Sunday, September 11, 2011

Column from 9/11/01

When the usual calls can't be made
Author(s):    Joe Bush
Date: September 14, 2001
Page: 1
Section: Sports Extra
As fate would have it, this column was going to be about the place of sports - high school sports, in particular - in relation to the ebb and flow of life.

The idea was sparked by Batavia varsity football coach Mike Gaspari and his immediate reaction to a dropped touchdown pass in a tight game against a conference rival last Friday night. Just typing this seems silly; I'm watching people hanging out of World Trade Center windows, caught between a choice of horrible deaths.

Gaspari hugged the teenager, even complimented him on everything up to the attempted catch. The message was clear and absolutely appropriate, that the kid is worth more than points, and the fact that it is being written about is a shame. It is being written about because it is unusual. In a decade of sports coverage, I have seen one moment of such humanity for every five moments of ugly berating.

Life does not spare athletes and coaches, and I was going to relate the proof I had met and written about since 1991 - a wrestling coach whose wife delivered stillborn twins, kids who played on despite the recent deaths of family members, a football coach whose wife battled and succumbed to cancer. Yes, sports had been a way for all of them to cope, because familiarity is comfort and exercise is release.

I'm typing this mid-day Tuesday, from a hotel room in South Bend, Ind., where the Kane County Cougars opened the Midwest League Championship Series on Monday night. My high school duties must be done as well, and the plan was to type this and to call area football coaches to preview five of this weekend's games.

I delayed doing both because I watched news coverage of the chaos in New York City and Washington, D.C. Not watched, absorbed.

Shall I call football coaches now, ask them to recap last week's successes and failures, to detail how they will attack this week's foes? How important will it be to win? Anyone injured? Who will replace them?

No. Maybe Wednesday. Maybe I'll give it a rest until next week. They may want to talk about these things, but I don't feel like asking the questions.

New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani just said that he never thought he'd live to see what he saw Tuesday, and tears filled my eyes when I watched a woman break down saying that when she looked where the WTC Towers used to be, she saw lives.

If we remove the human instincts to sympathize and be horrified, we can say that we in the Chicago suburbs who did not have friends and/or relatives in New York or Washington or on one of the destroyed planes were affected only in the sense that tall buildings and federal buildings downtown were evacuated and perhaps some of us worked there, or that our flights were canceled.

So, most of the daily routine conceivably should continue, including coaches planning for football games and reporters inquiring about that planning. The news media is one of the industries, like the emergency infrastructure, that raises its intensity during catastrophes.

We can't remove those instincts. I cover games. My intensity is not necessary. I won't be calling coaches today.

- Joe Bush can be reached by telephone at (630) 587-8741 or by e-mail at
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Minor-league pitcher a great bowler

Cougars' Moore splits his interests.(Sports)

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
April 15, 2000 | Bush, Joe
Born to throw a splitter, and two very different kinds of strikes.
Kane County closer Bryan Moore has two passions, and since he's 6-foot-8, you may be surprised to learn basketball is not one of them.
The 23-year-old Westminster, Calif., native loves to pitch and he loves to bowl. His game is most similar to that of 6-10 left- handed Seattle prospect Ryan Anderson, the one nicknamed "The Little Unit."
That's his bowling-alley game, by the way. Anderson used to have pro potential on the lanes, and Moore is a great pin-killer as well, with a high game of 278.
He'd love to hit the PBA Tour someday, especially with its new high-tech ownership, but not just yet.
"That's for the back-burner," he says.
These days Moore is reveling in his mastery of a much-smaller ball with no holes.
His save in Thursday's 4-3 win over Wisconsin was his second in as many appearances, another result of his ability to fool batters with a split-finger fastball, or splitter.
The ball appears to be a fastball, but drops suddenly as it gets to the plate. It's similar to a sinker, but it's not thrown as hard.
"I've never seen anybody throw a better splitter than him," Cougars catcher Matt Frick said before the season began.
It's the pitch which ex-Cub and ex-Cardinal Bruce Sutter rode to fame, and which is not seen very often in younger players' arsenals.
Moore's different than most younger players. He's got just about every physical quality needed to throw a splitter.
"You just look at the size of his fingers, and he's a natural," Cougars pitching coach Jeff Andrews says. "He's got very, very large hands and very long fingers. If he didn't (throw it), he would be encouraged pretty soon to throw it.
"It's a nice pitch for him because his arm angle works works for it, he already has the leverage because of his height, as far as the ball going down out of his hands. Now he just has to catch the right release point."
Moore is in his glory in pro ball. His University of Houston coaches discouraged the splitter; they didn't want the middle reliever experimenting with a pitch with games on the line.
Once Florida nabbed Moore in the 13th round of last year's draft, his splitter personality was set free.
"(Marlins coaches) saw it right when I went to mini-camp and they were like 'Wow, you need to throw that more,' " he says. " 'If you've got that, throw it, now.' It's gotten to the point where it's one of my key pitches I go to."
Moore was 2-1 with 9 saves and a 1.54 ERA in 35 innings last year at short-season Class A Utica. He fanned 36 and walked five.
Moore's fastball goes about 88 mph, while his splitter travels to the plate at around 81 mph. He's developed the pitch to the point that it's no longer situational, but it wouldn't work unless his other pitches did as well.
"I've started to use it more and more regularly this year," Moore says. "In the past it was something that I only used maybe like 0-2, 1-2, a kill-pitch kind of thing.
"Now I can control it a lot better. It's like 'Let's throw it 0- 1, 1-1,' a lot of situations where I want a ground ball. It used to just be like a strikeout pitch, like a trick pitch."
Andrews says Moore can only screw up by not throwing it enough.
"It's a pitch that he has to throw," Andrews says. "To me that's his biggest upside pitch, and that's the one that's going to separate him from other pitchers.
"Hopefully what you have is something that a closer does exceedingly well, either have a pitch that's an out pitch or he has really good location, or a combination of both.
"That's kind of where (Moore) is. This year is an important year and a good year for him."

Wrestler battles through multiple shoulder separations

Leading the area in dealing with pain
Author(s):    Joe Bush
Date: March 2, 2001
Page: 1
Section: SportsXtra
Fate is still trying to connect with a knockout blow on Mike Mercadante. It ruined one of his shoulders, thus snatching from him the sport he loved, wrestling. It first dislocated during an intramural football game two autumns ago.

