High School: Schaumburg

ESPN Chicago's hoops bonanzaa

March, 11, 2011
3/11/11
1:35
AM CT
Basketball junkies will have reason to rejoice Friday.

For the first time, ESPNChicago.com will be Gamecasting live high school basketball games with scores and stats. All eight 4A sectionals -- Huntely vs. Rockford, East Aurora vs. Glenbard East, Young vs. Farragut, Lyons vs. Simeon, East St. Louis vs. Normal, Thornton vs. Crete-Monee, Warren vs. Mundelein and Niles North vs. Schaumburg -- will be covered live beginning Friday at 7:30 p.m. CT.

Class 7A playoff breakdown

October, 28, 2010
10/28/10
1:25
AM CT
The Class 7A playoff field is a lot like the old Royal Rumble of the World Wrestling Federation. You throw a whole lot of talent in the ring and wait for anything to happen.

[+] EnlargeWheaton, Warrenville
Scott Powers for ESPN.comDespite playing top local competition, Wheaton-Warrenville South has yet to face a true challenge en route to a 9-0 record.
Fourteen of the 32 teams in the 7A playoffs were ranked at some time this season. Ten of them appeared in the top 10. Five of them spent time in the top 5. One of them has been No. 1 the last eight weeks.

“I don't think you can overstate the depth of quality teams in this class,” Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling said.

If there was a Hulk Hogan of the group, it would be Wheaton Warrenville South. The Tigers have been the best team in the state from start to finish. They’ve rolled through their schedule – not an easy one either – and have out-scored their opponents by 35.8 points.

Wheaton Warrenville South may be the favorite, but Simeon, Carmel, St. Rita and Glenbard West are all just slightly behind. Those five times comprised the ranking’s top 5 before Glenbard West and St. Rita were upset by Class 8A teams in the final week of the regular season.

If those five teams are the top tier, the next tier would be Elk Grove, Lake Zurich, Lincoln-Way East, Marian Catholic, Minooka, Plainfield North, Plainfield South, Prospect, Schaumburg and Wheaton North. Those 10 teams have lost a combined 15 games. Of those 15 losses, eight were to other teams in the 7A field and 10 of them were to ranked teams.

Then, there’s the story of East St. Louis. Nationally ranked along with Wheaton Warrenville South, the Flyers were considered another state title contender. That was until Tuesday when the IHSA forced them to forfeit all of their 2010 wins and removed them from the playoffs due to using ineligible players.

“Obviously, the whole East St. Louis thing has added drama to this class,” Minooka coach Bert Kooi said.

The Royal Rumble always had that as well.

Best opening-round game
No. 9 Schaumburg at No. 8 Elk Grove: Elk Grove defeated Schaumburg 36-34 in one of the more intense regular-season games. The Grenadiers stopped Schaumburg short on a two-point conversion to pull out the win. Elk Grove quarterback Nick Meyer threw for three touchdowns and ran for two in the win. Saxons quarterback Mark Iannotti had four touchdown passes. The winner of this will likely get Simeon.

Top 10 Class 7A teams
1. Wheaton Warrenville South (9-0): This could be one of the best teams in state history
2. Simeon (9-0): Looking to become the first Public League state champion
3. Carmel (8-1): Won the East Suburban Catholic Conference
4. St. Rita (8-1): Played six playoff teams and defeated five of them
5. Lincoln-Way East (8-1): Has played exceptionally well since losing to Wheaton North
6. Glenbard West (8-1): Unexpectedly lost in Week 9 to Lyons
7. Lake Zurich (8-1): Only loss was Stevenson
8. Wheaton North (7-2): Has a knack for winning close games
9. Prospect (8-1): Winners of its last eight games
10. Schaumburg (7-2): Ended Maine South’s two-year winning streak

Top 5 players to watch
1. Reilly O'Toole, Wheaton Warrenville South, SR, QB: An Illinois recruit, O'Toole is the front-runner for the ESPNChicago.com Player of the Year award. He’s thrown for 1,700-plus yards, 26 touchdowns and just one interception.
2. Kapri Bibbs, Plainfield North, SR, RB: A Colorado State recruit, he has been the complete surprise of the season. Despite missing the opening week of the season, he’s rushed for 2,519 yards and 37 touchdowns.
3. Jordan Walsh, Glenbard West, SR, OL: An Iowa recruit, Walsh is one of the country’s top offensive lineman.
4. Robert Gregory, Simeon, JR, QB: He can run and pass the ball with the best of them. He’s made the Wolverines a state contender.
5. Shepard Little, Schaumburg RB: After sitting out last season, Little has made up for lost time by running for 1,500-plus yards.

