St. Ignatius' May prefers rugby to football

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St. Ignatius' May prefers rugby to football

Malcolm May doesn't want to play college football.

St. Ignatius' 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior running backdefensive end compiled an impressive resume this season. He rushed for 950 yards and scored 11 touchdowns for a 3-6 team and was designated as the Offensive Player of the Year in the Catholic League's Red Division.

"I coached Renaldo Wynn, who went from De La Salle to Notre Dame and was a first-round draft choice and played in the NFL for 14 years, and Reggie Hayward, who played at Thornridge and played in the NFL for 10 years. I'd put May in the same class," said St. Ignatius coach Pat Jennings.

But the 16-year-old doesn't want to play another football game.

"He begged me not to put his name out or send out film to college recruiters," Jennings said. "I took him off the board."

May is a rugby player.

His heroes are Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Quade Cooper, not Peyton Manning or Brian Urlacher or Tom Brady.

Who are those guys?

They are rugby players, maybe the best in the world. Carter and McCaw play for the All-Blacks in New Zealand. Cooper, May's personal favorite, plays for the Australian Wallabies.

A cousin of former college All-America lineman and NFL star and current ESPN football analyst Mark May, he is a starter on the Under-19 USA rugby team. Last summer, he played with the Under-17 USA team in England. He hopes to make tours in England and South America next spring and summer. His goals are to play in the World Cup in 2015 and the Olympics in 2016.

"At first, it is frustrating because no one understands the sport," May said. "But as long as I enjoy it, I don't care what others feel or that they think football is more important.

"I feel if you are watching football, it is more entertaining. I can't explain why rugby is more fun to play. It is a game that doesn't stop. It has a flow that football doesn't have. It is a faster game than soccer. You have to think more. In football, coaches call plays. In rugby, it's 15 kids thinking on their own."

Come to think of it, May said, most people don't know that there are 15 players to a side in rugby or what you can do, what you can't do, what the penalties are, the illegal hits. To most folks in the United States, rugby is as foreign as cricket.

"I tell them, there is more contact and hitting in rugby than football. Either you get hit or you score. There is excitement all the time," May said. "A rugby player doesn't have to be big. He has to have endurance, high resolve, big legs, long arms and broad shoulders. As long as you aren't afraid to tackle, you can play the game."

Truth be told, May didn't know anything about rugby and didn't even start playing the game until his freshman year at St. Ignatius. "I liked football. But I didn't plan to play football in high school. I didn't think I was that good. I wanted to focus on my schoolwork," he said.

May grew up on Chicago's South Side, at 85th and Kedzie, in the Evergreen Park community. He was an offensive lineman and defensive end for the Hayes Park Blitz youth football program. His mother convinced him to play football in high school. He chose St. Ignatius over St. Rita, Brother Rice and Whitney Young, primarily because his mother attended the academically inclined school. He has a 3.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and scored 26 on his ACT.

After his freshman year of football, he said he got bored. A friend suggested he should try out for rugby. He went to a practice session. "I was intrigued from then on," he said.

"Rugby is more of a culture than football is, more of a team sport. At first, I liked it because I could carry the ball. I didn't touch the ball in football until I was converted from a lineman to running back as a senior. There is a different feel to rugby. It is more relaxed but just as intense."

After suffering a broken wrist and playing only three games as a freshman, May's rugby career experienced a meteoric rise. As a sophomore, he tried out for the state team and made it. As a junior, he was invited to the USA camp and made the 75-man roster. He played in England on the Under-17 and Under-19 USA squads. His immediate goal? To stay in the USA rugby system.

It isn't easy to be a world-class rugby player when nobody in your neighborhood plays rugby. To continue to improve and keep his competitive edge, May spends a lot of time on his own, working out in a weight room and running every day.

"You've got to take a lot of mental reps and make the most of the practices you have," said May, who is considering Penn State, Western Michigan and Davenport College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a Class 1-AA school to further his rugby education.

He isn't bored any longer.

Blackhawks updates: Why Joel Quenneville is starting Corey Crawford vs. Canucks

Blackhawks updates: Why Joel Quenneville is starting Corey Crawford vs. Canucks

Corey Crawford will start but Marcus Kruger won't play yet when the Blackhawks host the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night.

Scott Darling is coming off a 30-stop shutout in the Blackhawks' 1-0 victory over Boston on Friday night. Coach Joel Quenneville said there was some consideration given to start Darling in this one, too, but, "at the same time we want Crow playing as much as he can to get back to the great pace he had prior to being away."

"He hasn't been bad. But certainly that's what we're looking for him to get back to," Quenneville said on Crawford. "I like giving Darls some consideration. We'll see but [Darling] certainly enhanced his positioning."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Meanwhile, Marcus Kruger skated with the Blackhawks for the first time since hurting his hand against the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 30. He took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice but was not among the line rushes. Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is for either Tuesday or Thursday but, "knowing we have that [All-Star] break, we'll see how he feels and what our options are."

Kruger said he felt, "pretty close."

"I tried to take it day by day and prepare to play," Kruger said. "Obviously not tonight, but the next game we will see." 

BLACKHAWKS VS. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
6:30 p.m.
TV: WGN
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Chicago Blackhawks
Forward lines

Ryan Hartman-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Vinnie Hinostroza-Tanner Kero-Marian Hossa
Andrew Desjardins-Dennis Rasmussen-Nick Schmaltz

Defensive pairs
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltender
Corey Crawford

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Marcus Kruger (right arm).