"I didn't want to play real football because I didn't want to be injured," the St. Charles East senior says.

Mercadante made the varsity wrestling squad as a freshman and had a promising sophomore season. He had wrestled longer than any of his classmates.

The shoulder continued to pop out, and it did so in a dual against Glenbard North. It was his first match of the season, and his last.

A shoulder dislocation is a cruel injury. Not only does it hurt like heck - sometimes so much Mercadante says he can't speak coherently - the more it comes out, the more likely it will recur.

"It comes out in my sleep," he says.

The pain is physical, but the wound is mental. Imagine having what seems to be a dead limb.

"It feels like you have no control of it," Mercadante says. "It's a very scary feeling. You panic."

Mercadante says the shoulder disconnected about 15 times before he underwent surgery. There were torn ligaments, and the process was to have tied them up and given the shoulder mobility.

"Ninety-six percent of (the surgeries) are successful," he says.

Guess which percentile Mercadante is in? He estimates the shoulder has slipped out or been yanked out 25 times this season.

The last of his 25 bouts this season was in last Saturday's Class AA quarterfinal in Rock Island. Mercadante hadn't wrestled much since Jan. 27 at the Upstate Eight Conference meet.

Why? Well, it wasn't because of his shoulder. He suffered a concussion.

"It's been a ridiculous two years," he says.

He recovered in time to compete at the Sycamore regional the next week, and out came the shoulder in the second period of his first match. He couldn't continue.

He wasn't going out like that. If that was the case, he would have quit after getting pinned in a dual against DeKalb in early January.

It was a dual the Saints lost by 2 points, a loss for which Mercadante blames himself.

"I love the sport so much," he says. "I promised myself I wouldn't stop until the pain would override the desire. I tried to stay true to that."

The injury forced Mercadante to change his style to protect the shoulder. When he wore a skintight brace, it not only rendered the arm nearly useless, it restricted his breathing.

Still, he practiced in it between the regional and the Rockford East team sectional. He wasn't needed in both sectional duals, which the Saints won to get to the Elite Eight.

That was a goal of the seniors, a tight group led in part by Mercadante. You've heard of leading by example? Mercadante's your man.

His teammates saw not only his persistence at competing despite his injury, they watched as he encouraged and taught and scouted opponents for them.

"He'd have the main report on every next guy," senior Matt Kinney says.

So Mercadante knew well what he was getting into by pushing for one more match: Providence junior Don Reynolds, whom Mercadante could have scouted as Reynolds destroyed the 140-pound competition at the Class AA finals in Champaign.

No different than any other wrestler who faces an elite foe in the dual-team tournament, Mercadante knew his final match would be for the team.

"My job was to keep it as close as possible," he says.

He did that, losing by major decision to Reynolds, who saw the brace and showed no mercy.

"He was getting (the shoulder) cranked on pretty good," Saints coach Steve Smerz says. "He was fighting through some pain."

Not nearly enough to overcome the desire.

Mercadante is an accomplished maker of ceramics - bowls, cups, whatever can be thrown on a wheel and baked in a kiln - and will study art education at North Central College.

He'd still like to be an accomplished wrestler, and he is nearly sure that he will have another surgery so he can wrestle for the Cardinals. He wants to be a wrestling coach.

"That kid must love wrestling," Kinney says. "None of us love it as much as him."
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.


Wrestling coach and wife lose twins

A moment in their memory
After painful losses, Waubonsie Valley's Rossiano gains new
Author(s):    Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: February 24, 1995
Page: 1
Section: Sports Extra (High School)
Have you hugged your kids today? Did you thank your mom or wife for the dinner she cooked, then reheated when you got home late? Do you still hold a grudge for something your brother did two months ago?

Hold them, thank her, forgive him. Now.

That is Tom Rossiano's first message. The Waubonsie Valley wrestling coach just wants everyone to have the chance at resolution he and his wife Kim had.

Normally, you don't know when you or your closest and dearest will die, but the Rossianos knew.

So last Oct. 19, after Kim delivered two tiny identical twin boys, she and Tom cradled them. One nurse took the boys' pictures, another placed their footprints on paper. Kim and Tom cradled them.

"We held them and kissed them goodbye," Rossiano says. ''We had both babies baptized, then we buried them."

* * *

Rossiano has a few more messages, actually. Before Oct. 19, he may have kept all but the competitive ones to himself.

"I'm a different person," he says.

Now, after the inner turmoil and then the peace of imminent fatherhood; after seeing twin boys on the ultrasound; after watching Kim read to them; after one of the tubes that linked Kim's life with the boys malfunctioned in the fifth month, resulting in the death of one, then the other; after watching Kim deliver their first children, Rossiano needs you to know:

Don't take life for granted. Follow every precaution during pregnancy. If you're in the same terrible situation, spend time with the babies before burying them. Don't carry around regret.

"Treat people, especially people that you love, the way they deserve to be treated, because you never know when you're gonna go," Rossiano says. "Keep things in perspective, and be thankful for what you've got. If you've got two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, you have so much more than a lot of other people.

"Even with this loss, we still have things to be thankful for."

They have each other. They have their families. They have their therapeutic everyday routines. They have the courage to try again.

There was nothing the Rossianos could have or should have done differently during the pregnancy. The complications which took the lives of Joseph Anthony Rossiano and Vincent Francis Rossiano in no way endanger further pregnancies.

Of course, that is no consolation to the Rossianos.

Tom and Kim learned most well-wishers mentally separate pre-natal and post-natal infant death. But what is the difference between death and death? The Rossianos saw the boys' hearts beat on the ultrasound. Kim read to them.

"People don't know how to act," Rossiano says. "You almost have to coach them, tell them what you need. The most common response is, 'That's OK, you can have other babies.' We didn't want other babies. Those were the ones we wanted."

* * *

Tom and Kim met at a party in the south Chicago suburbs about 13 years ago. He got her phone number, then didn't call for three years.

They met again at a restaurant and he wanted to know if he could call her. He still had her number, and this time he used it.

"I knew right away I was gonna marry her," Rossiano says. "I just knew."

They dated for three years, were engaged for three and will be married for seven years in July. But when Kim announced she was pregnant, Tom was anything but elated. Both their families and their friends wanted them to have children, but Kim and Tom weren't planning for them.

