan Smagala (Notre Dame), Schaumburg quarterback Paul Justin (Arizona State) and New Trier halfback Charlie Young (Stanford).

The class of 2013 won't approach that number but Lemming argues that this year's crop of juniors, led by running back Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic, offensive lineman Ethan Pocic of Lemont and quarterbacks Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook and Matt Alviti of Maine South, could be the most talented group since 1985.

"Isaac and Pocic are the two best players in the Midwest," Lemming said. "There are six or seven players in the class of 2013 who could rank among the top 100 in the nation."

Lemming said offensive lineman Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis isn't far behind Isaac and Pocic. He rates Crete-Monee's LaQuon Treadwell as the best receiving prospect in the Midwest and Bolingbrook's Bailey as one of the best athletes. He also is high on Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti and Glenbard West running backreceiver Kendall Johnson.

Other highly regarded prospects in the class of 2013 are safety Jesse Bobbit of Palatine, tight end Nathan Marcus and defensive end Ruben Dunbar of Glenbard West, defensive lineman Colin Goebel of Naperville Central, tight end Danny Friend of Morris, running back Matthew Harris of Lyons, tackles Brandon Stanfel of Libertyville and Blake King of Minooka and linebacker Caleb Bailey of Romeoville.

But the headliners are Isaac, Pocic and Bailey.

Isaac, a 6-3, 215-pound running back with 4.5 speed, set a state record by rushing 26 times for 515 yards and six touchdowns in a 70-45 loss to Montini in the Class 5A final. He also set a school single-season record by rushing for 2,629 yards, surpassing the mark of 2,624 set by James Randle in 1996.

He has 13 scholarship offers -- Illinois, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, Arizona, Vanderbilt, Mississippi and Toledo -- with more to come.

"He is the best player I have coached," said Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp. "He is one of the greatest ever to play in Illinois."

Lemming said Isaac is the best running back to come out of the Chicago area since Niles West's Rashard Mendenhall. "He is the best I've seen this year. He looks like (NFL Hall of Famer) Eric Dickerson," Lemming said.

Pocic, a 6-7, 285-pound offensive tackle, is being touted in some circles as the next Jake Long or Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, comparing him to two of the best left tackles in history.

He has offers from Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Iowa, Purdue, West Virginia and Arizona and can be expected to attract more during his senior season. His older brother Graham was a standout center at Illinois.

Lemont coach Eric Michaelsen said Pocic is "the best offensive lineman I've seen this year." He ranks Pocic in a class with former Lemont star David Molk, who earned All-America recognition as the best center in college football at Michigan in 2011.

Bailey, a 6-2, 215-pound quarterback with 4.5 speed, led Bolingbrook to the Class 8A championship last season. He rushed for 1,986 yards, passed for 1,000 and accounted for 40 touchdowns. Very athletic, he could be a quarterback, running back or wide receiver in college.

He has offers from Illinois, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, Minnesota, Northern Illinois, Boston College and Colorado State. Look for the list to grow as college coaches continue to evaluate his all-around skills.

Alviti, a 6-foot, 195-pound quarterback, led Maine South to the Class 8A championship while passing for 3,150 yards as a sophomore. As a junior, he led the Hawks to a 10-1 record and passed for 2,220 yards. He has passed for 54 touchdowns in two years. He has indicated that he will attend either Northwestern or Notre Dame.

Treadwell, a 6-3, 183-pound wide receiver, caught 75 passes for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. He has offers from Notre Dame, Nebraska, Michigan and Indiana.

Bosch, a 6-5, 290-pound tackle, is described by Wheaton St. Francis coach Greg Purnell as "the best young offensive lineman I've coached in 30 years. He has the most big-time potential of anyone I've seen. He can play on Sunday."

He has more offers (14) than any Illinois product in the class of 2013 -- Alabama, Arizona, Boston College, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Stanford and West Virginia.

Bosch has been on the radar of Lemming and other recruiting analysts and college coaches since he was an eighth grader. As a sophomore, many longtime observers of high school football in the Chicago area said that Bosch was the best young prospect since running back Howard Jones of Evanston in 1970.

Jones was a two-time All-Stater and three-time state champion in the 100 and 220-yard dash events. Evanston coach Murney Lazier, who lost only 17 games in 18 years, said Jones was the best player he ever produced.

Palatine coach Tyler Donnelly, a nephew of former Illinois and NFL star George Donnelly, said Bobbit is the best player he has produced in 18 years. A punishing tackler, he could be a linebacker or strong safety in college. He has attracted interest from Northwestern, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State and Northern Illinois.

