Nix sets hot pace for Niles North

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Nix sets hot pace for Niles North

Malachi Nix is 5-foot-6 going on 7 feet tall, at least if you measure leadership and determination and guts by the size of your Michael Jordans. Hey, he remembers when he was 5-foot-3, 125-pound running back on the freshman football team. By those standards, today he looks like Paul Bunyan.

Nix grew up playing baseball and football. He gave up baseball in seventh grade and stopped playing football after his freshman year. While working out with the varsity basketball team, however, he was inspired by coach Glenn Olson, who also was struggling to make a name for himself.

"He is a great motivator," Nix said. "He said to me: 'I know you are undersized but what I look foris how you lead on the basketball court.' That inspired me. It showed he had genuine care for me. I bought into his philosophy. He was all about winning and getting better every day. I wanted to be part of something special."

In their fourth year together, Olson and Nix are on track to accomplish something that the Skokie school has never experienced--qualify for the Sweet Sixteen. Since its first varsity season in 1964-65, Niles North has won only three regional championships and one sectional title. And three of the four were claimed by Olson in the last two years.

"There is no reason why this team can't be the best I have coached," Olson said. "Our slogan is: 'Put we before the me.' We have the ability to play good pressure defense. And we go nine or 10 deep with not much drop-off. We also have some very skilled guards who are good with the ball in their hands. They make you look good as a coach."

Niles North is 13-3 going into Friday night's game against Glenbrook North. The Vikings lost to highly rated Notre Dame by two points in the final of the Wheeling Hardwood Classic, snapping a seven-game winning streak.

In last Friday's 67-55 victory over Deerfield, Nix scored 18 points while B.J. Beckford and J.J. Myles each tallied 14, Lorenzo Dillard 10. The Vikings converted 12 three-point shots along the way.

On Tuesday, in a match-up of conference leaders, Niles North of the Central Suburban North smashed Prospect of the Mid-Suburban East 82-57 as Dillard scored 22 points, Beckford 21 and Billy Voitik 15. The Vikings show 11-of-13, scored 27 points in the first quarter and built a 41-25 halftime lead. Nix left with a knee injury in the first half but is expected to return on Friday night.

"It was a blessing in disguise," said Olson, explaining why and how depth is the strength of his team. "Two of our four returning starters (from a 21-9 sectional finalist) missed the first seven games and another missed the first four games for disciplinary reasons. The other guys got opportunities to step up and get more experience.

"It gave us some depth and an ability to play good pressure defense. Lack of size is a problem so we must rely on pressure defense and speed and quickness and play with pace. We force 20 turnovers a game. We get into trouble when we allow teams to run their offense and dictate pace. The key to success is to maintain tempo and keep opponents off the boards."

The lineup features Nix (19 ppg, 4.5 assists), a four-year starter; Dillard (12 ppg, 5.5 assists), a 6-foot-1 senior who missed the first 22 games last season because he was academically ineligible; Myles (5 ppg), a 5-foot-8 junior; Beckford (13 ppg), a 6-foot-3 senior; and 6-foot-4 senior Billy Voitik (8 ppg, 7 rpg). The team's tallest player, 6-foot-5 sophomore Danilo Ranger, comes off the bench.

Each player has a role. Nix defends the opponent's best scoring guard. Dillard, a pure passer and outstanding defender, shares the point guard duties with Nix. Olson said Myles is the best on-ball defender he has coached. "He sets the tone for what we do defensively," Olson said.

Olson has made great strides in a short time. A Rolling Meadows graduate of 1994, he studied at Western Illinois and Northeastern Illinois, then coached at Maine East before being hired at Niles North.

"I loved Maine East," he said. "But it was time for a change, another challenge. It was the right time to make a move. It was a huge push athletically."

His first team was 12-15 but progress was swift and rewarding. His second team was 24-7 and lost to Warren in the supersectional. Last year's 21-9 squad lost to Evanston in the sectional final.

"I felt we advanced farther than we should have last year," Olson said. "The good news is we have winning expectations now."