"For the first month I was like in denial," Rossiano says. "I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a father."

One day he broke down and confessed his fears to Kim, and all the doubts passed just like that.

"I had a new reason for being," Rossiano says. "That just becomes a reason you want to live. It made everything other than them seem unimportant."

Things changed. Rossiano, never one to give mortality much thought, was now afraid to change lanes on the tollway. He had a new reason for being.

The news of twins added to the couple's anticipation.

"That really got me excited," Rossiano says. "It was a special gift from God."

The wrestling season was fast approaching as well, but in the fall, Tom spent as much time with Kim as possible.

There was no warning in the days before Oct. 19. That morning Kim went to her doctor for a checkup, while Tom took one of his science classes to the school's planetarium. When a fellow teacher came to him with a message she had called, it was much earlier than the time they had agreed upon if everything went well.

The water bag had broken and the boys' chances of recovery were about two percent. When Tom arrived at the hospital, crying hysterically, the ultrasound couldn't find a heartbeat. It was around 10 a.m. After labor was induced, Kim delivered Joseph Anthony at 3:05 p.m., his brother at 5:40 p.m.

They weighed less than a pound apiece, and had perfectly formed fingers and toes.

"They were just two beautiful baby boys that never had a chance," Rossiano says. ''Even though Joseph Anthony was dead, (the delivery) was like the most remarkable thing I ever saw.

''When he was handed to me, I prayed to God 'Let my baby breathe and let my baby cry,' to take me and I would have had a full life. I know my wife felt the same way. I would've been happy to go at that point. Some people may think that sounds strange, but I think that any parent in the world would understand that."

In a deserted classroom, Rossiano apologizes again for the tears.

"Sometimes I can get through the story and not even cry," he says. "Sometimes I can't get the words out."

* * *

There was a little of both when the coach told the state's best public high school wrestling team for the last two seasons that he and Kim had lost the twins.

"Pretty much he gave us like an inspirational speech," says Warriors senior Ruben Saldana, who won the 152-pound state title last weekend. "'This is what happened, but I'm still going, you can make a positive out of a negative. I'm gonna be hurting and stuff, and I might not be here sometimes and you guys are gonna know why, because I'm gonna have to be with my wife.' He told us straight out. He's a good man like that. I respect him."

Oct. 19 was a Wednesday, and Rossiano was back to school the following Monday. He woke up in the 4:30 a.m. darkness for the rush-hour drive from the city, worried about Kim's first day alone and moved like ''a zombie."

At the end of the day, he got in his car and headed back to the city, for the first time alone with his thoughts.

"I have a long drive home," Rossiano says. ''I would cry all the way home."

Then he and Kim went to bed early. That began the numbing weekday schedule.

"We'd cry ourselves to sleep, and then in the morning do it again," Rossiano says.

They went to group therapy, and fed off the support of their family and friends. Fred Johnson, who preceded Rossiano as Warriors coach, wrote Rossiano a letter. Johnson and his wife had gone through the same thing in her pregnancy's eighth month. Johnson offered any kind of help.

The closest comparison either Tom or Kim could make to the tragedy was the passing of grandparents or, for Tom, the near-death of former Warrior Jim LeDuc, last year's 160-pound state champion who almost died from inexplicable complications with a routine knee surgery during his sophomore year. But those comparisons paled.

"It's the hardest thing I've ever been through in my life," Rossiano says.

The start of wrestling practice was a relief. Rossiano considered taking the year off, but didn't because this year's senior class is the first he's coached all four years.

"I wanted to finish up with those guys," he says.

Rossiano got back perhaps more than he gave. The four padded walls of wrestling practice are pain-proof. Saldana says the team never considered tiptoeing around its coach.

"When you're in the wrestling room, you don't think about that, you just go out and do what you gotta do," Saldana says. "That's the great thing about the wrestling room. I know when he was in there he didn't think about his kids. When I'm in there, all your problems just go away."

"It was the best therapy in the world for me," Rossiano says. "When I'm wrestling somebody and they're trying to rip my head off and I'm trying to beat them, you kinda block out everything else. It allowed me to give more of myself to Kim."

A flight attendant, Kim returned to work in mid-December, about the same time Tom started getting back his sense of humor and his passion for his job.

"It takes a long time to function normally," he says, and of course it will take Kim longer.

* * *

Rossiano says he made a deal with God while LeDuc lay in the hospital walking the fine line between life and death. Rossiano promised God if LeDuc recovered, he would go to church every Sunday. Through it all, he has kept that promise.

"It tests your faith and what you believe in," he says of this past four months. "It made my faith stronger because I like to think I have two angels up in heaven and I'll see them again someday."

Does it need to be written that until that day, Rossiano and his wife and their family have new priorities? A year ago this weekend, the Warriors finished second to Mt. Carmel for the second straight season. Whether or not the Warriors get another crack at the three-time defending state champion seems silly now. Ironically, Rossiano says he may have coached better than ever this season.

"If we never win another wrestling meet while I'm coaching here it doesn't make a difference to me," Rossiano says. "It'll never be a life-and-death situation for me like it might have been before. Now I've experienced the life-and-death part of it."

* * *

Things remembered:

There's a box opened often at the Rossianos containing the baby pictures and the footprints and the hospital bracelets.

Rossiano is an accomplished musician, specializing in guitar. He used to play in a band. ''I express myself musically better than I do verbally," he says.

Tom wrote a holiday song for his sons. It's called "Is There Christmas Up In Heaven?", and listening to it sometimes helps.

There are two tombstones in a cemetery in Calumet City.

"It's something I never want to forget," Rossiano says. "I never want to forget my boys."

Have you hugged your kids today?
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.


