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.

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."

Could the Bulls go after Chris Bosh for next season?

Could the Bulls go after Chris Bosh for next season?

The basketball world woke up Friday morning to a report from ESPN senior writer Marc Stein saying the Bulls may go after Chris Bosh for the 2017-18 NBA season.

It's surprising and intriguing for multiple reasons: 

1) Bosh was believed to have played his last days in the NBA due to blod clot issues.

2) The Bulls are at something of a franchise crossroads, sitting as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference following Thursday's games and still determining what the right step is for the near future and the long term. 

3) Bosh will be 33 in March and hasn't played in an NBA game in nearly a year (last appeared with the Heat Feb. 9, 2016).

But Stein said the Heat are not planning on waiving Bosh before March 1, so he wouldn't be eligible to join the roster of a playoff contender.

Stein then says: If Bosh does return to the hardwood, "word is that the Chicago Bulls are already plotting a run and will be at the front of the line to try to sign him."

Bosh is an 11-time All-Star who has averaged 19.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game throughout his career. He helped the Heat win several titles as part of the Big Three with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

Bosh was also just in Chicago visiting Wade earlier this month:

Could he form another Big Three with Wade and Jimmy Butler, this time in Chicago?

It's worth noting Wade just turned 35 earlier this week and will be in his 14th NBA season next year.