Beating Notre Dame would have been a signature victory. Nix and his teammates will remember that disappointing experience as they brace for the remainder of the season, as they seek to make history.

"We were really stoked to play Notre Dame but we came up short," Nix said. "We didn't rebound well enough. They got too many offensive rebounds. I fumbled the ball with four seconds left when I tried to call a timeout. I don't know if the referee saw me. Dillard had to take a half-court shot at the buzzer but it hit the rim and bounced off.

"What did it show us? We have to be a better rebounding team. We can't take any plays off or take anything for granted. We could have won if we executed throughout the game. But we made too many mental mistakes. It showed we can be a really good team.

"Notre Dame is a top 10 team and we didn't play our best basketball but we still were there with them. We have a lot of potential and we can go pretty far this year. This team is really talented. I look at it as this is my last year. It is time to do it, time to make history."

Nix describes last year's sectional loss to Evanston as "our worst night of the year...attitude, shooting, defense, every aspect of the game. The seniors have to lead, starting with me. We've all been there. The juniors and sophomores have to buy into it and be ready to play every night. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody has the same goal, the same dream. We want to be the first team in school history to get to the state finals," he said.

Meanwhile, Nix has a personal goal. He wants to play in Division I. He has no scholarship offers. But he has attracted interest from Northern Illinois, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Chicago State from Division I, Wayne State from Division II and Augustana and North Central from Division III.

Recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye describe Nix as "one of the ore unheralded guards in the class of 2013."

"Above everything else, we label him as a scoring point guard. He has strong leadership qualities, plays hard and can be a possible low Division I prospect. It is important for him to find the right fit. A lot of people overlook him because of his size and because he doesn't play at a high profile basketball school," the Schmidt brothers said.

"Every night, I feel I have to prove something to some people. Some don't think I can play at the Division I level," Nix said. "I want them to know I can play with Division I players. I want to play in Division I. But I will play at the best situation I can.

"I want to show college coaches that I can lead a team, play defense, shoot well and pass, that I'm a good playmaker. I am a point guard. I know coaches are asking: 'Can a 5-foot-6 kid play at our level?' So I play with a chip on my shoulder. People don't think I can play so I have to show them.

"I wanted to be part of something special. We talk about it every day in practice. Not many kids are winning like we are now."

CSN Preps Power Rankings: No. 2 Glenbard West

CSN Preps Power Rankings: No. 2 Glenbard West

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 1, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 26. View Edgy Tim's other football previews here.

School: Glenbard West

Head coach: Chad Hetlet

How they fared in 2015: 14-0 (6-0) West Suburban Silver Conference. Glenbard West made the Class 7A state playoff field. The Hilltoppers defeated Moline, Mount Carmel, Auburn, Cary-Grove and Libertyville to capture the title. 

Biggest storyline in 2016: Can the Hilltoppers repeat?

Names to watch this season: FB/DE Dionte Moorehead, LB Jackson Goleash​

​​​​​[PREPS: Edgy Tim's Countdown to Kickoff series]

Biggest holes to fill: Who picks up the offensive slack with the graduation of running back Sam Brodner (Wisconsin)?

EDGY's early take: Glenbard West returns 12 starters (five offense, seven defense) from its undefeated state title team last season, and whenever Hetlet has experience back on defense you can expect a strong year from Glenbard West.

Hilltoppers schedule:

Aug. 26 at Bolingbrook (7 p.m.)

Sept. 2 at Hinsdale South (7:30 p.m.)

Sept. 9 at York (7:30 p.m.)

Sept. 17 vs. Downers Grove North (1:30 p.m.)

Sept. 24 vs. Lyons Township (1:30 p.m.)

Oct. 1 at Hinsdale Central (12 p.m.)

Oct. 8 vs. Oak Park-River Forest (1:30 p.m.)

Oct. 14 at Proviso West (7:30 p.m.)

Oct. 22 vs. Addison Trail (1:30 p.m.)

Five IHSA football programs on the rise in 2016

Five IHSA football programs on the rise in 2016

It seems like every season we see (at least) a handful of teams who seem to come out of nowhere to become playoff-worthy teams. Here are five teams who could become Cinderella stories for the 2016 IHSA football season, which kicks off this Friday.