Proviso East has a pair of promising juniors who have been flying under the radar because the Maywood school's football program isn't as celebrated as its basketball program. But defensive end Anthony Greenhow and offensive tackle Rashad Williams are academic qualifiers who should receive plenty of attention from college recruiters this fall.

Marian Central coach Ed Brucker has produced several big-time Division I players in recent years and quarterback Chris Streveler is his latest. He passed for over 2,000 yards and rushed for 900 while leading his 11-1 team to the state quarterfinals last fall. "He is potentially the best all-around quarterback I've coached in 40 years," Brucker said.

The DuPage Valley is one of the most competitive conferences in Illinois and offensive lineman Colin Goebel of Naperville North figures to be one of the leading prospects in the Midwest in 2012. He was the conference's offensive lineman of the year as a junior, a rare distinction. His cousin, former Montini star Garrett Goebel, is a stater at Ohio State.

Chad Hetlet has restored the glory at Glenbard West that Bill Duchon built in the 1960s and 1970s and Jim Covert sustained in the 1980s. Hetlet's 2011 squad was led by Ohio State-bound defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, who was rated as the state's No. 1 player in some circles.

The 2012 Hilltoppers will feature at least three Division I prospects -- running backreceiver Kendall Johnson, defensive end Ruben Dunbar and tight end Nathan Marcus.

Interestingly, Schutt wasn't selected as the defensive player of the year in the West Suburban Silver. That distinction went to Proviso West junior linebacker Jamaal Payton. He had 100 tackles in 10 games and had a 103-yard interception return for a touchdown against Hubbard.

Top 30 (Class of 2013)

1. Ty Isaac, Joliet Catholic, RB
2. Ethan Pocic, Lemont, OT
3. Aaron Bailey, Bolingbrook, QB
4. Matt Alviti, Maine South, QB
5. LaQuon Treadwell, Crete-Monee, WR
6. Kyle Bosch, Wheaton St. Francis, OT 7. Colin Goebel, Naperville Central, DL 8. Jesse Bobbit, Palatine, DB 9. Kendall Johnson, Glenbard West, RB 10. Brandon Stanfel, Libertyville, OT 11. Blake King, Minooka, OT 12. Danny Friend, Morris, TE 13. Matthew Harris, Lyons, RB 14. Ruben Dunbar, Glenbard West, DE 15. Chris Streveler, Marian Central, QB 16. Jamaal Payton, Proviso West, DB 17. Anthony Greenhow, Proviso East, DE 18. Rashad Williams, Proviso East, OT 19. Devon Sanders, Robeson, RB 20. Tate Briggs, Montini, OT 21. Nathan Marcus, Glenbard West, TE 22. Jabari Winston, Simeon, DB 23. Kendall Moore, Simeon, OT 24. Bruce Holder, Streamwood, WR 25. Adam Kulon, Jacobs, LB 26. John Peltz, Wheaton North, QB 27. Caleb Bailey, Romeoville, LB 28. Jalen Banks, Thornton, DB 29. A.J. Fish, Grayslake North, QB 30. Jake Lemming, Lemont, DB

Greg Hudson (and Brian Kelly) will tweak, streamline Notre Dame's defense

Greg Hudson (and Brian Kelly) will tweak, streamline Notre Dame's defense

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame didn’t blow up its defense when it fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder on Sunday, but there will be a few changes to how this scheme operates going forward under Greg Hudson. 

The first, and most noticeable, change, is actually one fans won’t see on Saturdays. Coach Brian Kelly has spent far more time with the Irish defense during practice and meetings this week — he has almost exclusively worked with the offense while at Notre Dame — in an effort to put his stamp on a group that’s allowed on average 41.3 points in its three games against power five opponents. 

“You see him in a meeting, you’re like, ‘Aw snap,’” linebacker Nyles Morgan said. “It’s a new feel, but his inputs are very helpful. He knows what he’s talking about.”

Kelly won’t necessarily simplify the scheme itself, but he will train its focus in a more narrow manner. That means drawing from the same inventory that VanGorder & Co. installed during spring and preseason practice, but tailoring what’s used to help the bevy of underclassmen in this defense play smarter and faster. 

“It’s going to take a style of defense that I'm much more accustomed to, the way I want to play defensively, and we'll pull from the library which we already have,” Kelly said. 

Of course, nobody is giving away the exact plan of how Notre Dame will play on Saturday against Syracuse. But the ineffective 3-3-5 scheme Notre Dame deployed against Texas’ up-tempo offense won’t included in it, and part of Kelly’s goal is to simply get players lined up correctly. That would seem to indicate a lot more freshmen or sophomores could see the field, especially in the front seven — think Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, Jamir Jones, Asmar Bilal and others — which should help avoid over-taxing some of the team’s veterans. 