Ditka grouses about Saints in his first year in New Orleans

HighBeam Research

Title: Ditka tries to light fire under team.(Sports)

Date: September 30, 1997 Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) Author: Bush, Joe
Byline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS - You say Mike Ditka looks the same, sounds the same and spits the same?
You're right. Same old (three weeks from his 58th birthday) squinty Iron Mike. Except there seems to be a little rust on one of his legendary talents: motivation.
When asked for the main difference between Ditka and Bears coach Dave Wannstedt, Saints center Jerry Fontenot, who played under both regimes in Chicago, said:
"I'd have to say Mike's ability to motivate. He's a good speaker. He can really drive a point home. It's not like Dave's not a good speaker, but Mike just has a special gift and he's able to use it."
Much was made of Ditka's long-awaited tirade at halftime of the Saints' 33-7 loss to San Francisco in Week 3, but the fact is the Saints still lost the second half, 10-7.
The next week Ditka hired a stress therapist to counsel the team on the eve of the game with Detroit. The Saints won 35-17.
Sunday, New Orleans created more anxiety with a 14-9 loss to the 1-3 Giants. After the Saints' first three possessions produced 17 yards, 0 first downs and an interception, Ditka lit into the offensive line.
The offense came up with 130 yards and 2 field goals on its next three possessions.
Ditka was amazed by his team's lack of energy at Giants Stadium, and Monday, he openly questioned his role in that blackout.
"We had no emotion going into that game," Ditka said. "We could have been going down Fifth Avenue on a shopping spree as well as playing the Giants. I'm serious.
"You cannot win without emotion. You cannot win without enthusiasm, without excitement, without getting crazy, without getting pumped up, without believing, without screaming and hollering, without believing in your teammates and encouragement.
"You can't win without that. If we think we're going to roll up a win with three-button suits on and a Wall Street Journal under our arms, we're crazy. We can't do that, we're not good enough to do that."
"It really is frustrating. I know I'm a dumb-(butt) if I can't impart that to them. I guess I've failed in that area. But I'm not going to quit trying."
Ditka almost got misty while talking about his mid-to-late 1980s Bears squads. They didn't need many pep talks.
"We had a lot of leaders," Ditka said. "I could go right down the list on offense and defense. Whether it'd be Payton or McMahon or Singletary or Fencik or Suhey. They all led in their own ways. Our linemen, they didn't talk that much. Covert was a great leader by example.
"We have a lot of good guys here that are winning their battles, too, we just don't have enough of them."
He was spoiled with the last of a bygone breed of player, and he wonders if part of his present problem is present attitudes.
Motivation takes two, and as he looked around the Saints' pregame locker room Sunday he said to himself, "Wow, maybe this is the new football. I don't know."
In other words, Ditka says, if you can't get fired up just by having an NFL job, something's wrong.
"If you give a guy an opportunity to start in this league, you hope he would understand what magnitude that is and what it would mean to them and their career," he said. "I don't understand it. This is the greatest game in the world.
"To have an opportunity to play it and not to grasp everything you do with all your energies and every bit of your might and have fun doing it and lay it all on the line every week, you've got to be crazy."

COPYRIGHT 2009 Paddock Publications
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.  All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

This document provided by HighBeam Research at

Boise State's Ian Johnson after magical sophomore year

Michigan's Mike Hart heads into senior year

Former Ditka-era Bears assistant coach leads juco team

HighBeam Research

Title: Bringing back big-name football Kazor trying to make COD a force again.(Sports)

Date: 9/11/2005; Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL); Author: Bush, Joe
Byline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Correspondent
It was just a year ago that Steve Kazor was in desperate search of names. Now he's dropping them in bunches.
Barry Alvarez. Dick Vermeil. Mike and Bob Stoops. Charlie Weis. Bill Callahan. Chuck Long. Tom Landry. Mike Ditka.
In a span of a half hour last week, Kazor, the football coach at College of DuPage, mentions each, not because he idolizes them - he does - but because he knows or knew them. Personally.
You may recognize Kazor's name; he was a special teams/tight ends/assistant offensive line coach for Ditka's Chicago Bears teams. He's been from one end of the country and football world to the other as a player and coach, picking up rings for an NCAA title (Texas, 1978) and Super Bowl championship (Bears, 1985) along the way.
He left the NFL in 1996, and from 1998 to 2004 he guided the programs at MacPherson College in Kansas and Wayne State University in Michigan. When he arrived at COD in July 2004, the team consisted of 25 players and no paid assistants. The once-powerful program had dropped football from 1996 to 1999, and the Chaps had not won since 2002.
"We were actually an APB football team," Kazor says, referring to the law-enforcement term "all-points bulletin." "We actually put up signs around the school, signs downtown."
Within three weeks Kazor had increased his roster to 60. The team was winless, but this year the roster is well over 100. The 55-year-old says he has taken four days off. Last week the Chaps won a game, 17-14, over Ellsworth College.
That progress is a result of one of Kazor's strengths: recruiting. He's done it on Broadway - Colorado State, Texas and UTEP - and in the back alleys: College of Emporia, Southern Utah, Iowa Wesleyan.
"I love recruiting," he says. "We have so much to sell."
COD's athletic facilities and academic programs are top-notch, as are Kazor's background and contacts. The above list is only the most-recognizable men he's coached or coached with, and his Rolodex has already done wonders. Not only did he get practice time this week at Iowa State - "I know most of the Big Ten head coaches, most of the Big 12 coaches," he says - and later at Northern Iowa's UNI Dome, he helped secure full-ride scholarships (Oregon State, Delaware State) for two of his 2004 skeleton crew. He says that every one of his second-year players who wanted to play beyond COD got an opportunity.
Those latter two facts may be Kazor's shiniest sales pitches. In the world of junior-college athletics, especially in football, two- year schools are open-call auditions for the big time.
"Anytime you're here, you're looking to move on," says one of COD's best, 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end Josh Hise.
Kazor doesn't hide his ability to showcase and deliver talent - "getting 'em in and getting 'em out," he calls it - behind talk of a return to glory at COD. If he has enough standouts for scholarship programs, his teams will probably do well.
"We tell 'em we expect a team concept here, but we certainly encourage individualistic ideas and goals because you're only gonna be here for two years," Kazor says. "We want you to move on to the best place you can go."
There are just 22 second-year players on the 131-man roster, and there are mid-majors sniffing around a few of them. Besides Hise (Gordon Tech), center Nick Slobidsky (Waubonsie Valley), and defensive backs Steve Kartheiser (Glenbard East) and Max Frempong (Romeoville) are attracting Division I attention.
"We're almost like an NFL situation," Kazor says of his recruiting task. "We're trying to get free agents for one or two years."
Except in the NFL players don't sit because they didn't make grades. That happened to Kazor's top two quarterbacks, dropping the job in the lap of 6-foot-5 freshman De Marien Hampton (Julian). Hampton led an option attack in high school, and Kazor's teams throw, throw and then throw. Nevertheless, Kazor says, "He's gonna be a great one."
Kazor has a bit of a feel for greatness. As an administrative assistant to Dallas Cowboys president Gil Brandt and Landry from 1980 to 1982, he got to know Ditka, a Cowboys assistant coach. That's three Hall of Famers. When Ditka got the coaching job with the Bears, he took Kazor along for a 10-year joy ride.
"(Ditka) gave me the ultimate opportunity, the chance to be an NFL coach," Kazor says. "That was something that I'll always treasure. I learned a lot of things as far as motivation. He was fun with the players, but very, very structured most of the time. Everybody knew where they stood with him. I think I'm the same way. I get a little excited, probably like he does. We both learned some things from Tom Landry."
Kazor says his other main influence is Tom Moore, the Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator. He worked with Moore in his three-year stint with Detroit (1994-96), where he held the same positions as he did with the Bears. Kazor says you may be able to detect some Colts in his offense.
"I probably learned more offensive football from him than anybody, collectively, in my entire life," Kazor says.
Kazor is passing along his knowledge to volunteer assistants Bob O'Connor, Ted Brom, James Kevil, Rich Petroski, Derrel Sanders, Eric Wates, Kevin Worthy and Greg Williams. Worthy, a defensive coach with experience at McHenry High School and North Central College, applied for work at Northwestern before meeting Kazor at a coaches' clinic. He's now an offensive line coach soaking up Moore's offensive ideas through Kazor.
"The whole offensive line play, the checks, the ways you attack certain things, whew, is all new, so it's refreshing," Worthy says. "There's another one of the coaches on the staff, we're kind of coming from similar backgrounds, and we couldn't be more excited."
COPYRIGHT 2005 Paddock Publications
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.  All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