Sleeper team
Plainfield North (7-2): The way Plainfield North can compile yards and touchdowns with the ball in Kapri Bibbs' hands makes the Tigers a tough match up for anyone. They can be slowed down, and Minooka proved that by defeating them in overtime.

Road for defending state champions
Of all the defending state champions, Wheaton Warrenville South is the lone one considered to be a favorite to repeat. The Tigers have been unstoppable this season. They faced five ranked teams and defeated them all easily. Wheaton Warrenville South’s offense averaged 43.1 points, and its defense gave up 7.3 points a game. Reilly O’Toole is the marquee name in the group, but there’s talent all over the field. Wide receiver Titus Davis has especially made a name for himself.

Fun fact
Carmel and St. Rita are making their 11th consecutive playoff appearances. Lincoln-Way East and Simeon are making their 10th. DuQuoin holds the current streak with 27 and is followed by Mount Carmel’s 25.

Coaches’ thoughts
  • Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch: “We need to maintain a good balance between offense, defense and special team performance. We need to keep injury free and get some back that are recovering. They are all good teams from here on out. It always comes down to one or two key plays.”

  • Elk Grove coach Brian Doll: “This is the second straight year we have made it to the playoffs, but it will be the first time since 2004 that we have a home playoff game in EG NATION. The Elk Grove students and community are very excited to host a first round game. This first round game should be one of the best first round matchups in the 7A field.”

  • Minooka coach Bert Kooi: “From Day 1, Wheaton Warrenville South was projected to be one of the best teams in the entire state regardless of class. Simeon with all its D-I prospects drops from 8A to 7A adding even more interest to a stacked class. St. Rita proved a year ago with their talented running back they can challenge anyone. Carmel has shown us all this season that they have one of those teams, as they do every couple of years, that can challenge for a state championship. Obviously, the whole East St. Louis thing has added drama to this class. Plus, there are a ton of very, very good 8-1 football teams that at any given weekend may just knock off one of the top dogs. Will be interesting each and every week!”

    State championship prediction: Wheaton Warrenville South defeats St. Rita
  • Week 8 notebook: Football's best

    October, 19, 2010
    10/19/10
    3:20
    AM CT
    Another week of prep football is in the books. Here’s a quick look at some of the Week 8 stars.

    Powers’ playmakers:

    1)
    Joliet Catholic senior Josh Ferguson rushed for 257 yards and four touchdowns on 17 carries in the Hilltoppers’ win over Marist.

    2) Travis Kern was Wheaton Warrenville South’s go-to receiver in the Tigers’ 49-6 win over Glenbard North. Kern had eight receptions for 137 yards and two touchdowns.

    3) Elk Grove fell to Prospect 42-41 in overtime, but the loss wasn’t for Nick Meyer’s effort. He was 26-for-41 passing for 288 yards and ran for 148 yards and six touchdowns.

    4) Mount Carmel quarterback Chris Sujka has been carrying the Caravan the last couple of weeks. He had touchdown runs of 17 and 81 yards and threw a touchdown pass in Mount Carmel’s 52-7 win over St. Laurence on Friday.

    5) Glenbrook North’s Grant Rushing lived up to his name in the Spartans’ 48-0 win over Maine East on Friday. Rushing rushed for a game-high 149 yards and three touchdowns.

    Defensive delights:

    1)
    In a spin on things, Lake Forest’s defense shut out Vernon Hills 21-0 on Friday, snapping Vernon Hills’ shutout streak at seven games. The Cougars had outscored opponents 310-0 before Friday’s loss.