Naperville North (2-7 in 2015): The Huskies and head coach Sean Drendel have been stuck in second gear the past two seasons, posting two straight 2-7 records after a 5-5 state playoff appearance in 2013. North returns 17 starters (seven offense, 10 defense) this season. They have talent and a new offensive system led by former St. Francis head coach Mike Fitzgerald, who is now the Huskies offensive coordinator. It's never easy winning in the DuPage Valley; however, the Huskies look to be in position for a breakout season.

Bremen (1-8 in 2015): The Braves have had down years the past two seasons (2-7 in 2014 and 1-8 in 2015). That said, head coach Dan Stell and company could be on the verge of a breakout this fall. 18 starters will be back on the field in Midlothian. And there is some real talent in place, with junior OL/DL Chris Clark and a ton of experienced offensive skills players to boot.

[MORE: Edgy Tim has football previews for 100 area schools]

Fenwick (3-6 in 2015): Head coach Gene Nudo decided to go young in 2015. Will that experience pay off this season? The Friars bring back 19 returning starters, which includes the entire starting offense from 2015. Keep an eye on senior quarterback (and basketball standout) Jacob Keller along with junior WR Mike O'Laughlin. The 2016 schedule for Fenwick is -once again- brutally tough, yet this team is much better prepared for a rough ride.

Wheeling (4-5 in 2015): The Wildcats dropped their first five games in 2015. But the strong finish -wins in their last four games- has turned a few heads.. The Wildcats, with veteran Hall of Fame head coach Brent Pearlman at the helm, will look to get back to the state playoffs this season behind 16 returning starters (seven offense, nine defense) including senior QB Jalen Dennis and senior RB Jason Shannon. Getting off to a good start in non-conference play again is vital for Wheeling.

Zion-Benton (3-6 in 2015): The Zee-Bees always had trouble getting wins in the then-North Suburban Lake (now realigned as the North Suburban 8) but the 2016 Z-B squad could surprise. Head coach Bob Moynahan brings back 13 starters (eight offense, five defense) including four starting offensive linemen and a ton of speed and skills on both sides of the football. Again, the schedule is brutal (Stevenson/Lake Zurich/Libertyville/Warren Township/Lake Forest), but I see this team having the potential to challenge for that fifth magical win this season.

CSN Preps Power Rankings: No. 3 Homewood-Flossmoor

CSN Preps Power Rankings: No. 3 Homewood-Flossmoor

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 1, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 26. View Edgy Tim's other football previews here.

School: Homewood-Flossmoor

Head coach: Craig Buzea

How they fared in 2015: 10-2 (6-1) Southwest Suburban Blue Conference. Homewood-Flossmoor made the Class 8A state playoff field. The Vikings defeated O'Fallon and New Trier, then lost to eventual champion Loyola Academy in the quarterfinals.

Biggest storyline in 2016: Can the Vikings reload at a few key spots this fall?

Names to watch this season: RB/DB Justin Hall, OL John Michael Schmitz, WR Tyrice Richie

​​​​​[PREPS: Edgy Tim's Countdown to Kickoff series]

Biggest holes to fill: Who plays quarterback for the Vikings?

EDGY's early take: Despite needing to reload in a few key spots, Homewood-Flossmoor still has a tremendous talent base. Look for the Vikings to rely early on its running game, led by three returning starters on the offensive line and an extremely fast and physical defense. 

Vikings schedule:

Aug. 26 vs. Downers Grove South (7:30 p.m.)

Sept. 2 vs. Hammond, IN (8 p.m.)

Sept. 9 at Lincoln-Way East (7:30 p.m.)

Sept. 16 at Lockport (7:30 p.m.)

Sept. 23 vs. Lincoln-Way West (7:30 p.m.)

Sept. 30 vs. Sandburg (7:30 p.m.)

Oct. 7 vs. Thornridge (7:30 p.m.)

Oct. 14 at Thornton Township (7:30 p.m.)

Oct. 21 vs. Bolingbrook (7:30 p.m.)