This document provided by HighBeam Research at

Nomad HS linebacker has SEC roots

Letts' latest move truly was his best
Author(s):    Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: September 29, 1995
Page: 1
Section: Sports Extra (High School)
Preston Letts spent the first 12 years of his life moving from state to state, from one sport to another; that's why his weekly autumn hunting trips from one sideline to another seem so effortless. Though the Hinsdale Central senior inside linebacker says his roots in the football-loony Southeast aren't very meaningful, the connection can't be overlooked. There has to be some gridiron karma, some sense of 100-yard destiny when you consider:

His father John is a Tennessee grad, his mother Jan an alumnus of Auburn, so it's a wonder they were married at all. Preston was born in Atlanta, then lived in North Carolina, returned to Georgia, then moved to Louisiana for five years and finally, Illinois in 1991. Most of his relatives live in Atlanta, and that's the city he calls home.

His brother Hunter is a sophomore at Auburn, and Preston is convinced Hunter stayed after his freshman year because of the football hoopla.

"That's all he talks about," Letts says.

Preston has scheduled an official visit to Vanderbilt, a Southeast Conference school in Nashville, Tenn. His lucky charm is a Tennessee shirt he wears under his pads.

He washes it after a loss, and lets it grow after a win. It's been moist since Sept. 15, when the Red Devils beat Oak Park 41-13. They won their second straight last Friday.

"It's been washed three times this year," Letts says. "It's hanging in my locker right now. It's pretty crusty."

Still, Preston speaks without a hint of an accent, and was held back from football by a father who is not the stereotypical Southern good 'ol boy, booster-club yee-haw. On the contrary, John didn't want Preston burned out on the sport which wasn't his favorite, but is now.

As a youth, Letts was a good enough basketball player to play on a sixth-grade team as a fourth-grader. Not until seventh grade did John allow Preston to try out for football; he was promptly cut after tryouts.

After the move to Illinois, Letts made the eighth-grade squad as a tight end and safety, and basketball has been an afterthought since.

"This has been my love," Letts says. "I used to play year-round basketball until I started playing football. Then I kinda shifted towards football. I just like the contact."

Then he can thank the Red Devils' varsity staff for wondering if the abilities Letts used to great effect as a freshman and sophomore outside linebacker - sophomore coach Bob Daman reported Letts to be the best linebacker he'd ever coached - would be better served on the inside.

The actual experiment was forced on the staff. When senior Dan Ryan suffered a concussion in the second quarter of last season's first game, Letts was moved inside and never left. The then-6-foot-3, 180-pounder led the team with 114 tackles, 39 ahead of the nearest defender and four shy of the Red Devils single-season record. All-WSSC and Daily Herald all-area second-team honors awaited.

"Coach (Ken) Schreiner told me they were gonna try me there, and I was like, I'm a little skinny for that," Letts recalls. "I told some of the older guys and they kinda laughed at me.

"I played in the first game, and it felt so natural to me. I didn't feel nervous at all. I just got in there and did what I was supposed to do."

The logic was, teams can run away from an outside linebacker; it's not so easy to flee someone in the middle. Letts' athletic ability is summed up in the fact that as an emergency backup quarterback he ran for more than 200 yards in the West Suburban Silver sophomore championship game with Oak Park after learning the offense in one week. He has 4.6-second speed in the 40-yard dash.

"That covers up a lot of sins," Schreiner says. "He's able to do things athletically that other kids can't. If he's inside, he can help wherever the ball is."

Hinsdale South coach Jim Kirwan can attest to Letts' affect on a gameplan. Though the Hornets beat Hinsdale Central 9-7, Letts collected 6 tackles, including a tackle for loss and a sack. To date, he leads the team with 52 tackles and 8 stops behind the line.

"He's the best linebacker we've played," Kirwan says. "There's no one close. In talent, speed and hitting ability. He's very aggressive and very fast. He doesn't stay blocked. We developed all our schemes for that game for him."

Letts has improved in all areas of football and school in his quest for a scholarship. He quit basketball - in which he played on the varsity as a sophomore - last winter after a tiff with coach Bob Mueller three games into the season, and dedicated himself to preparing for college football.

"He's doing whatever he can to present a complete package," Schreiner says. "He's making himself more marketable."

Letts has raised his grades to honor-roll status, joined track last spring and finished third in the WSSC in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles, and under assistant coach Chris Korfist's guidance, put on 25 pounds of muscle while becoming the team's resident weight-training and strength-supplement expert.