    2) Glenbard West’s Mike Laning intercepted two passes in the Hilltoppers’ 47-7 win over Downers Grove North.

    3) Bartlett’s Demetrius Coleman recovered two fumbles in the Hawks’ 25-23 win over Neuqua Valley.

    4) Wheaton North’s Andy Dietz had two interceptions in his team’s 14-7 win over Naperville North.

    5) Lemont’s Clayton Fejedelem intercepted a pass and returned a punt for an 80-yard touchdown in the Indians’ 44-0 win over Thornton Fractional North.

    Five-star football:

    1) Crystal Lake South 28, Cary-Grove 14:
    The Gators won their first Fox Valley Conference division title since 1993, and they were able to do it by knocking off rival Cary-Grove.

    2) Joliet Catholic 49, Marist 42: Playing in the memory of teacher and basketball coach Jeremy Izzo, who recently passed away, the Hilltoppers pulled out an emotional win over Marist. Quarterback Breshion Tucker, who also played basketball for Izzo, threw three touchdowns in the victory.

    3) Schaumburg 35, Palatine 27: Mark Iannotti and Shepard Little combined for 357 rushing yards and four touchdowns to propel the Saxons.

    4) Fremd 26, Barrington 12: The Vikings kept themselves alive for the postseason with their upset win over previously-unbeaten Barrington. Fremd has made 15 consecutive playoff appearances and needs to still win one more game to keep that streak alive.

    5) Marian Catholic 29, Nazareth 28: John Rhode hooked up with Randall Wells for a 40-yard touchdown pass as time expired to give the Spartans the win.

    Week 8 prep preview capsules

    October, 15, 2010
    10/15/10
    2:02
    AM CT

    No. 6 Glenbard North (7-0) at No. 1 Wheaton Warrenville South (7-0) on Friday
    The story: Wheaton Warrenville South has faced four ranked teams this season and has defeated them by a combined score of 155-40. Now, the Tigers will meet possibly their greatest challenge of the season in Glenbard North. The Panthers have remained undefeated thanks to a versatile running game and one of the area’s best defenses. They’ve allowed 73 points this season and have also defeated three ranked teams. Quarterback Reilly O’Toole and Wheaton Warrenville South’s offense will be unlike anything Glenbard North has seen this season. ESPN 1000 will be in attendance.
    Glenbard North player to watch: Offensive right tackle Paul Wisniewski has been a major reason for the Panthers’ running success. He recently received an offer from Wyoming.
    Wheaton Warrenville South player to watch: The Tigers’ passing game receives a lot of attention, but running back Matt Rogers has also done his part. He’s burned plenty of opponents this season.
    Quotes: Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens – “ Offensively, they do everything. They run the ball from under center and the gun with Rogers and O’Toole. They use play-action pass, sprint outs and straight drop backs using multiple receivers. Defensively, they rally to the football, they fight the pressure well and take down double-teams.”
    Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch – “Glenbard North is a very good power-running team. Their offensive line is very big and good at the run game. [Phil] Jackson and [Evin] Natick are very solid
    runners and can break a long run anytime. Their defense is a solid unit that has been very good at keeping people out of the end zone with less than 10 points a game. Their defensive backs match up well with our offensive skills. It’s going to be a tough game for the Tigers.”
    Prediction: Wheaton Warrenville South 35, Glenbard North 20

    St. Ignatius (5-2) at No. 2 St. Rita (7-0) on Friday
    The story: St. Rita won’t be overlooking crossover opponent St. Ignatius, but the Mustangs are fully aware that they close out the regular season with Loyola next week. The Ramblers are the only team keeping them from an outright Catholic League championship.
    Prediction: St. Rita 41, St. Ignatius 10

    Downers Grove North (1-6) at No. 3 Glenbard West (7-0) on Saturday
    The story: Glenbard West will be looking to put together a clean game from opening kick to final whistle this week. They had their share of miscues in last week’s win over York. The Hilltoppers have another test in Lyons next week.
    Prediction: Glenbard West 40, Downers Grove North 14