And in the secondary, there will have to be more rotating of players, too, given Dino Babers’ Orange offense operates at ludicrous speed. The best way to successfully get guys like Jalen Elliott and Donte Vaughn on the field is to narrow the inventory and limit the checks they have to make, too.  

“I think with the youth that we have on our team, a lot of guys don’t necessarily have a ton of game experience — that can be kind of critical,” safety Drue Tranquill said. “I remember back in my freshman year, and things were spinning for me and the game is really, really fast. So when you have a huge inventory on your plate, a lot of checks to make, that can cloud your vision a little bit. So definitely with a lot of young guys it’s definitely something we have to take into consideration.” 

We’ll see exactly what the streamlined Irish defense looks like and who will play in it on Saturday (maybe it’ll include dropping defensive linemen into coverage with less frequency, a VanGorder staple that proved ineffective). As for Hudson, Kelly isn’t looking to him to necessarily make a major impact on how the defense looks. 

The hope is that Hudson, who previously was a defensive analyst for Notre Dame and held defensive coordinator positions at East Carolina, Minnesota and Purdue, can help inject some energy and life into this moribund defense. 

“He's always using different examples, different stories, a little bit of humor in his coaching,” linebacker James Onwualu said. “And an energy — there hasn't been a day he's been here that I've really seen him just walking around monotone. He's always got some energy and something to say.”

Whether that energy can actually make a tangible impact remains to be seen. But Notre Dame is in desperate need of answers on defense, and will face a Syracuse offense that’s good enough to be headache-inducing on Saturday. 

So the Greg Hudson era begins at MetLife Stadium this weekend. The energy may be better and the scheme may be streamlined. But will the results change?

“Greg has been empowered to bring the energy, the enthusiasm, the passion, the morale, the camaraderie. I need those things from Greg,” Kelly said. ‘That's what I need. I want our kids to be excited when they step on that field against Syracuse. I'll worry about the implementation, the scheme. I'll take care of that for him right now. As he gets more comfortable with what we have and what our system is about, then he will be much more involved in what we do.

“But right now, we'll write the music and he'll be the lead singer.”

Erik Gustafsson knows landing roster spot with Blackhawks won’t be easy

Erik Gustafsson knows landing roster spot with Blackhawks won’t be easy

Erik Gustafsson looked around the Blackhawks’ room at where fellow defensemen stalls would probably be as the season approached.

“You have Brian (Campbell) back, (Michal) Kempny here, obviously and all the other guys,” Gustafsson said. “It’s going to be tough, but I like it.”

The Blackhawks’ biggest Achilles heel last season was defense, especially after Trevor Daley was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That opened the door for young players, including Gustafsson, to get bigger opportunities. This year the defense should be stronger with Campbell’s return. So for guys like Gustafsson, cracking this lineup just got that much tougher.

During the summer, assistant coach Mike Kitchen talked potential pairings as Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson, Campbell-Brent Seabrook, Kempny-Trevor van Riemsdyk. As of now, the team is expecting Keith to be ready for the season opener. Keith has been participating in a practice a day but whether or not he plays in any preseason games is uncertain right now.

If it starts out that way, Gustafsson would be on the outside looking in.

But first things first: Gustafsson is focused on building off experience gained last season — he played 41 games, recording 14 assists — and cleaning up a few errors committed in training camp practices.

“You know all the guys on the team, you know how they want to play over here and in the NHL. Just go out and show them. I didn’t do that [Saturday] but this was the first game,” Gustafsson said. “I felt good with the puck but I have to play more defense in my own zone. Just a couple of small things I have to be better.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Nothing comes easy when you’re trying to make an NHL roster but it got that much tougher for a young defenseman with the Blackhawks this season. Hey, that’s the way it is, and players know it.

“Of course it’ll be tougher,” Gustafsson said. “It won’t be easy to take a spot. You just have to go out there, do your best and see what happens.”

BRIEFLY

- Patrick Kane could play in the Blackhawks’ game against St. Louis on Saturday. Assistant coach Kevin Dineen said, “don’t be surprised to see 88 politicking to get in the lineup. Pretty good chance we’ll see him on Saturday."

- The Blackhawks were off on Thursday. Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, Marcus Kruger and Hjalmarsson were expected to join the team at Friday’s practice

- Alexandre Fortin, who signed a three-year contract on Sunday, played 12 1/2 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That included about two minutes of power-play time. Dineen wouldn’t mind seeing Fortin in another game. “He showed himself well all camp and I think [Wednesday] we saw some good spurts out there, and we’ll find that consistency in a young player as we move forward.”