"If I had a big tackle coming at me (junior year), I'd just kinda juke my way around him," Letts says. "This year I can take - the strength and the weight."

The speed is paying dividends on offense as well. Letts, who gained 238 all-purpose yards and scored 2 touchdowns in 1994, thus far has 3 catches for 112 yards and 2 TDs.

He's got four posters of 49ers future Hall-of-Fame receiver Jerry Rice in his bedroom, and admires Chargers All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau for his ability to "put guys on their backs."

Letts and Mueller have come to terms, and Letts will play basketball again this winter. He'll also keep putting on weight. The schools he's talked to - Vanderbilt, Ball St., Northwestern, Southern Illinois - like him at linebacker.

Though Letts has been on the move all his life - on and off the field - opponents can always expect to run into him come the weekend.

"He's a force," Schreiner says. "I think people know where he is."
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.


Aftermath of Northwestern's upset of Notre Dame

Big step forward off the field
NU's upset win figures to pay off in recruiting
Author(s):    Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: September 9, 1995
Page: 1
Section: Sports
The question isn't how Northwestern will use last Saturday's goosebump-raising win over Notre Dame to fuel its 1995 season, but how will the Wildcats' staff use the 17-15 triumph to further the program's long-term future? Head coach Gary Barnett and his assistants brought with them a mastery of recruiting techniques three years ago.

Last week's win significantly upgraded their sales presentations.

"(Barnett and his staff) are a perfect example of what to do right. They just haven't had any wins," said national recruiting expert Tom Lemming. "Now, they could have a knockout (recruiting) year."

Half of the postgame euphoria was no doubt due to the Wildcats' afternoon dominance.

The other half was a celebration of the national exposure - positive for the first time in the four-year, nationally televised series resumption - and top-notch public-relations coup that heralded a program turning point.

The high school football standouts in cubbyholes from New Mexico to New Hampshire, from Idaho to Alabama - they know about Northwestern now.

"There are kids across the country who don't know where Northwestern is, what our school colors are or that we're even in the Big Ten," said Jeff Genyk, the Wildcats' coordinator of football operations. "That sounds preposterous, but it's true."

For those blue-chippers well-versed but perhaps not interested in the Wildcats, the victory raised eyebrows.

When asked this week if the win raised his interest in the school, highly recruited and highly undecided Naperville Central quarterback Tim Lavery said, "Yeah, definitely."

The upset was seemingly a reward for the work Barnett and his staff have done since their arrival in 1992. Their first class pledged Evanston because it believed it could help Barnett do exactly what it appears is being done.

"Since I've been here, our purpose was to turn this program around," said junior Brian Musso, a charter member of the Barnett regime.

"Getting everyone to believe in our cause. The reason he sold us on this place was to be a part of something that was going to change. That's one of the main reasons I came here.

"To see it finally start to change was just such a feeling of joy."

The staff made two significant changes in the program's recruiting strategy.

First, it sought to show off the campus with a coaches' clinic, camps for junior-high and high school players, and a high school passing tournament.

"They've gotten kids on campus to see the campus," said Waubonsie Valley coach B.J. Luke, who has sent two players to Northwestern in the 1990s. "They've got a beautiful campus."

According to Genyk, attendance at the camps has grown from 200 to 600, while the passing competition has its 42-team field filled months ahead of time.

The second emphasis in recruiting philosophy is player quality.

The only restrictions on Wildcats recruits are academic. Once a prospect is a qualifier, the Wildcats feel they have as much right to him as does Illinois, Michigan, Florida State or Washington.

They're recruiting against the big boys because they feel they're one of them. The fact is, the Wildcats have stolen a few from the traditional powers.

"More than a few," is as specific as Genyk will get.

Lemming, however, ranks Northwestern with Wisconsin and Illinois for their Chicagoland success. He also says that while he was on a West Coast swing this summer, every prep standout had some type of Northwestern contact.

"They're losing more (to the national powers) than they're getting, but before they weren't getting any," Lemming said. "It's so reminiscent of the way Wisconsin rose - slowly but surely."

Still, though Wisconsin culminated that climb with a Rose Bowl championship on New Year's Day 1994, the Badgers aren't restricted by Northwestern-level academic requirements.

Is it realistic to envision Northwestern in Pasadena?

"It's a huge stretch to think that," Lemming said. "But if anybody could do it, it'd be Gary Barnett. They're not there yet, but the first step - the only step - is to get the players."
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.


Saints RB Ray Zellars bulldozes Bears

Saints' Zellars surprises Bears with stellar day
Author(s):    Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: October 14, 1996
Page: 6
Section: Sports
NEW ORLEANS - If you were an NFL running back looking to raise some eyebrows or resurrect a career this season, you wanted to play against the Saints. Arizona's LeShon Johnson made a name for himself with 214 yards in a Cardinals' victory. A week later, dinosaur back Earnest Byner threw away the cane and ran for 149 yards in Baltimore's win over the Saints.

This week, Ray Zellars was glad to play with the Saints. Like Johnson, Zellars may never gain more yards in one game than the 174 he produced Sunday against the Bears.

A combination of Zellars' fierce running, poor tackling by the Bears and the Saints' physical beating of the Bears' front seven gave the Bears the same run-over feeling the Saints had known so well.

''Defensively, we (stunk)," Bears linebacker Joe Cain said. ''It's probably the lowest point since I've been here."

The Saints came into the contest ranked last in the league in rushing yards, while Zellars entered the game off a one-game suspension for saying something which rhymes with truck stew to Saints coach Jim Mora in practice a week and a half ago.

That made waves in New Orleans, but the ripples didn't reach Chicago. The Bears didn't know much about the 44th pick in the 1995 draft. After all, Zellars ran for 162 yards in his rookie year and had gained 80 yards on 19 carries thus far this season.

''What I knew about him was the fact that the fullback didn't get many carries," Bears linebacker Bryan Cox said. ''They came out and used him in a light that we hadn't seen. They put him in a one-back set where (tailback) Mario Bates would normally be. They let him go there and said 'Let's just try to outhphysical these guys.' They did.

''This is the first week that you can honestly look in the mirror and say that in the front seven, they outphysicaled us."

Zellars gained 137 of his yards in the second half, as Bates (4 rushes, 1 yard) didn't play after the first half. Zellars made runs of 10, 13 and 11 yards on a second-half opening drive, which ended with a Doug Brien field goal to cut the Bears lead to 17-10.