Vancouver Canucks (via Canucks)
Forward lines

Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Loui Eriksson
Sven Baertschi-Bo Horvat-Alex Burrows
Markus Granlund-Brandon Sutter-Jayson Megna
Brendan Gaunce-Michael Chaput-Jack Skille

Defensive Pairs
Alex Edler-Troy Stecher
Luca Sbisa-Chris Tanev
Alex Biega-Nikita Tryamkin

Goaltender
Ryan Miller

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Anton Rodin (knee), Ben Hutton (hand), Jannik Hansen (knee), Erik Gudbranson (wrist), Philip Larsen (upper body), Derek Dorsett (back).

With losses piling up, things starting to get predictable for Illini — and not in a good way

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USA TODAY

With losses piling up, things starting to get predictable for Illini — and not in a good way

Remember when the season began and we were talking about the likelihood of Illinois ending a three-year NCAA tournament drought?

Yeah, about that.

The Fighting Illini were again walloped on the road Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor, their fourth road defeat in as many games during conference play. Against Michigan, Purdue, Indiana and Maryland, the losses have come in extreme fashion, by a combined total of 73 points, an average of 18.3 points.

And those numbers would be much bigger if not for a garbage-time 18-6 run to close out Saturday's 66-57 loss to the Wolverines. The game saw Michigan's lead grow as big as 21 with fewer than six minutes to play. It was another blowout, even if the final margin of defeat was in single digits.

How this continues to happen is frankly somewhat mind boggling. Illinois entered the season with experience, health and depth and have kept all of those traits throughout the campaign. But the experienced players who were believed to lead the Illini to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2013, Groce's first season, simply haven't shown up.

Malcolm Hill has, and he deserves a pass in this critique. Hill, the only Illinois player who scored in double figures Saturday, ranks fifth in the league in scoring, averaging 17.8 points a game. He also ranks in the top 20 in rebounding (5.9 rebounds a game), free-throw percentage (79.4 percent) and minutes played (32.4 minutes a game).

Maverick Morgan, too, has been a bright spot. He's shooting 60 percent from the floor, good for fourth in the Big Ten, and is averaging 13 points a game over the last 10 games.

But where has everyone else gone? After a stellar non-conference season, Tracy Abrams' production has fallen off a cliff, and he's just 1-for-21 from 3-point range against Big Ten competition. Jalen Coleman-Lands hasn't been very reliable, averaging almost two points fewer per game and shooting almost five percent lower from 3-point range than he did during his freshman season a year ago. Mike Thorne Jr. was supposed to be the team's starting center, but he's not even averaging 15 minutes a game. Second-year guys like D.J. Williams and Aaron Jordan have barely seen the floor. Michael Finke has had good games and quiet games. This veteran team is more and more reliant on freshmen Te'Jon Lucas and Kipper Nichols for sparks that only rarely come.

The biggest issue has been the defense, with the team allowing opponents to shoot 44.5 percent from the field. That number has been significantly worse in conference play, up to 50.8 percent. Saturday was better, Michigan shooting only 45.1 percent and only 40 percent in the second half, when its lead grew largest. But the Wolverines, also a poor defensive team, clamped down on the Illini, who only shot 45.8 percent and more importantly turned the ball over a whopping 17 times, leading to 22 points for the home team.

With consistently subpar defense and inconsistent offense — a win over the same Michigan team just 10 days earlier saw Illinois drop 85 points on red-hot 64.2-percent shooting; where was that Saturday? — has been a recipe for disaster.

Coming into the conference season, it seemed Illinois was a prime contender for a spot in the Big Dance's field of 68. After all, only one disastrous week prevented the non-conference season from being a success. The Illini scored wins over name-brand opponents North Carolina State, VCU, BYU and Missouri, with that nightmarish week featuring losses to West Virginia and Florida State, the current Nos. 7 and 10 teams in the country.

But despite the high rankings of the Mountaineers and Seminoles, that resume has weakened. North Carolina State is just 2-5 in ACC play, and Missouri has just five wins this season, a nasty record that includes 10 straight losses. BYU and VCU aren't at the top of their respective mid-major conference standings.

That has made Illinois' conference showing all the worse as the tournament hopes flicker. The two wins have come at home against Ohio State and Michigan teams that stumbled out of the gates themselves. The losses, as chronicled above, have been convincing to say the least, and the one that came at the State Farm Center, against Maryland, featured an ugly second-half collapse after Illinois went to the locker room with a lead.

With typical bottom-feeders like Penn State and Nebraska improving their play this season, there aren't many noticeably winnable games remaining on Illinois' schedule, with just the season-finale at Rutgers looking like a surefire win, though the Scarlet Knights are no longer winless in Big Ten play after beating the Huskers on Saturday. What it means is a gauntlet the rest of the way for the Illini. There are plenty of home games, but does the venue matter when the Illini are playing like this and their opponents are of a significantly higher caliber?

Groce's seat is undeniably warm, and the heat could crank up if the campaign progresses as it has played out to this point. Would a fourth straight season without an NCAA tournament invite mean Groce's tenure would be over in Champaign? That's difficult to say, as Groce has secured one of the best recruiting classes in the country for next season. Illinois' best recruiting work in years would be in real danger if he's axed before his Class of 2017 arrives on campus.

But the on-court results are starting to get predictable, and not in the way games were predictable back during Illinois' glory days a decade ago. 

How about this: Last week's 23-point shellacking at Purdue was the 12th loss by 20 or more points of the Groce Era, which is in its fifth season. Bruce Weber, who coached the Illini for nine seasons, had three such losses during the course of his entire tenure. Prior to Weber, it was Bill Self, who had one such loss in his three seasons. Prior to Self, it was Lon Kruger, who had four such losses in his four seasons.

You have to go all the way back to 1980 to find the last time Illinois missed the NCAA tournament in four straight years.

Right now, the future is a mystery. What we do know is that the present is not going well.