A 63-yard Zellars run set up a 5-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 17-17 halfway though the third quarter. He followed with runs of 13 and 21 yards, each of which spurred a scoring drive. The 21-yarder put the Saints at the Bears' 42 three plays before Brien's game-winning kick.

''To me it's a reflection of the defensive line," said defensive tackle Carl Simpson, whose 2 fumble recoveries were overshadowed by Zellars' day and the loss.

''I could've played a whole lot better, and I'm sure the other guys on the front feel the same way. I ain't going to say they just beat us, but they got good blocks on us and they held us up enough where he could get by.

''People will try to use this against us, so we've got to get better. We've got to use this off week to get better."

Consider Cox' eyebrows raised, and with a two-game winning streak, perhaps the Saints' season is resurrected.

''Ray Zellars just had a great day," Cox said. ''He's a power runner, and did a good job breaking tackles. He ran with a lot of power and a lot of enthusiasm."
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.


Cowboys-era Prime Time Deion Sanders after game against Bears

Busy night of football no big deal for king of two-way
Author(s):    Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: September 3, 1996
Page: 5
Section: Sports
The interrogator should have known better. Deion Sanders stood in front of the cameras, tape recorders and notebooks resplendent in a bright green tailored suit, gold jewelry, and well-groomed nails, hair and teeth. Even the bandage on his chin looked like a designer wrap.

After telling the mob that after playing in 90 percent of the plays through three quarters of Monday night's game he wasn't any more tired than any other player, a reporter asked him to verify that.

"Don't I look good?'' Sanders said. "Next question.''

Though Sanders' dual capabilities have been used before in the same game, Monday night was by far the busiest night of his life.

Offensively, Sanders was the Cowboys' leading receiver, with 9 catches for 87 yards. All but a first-quarter slant pattern were outs in front of Bears rookie Walt Harris, who gave Sanders plenty of room off the line.

"What'd you want 'em to do, let me run by you and dance?'' Sanders said when asked if he was surprised by the game-long cushion.

Whenever the Bears got the ball, Sanders rested on the first play of the series, then played the rest.

The Bears avoided Sanders for most of the game, throwing twice in the first half to his side - once to Michael Timpson for 11 yards, and once to Robert Green, whom Sanders wasn't covering.

In the third quarter, Sanders broke up a sure catch by Conway when he closed on the receiver and swatted the ball from his grasp.

As seems to be his fate, though, Sanders figured in the game's first momentous play. Usually perceived as contact-shy, Sanders was credited with the hit - more like a dive at Timpson's ankles - which upended Timpson on his first-quarter fumble at the Dallas 1.

"You guys say I can't tackle, so I don't know what happened,'' Sanders said. "You'll have to tell me about it.''

On one play, Sanders flipped from offense to defense in a heartbeat. When Aikman overthrew him late in the first quarter, he became a cornerback, rushing over to break up Bears safety Mark Carrier's attempted interception. Carrier dropped the ball before Sanders got there, however, and Sanders suffered a nasty cut on the chin in the flurry.

In the fourth quarter, Sanders once again thrust himself into the game's most memorable action.

His fumble after a reception deep in Dallas territory led to a Carlos Huerta field goal and a 16-3 Bears lead.

"Actually I thought I was down,'' Sanders said. "If I wasn't down, I know my momentum had stopped and it was pretty much a stalemate. I figured the whistle should of been blown, but I can't sit up here and make mistakes and blame it on the officials. We got our butts kicked.''

It was unclear if Sanders ended the interview session because the team bus was leaving or because he was starting to perspire.

"Thank you, I gotta go,'' Sanders said. "I'm sweating like a dog.''
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.


Update on large HS freshman prepares for D1 career

HighBeam Research

Title: Big man on campus James Ryan might be on the verge of becoming the first Batavia player to sign with a Big Ten university, but he's not ready to rest on his laurels.(Sports Extra)

Date: 8/30/2002; Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL); Author: Bush, Joe
Byline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
When last we looked in on Batavia's James Ryan, he was a 300- plus-pound sophomore, waiting by the curb for a parent to pick him up after practice.
Today, the 280-pounder drives a 1994 Thunderbird he bought with money saved from his job as a porter at a car dealership. He is waiting to prove himself despite having verbally committed to play football at the University of Illinois beginning next fall.
Ryan, already Batavia's first Big Ten football recruit, wants to be the program's first All-America. Last year's knee injury, which kept him from half the season, has been a motivational blessing in the guise of a brace.
"He isn't throwing around the fact that he's gonna be a Big Ten player," Batavia coach Mike Gaspari says. "I think he senses, primarily because of the injury last year, that he has some things to prove. He's got some goals that he wants to attain at this level before he moves on."
Gaspari knows Ryan better than he's known most of the players in his 18 years as the boss of the Bulldogs football program. Ryan was too big to play youth football, so he got his pigskin fix at Gaspari's summer camps and was a team manager starting in seventh grade.
"He's really been around for the last eight or nine years," Gaspari says. "Seems like he's been here forever."
It's no surprise to Gaspari, then, that one of the reasons Ryan won't rest on his scholarship offer and verbal commitment is that college coaches will continue to watch him and send mail to him in case he changes his mind before the nation letter-of-intent signing dates in January and February.
Ryan doesn't plan on switching his allegiance - though in 2000 his dream was to play for Michigan - but he reasons that more eyes on him mean more on his teammates.
The baby-faced "BigUn" is now lean and mean by necessity, but the gentle giant is now inside his chest.
Ryan picked Illinois because of its education program. BigUn wants to be a teacher; he got all gooey when someone told him that several children were looking for him at the program's recent annual corn boil.
"I've always loved when people look up to you," the 6-6 two-way tackle says without irony.
Ryan doesn't often look up at people now, but he still looks up to some. His folks, his coaches, and former Bulldog Chris Browning.
Browning, in his senior year at Western Michigan as a defensive lineman, adopted Ryan when the little big kid patrolled the Batavia sidelines in 1997.
Ryan supervised the water-boy crew and held onto Browning's defensive gloves and to a towel for Browning's face. It was Browning who nicknamed Ryan.
"He'd say, BigUn, anybody picking on you, come tell me," Ryan says. "I went to every single practice. Even when I broke my wrist, I didn't miss a practice."
At that point, the number of people who would harass Ryan was dwindling quickly. He was 6-foot and 220 pounds.
"He's always been a big kid, but he's a big teddy bear, too," says Steve Tracy, who plays guard alongside Ryan. "We always knew that James was gonna play football."
First, though, Ryan played soccer, for nine years. Whether you try to picture him playing soccer then or now, the sight would be priceless. And no, he wasn't a goalie.
"I was halfway decent," says Ryan, who once scored from midfield. "You can muscle people around a little bit."
Ryan last played in an indoor game at St. Charles East's sports complex, and his participation in soccer set the stage for a nimble high school sports career.
"That's why he's as quick as he is," Tracy says of Ryan's soccer life.
If he chooses not to wrestle this year, he leaves behind a stint marked by a Suburban Prairie Red frosh-soph heavyweight title and a berth in last season's Class AA tournament in Assembly Hall.
Ryan also claimed the SPR's top frosh-soph discus prize. This season he will play on both lines, and he will punt.
With that workload it's a good thing Ryan has learned to cut back on his food intake, and to put on the brakes.
He took some advice this summer and simply stopped working out. For three weeks Ryan swam and relaxed.
"It worked wonders," he says. "I'd been going three years straight."
Which brings us back to a somewhat shy sophomore who'd make you wonder if he'd ever be aggressive enough to realize his potential.
Ryan talks a mean game these days -"If they're in my way, they're gone" - and by all accounts keeps a mean streak tucked under his helmet.
"He's a great guy, a great role model for anybody," Tracy says, "but when he puts them pads on, he can take it to you, and he will take it to you, every time."
Though Ryan's 6-6 father, James, provided the DNA for BigUn's football foundation, he didn't play football. Grandpa Donald did, though, for Notre Dame's meat squad.
Big for his time at 6-1, 210, Donald died earlier this year. BigUn's keeping the spirit alive.
"His level of confidence is the biggest difference between then and now," Gaspari says. "Which is not unusual for any of the kids, but when you're 6-6, 280, and you were pretty good as a freshman, and your level of confidence continues to grow, it makes for a pretty good high school football player by the time you're a senior."
COPYRIGHT 2002 Paddock Publications
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.  All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

This document provided by HighBeam Research at

Large HS freshman prepares for eventual D1 career

The playoffs loom large Batavia's BigUn sees the the Big
House in his future
Author(s):    Joe Bush
Date: October 27, 2000
Page: 1
Section: SportsXtra
The BigUn wants to play in the Big House, and considering how the BigUn gets after what he wants, expect to see him in Michigan's maize-and-blue in 2003. Batavia sophomore defensive lineman James Ryan is the BigUn, so named by former Bulldog and current Western Michigan player Chris Browning when Ryan prowled the Batavia sidelines as a waterboy in 1997.

Ryan was a 6-foot, 255-pound seventh-grader who was implementing the first phase of his plan to conquer the universe.

Or at least to become the first freshman to play on the Batavia varsity.

It was a goal of his to crack the varsity as a ninth-grader, and he did. It's a goal of his to earn a full scholarship to play football at a Division I university, and unless there is injury or grade-slacking, he will.

Most likely he will have his choice of suitors come this time next year, and if that's the case, he's partial to playing in front of more than 100,000 people in Ann Arbor.

This would seem premature for most sophomores. At 6-5, 300, Ryan is not most sophomores, nor is he that many juniors or seniors.

His is a unique case of a boy with a body that makes college coaches act silly. There are plenty of kids with this size, but not at this age, and therein lies the fascination.

Since last season, Ryan and his coaches have been able to draw a blueprint to win a Division I scholarship.

"I would say from our standpoint - and this is a hard thing for us to say as coaches - he's probably the first guy that I've seen that I've felt was a potential D-I player as a freshman," Bulldogs defensive coordinator Dennis Piron says.

"That we could say confidently, 'Yeah, he's a D-I football player.' "

Ryan was born with 75 percent of what he needs. His mother, Robin, is 5-7, and his paternal grandpa is 6-2.

The BigUn is also The CoordinatedUn. Size is sometimes negated by klutz, but Ryan is an athlete; he was last year's Suburban Prairie Red frosh-soph heavyweight wrestling champ and the league's top frosh-soph discus slinger.

His football skills are coming. Fast.

"He's developed from, as a freshman, a very raw, nice big kid, into a really good defensive lineman," Piron says.

"Now he makes plays, he reads things. You'll see a (guard) pull, you'll see him get on the hip. You see a guy block down, he'll step up, shove 'em and rip through. You see a guy try to base, and get his head outside, James will stand him up and get in the hole and make a play.

"Stuff you wanna see your defensive linemen doing."

Ryan has attacked his schoolwork with visions of screaming autumn Saturdays dancing in his head.

"They don't come too easy," the honor-roll student says of his grades. "Every once in a while I struggle. It's all coming together this year."

Finally, Ryan is industrious and ambitious.

He sought out the waterboy job, went to Northwestern's football camp the summer after his eighth-grade year and last summer, and he has committed to the weight room.

He will focus on foot speed and quickness and agility as well as continue to lift and go to camps.

Next summer Ryan hopes to hit the camps at the universities of Illinois and Michigan, and those trips will not be the adventures of an eighth-grader looking to learn skills but the opening of the recruiting floodgate.

Illinois and Northern Illinois have sent letters to Ryan, who wants to be in good-enough shape next season to be a two-way tackle.

Gaspari said before this season that Ryan's future was on offense. Ryan and Piron know that too, but each wants Ryan to play defense as long as possible.

BigUn's been working with the offense in practice all year and has seen some garbage-time blocking in games.

Next year will be his third year on varsity, and time for him to become a leader. That's next year, though.

This year, the signs of humility are all around. The seniors have no trouble putting him in his place, that's for sure.

"It's funny to watch him after practice waiting for a ride," senior cornerback Mike Stevens says. "You just look at him and go, 'What are you doing?' thinking he should be driving."

Really, Ryan is in the driver's seat already. His mother asked a caller looking for James, "Which James do you want? The big one, or the big one?"

Soon enough, she won't have to ask.

- Joe Bush can be reached by phone at (630) 587-8641 or by e- mail at
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.