    Notre Dame (5-2) at No. 4 Carmel (7-0) on Friday
    The story: If someone’s looking for a possible upset this week, this could be one. Notre Dame has hung with everyone it has played this season. The Dons lost by 12 to Marist and by one to Marian Catholic. The Corsairs have shown, though, not to be a team that overlooks opponents. They would win the East Suburban Catholic title outright with a victory.
    Prediction: Carmel 31, Notre Dame 20

    Lane (3-4) vs. No. 5 Simeon (7-0) at Gately on Thursday
    The story: Simeon hasn’t been tested since the opening week. That might not change until the playoffs either. The Wolverines look as if they can make a real run this season.
    Prediction: Simeon 50, Lane 20

    Marist (5-2) at No. 7 Joliet Catholic (6-1) on Friday
    The story: These two teams created a great one last year with Marist pulling out a 24-17 win. The RedHawks went on to the Class 8A state championship game while Joliet Catholic advanced to the Class 5A one. That could happen again this season with both being contenders in their respective classes. Joliet Catholic has been putting up a whole lot of points all season. The Hilltoppers scored 73 of them in last week’s win over St. Patrick. Marist has only one in-state loss and is on the verge of being in the top 20 again.
    Marist player to watch: RedHawks quarterback Luke Oosterbaan displayed his running ability in last week’s win over St. Viator. He scored three rushing touchdowns.
    Joliet Catholic player to watch: Josh Ferguson is one of 11 remaining players in the running for the ESPNChicago.com Player of the Year award. He had three touchdowns in last week’s win.
    Prediction: Joliet Catholic 38, Marist 34

    Cary-Grove (5-2) at No. 8 Crystal Lake South (7-0) on Friday
    The story: Crystal Lake South has won’t the Fox Valley Conference title since 1992. With two games remaining, the Gators are nearing that achievement, but they have to go through Cary-Grove as always for it. After winning the Class 6A state championship last season, the Trojans had a rough start to this season, losing their first two games. They’ve since won their last five, including a 23-20 overtime win over McHenry last week. On paper, Crystal Lake South may be the better team, but this is one of those games where anything can happen.
    Cary-Grove player to watch: Quarterback Corey Latkas has continued to improve as the season has unfolded. He’s been consistent in running the team’s option attack and completing key passes when needed.
    Crystal Lake South player to watch: Quarterback Drew Ormseth has been one of the area’s best this season. He’s a threat to run and pass the ball.
    Quotes: Cary-Grove coach Bruce Kay – “The key to the game is ball control and turnovers. Their defense is very talented, and it will be difficult to make big plays. We need to keep the South QB on the sideline. Our kicking game has been very good all year, and we will need to make South play on long fields.”
    Prediction: Crystal Lake South 28, Cary-Grove 27

    Lincoln-Way Central (1-6) at No. 9 Lincoln-Way East (6-1) on Friday
    The story: Lincoln-Way East is on the verge of winning the Southwest Suburban Blue. The Griffins’ next two opponents have a combined record of 1-13.
    Prediction: Lincoln-Way East 49, Lincoln-Way Central 7

    No. 10 Barrington (7-0) at Fremd (3-4) on Friday
    The story: Fremd’s season hasn’t gone as expected. The Vikings were thought to be a state contender before the season, but now they must defeat highly-ranked Barrington just to keep their playoff hopes alive. Fremd has made 15 consecutive playoff appearances. As for Barrington, it has been one of the season’s bigger surprises. Just a year ago, the Broncos missed the playoffs after going 3-6.
    Barrington player to watch: Running back Nico Martinez is returning to his old form after breaking his hand and missing the season’s first four games. He and Chase Murdock make up a tough backfield.
    Fremd player to watch: Offensive lineman Brian Bobek is considered one of the best in the country. He’s headed to Ohio State.
    Quote: Barrington coach Joe Sanchez – “As for keys for both teams, it will come down to which group can sustain and finish drives. I also believe special teams will play a key part in the game with regards to field position for both teams. Turnovers, which team can create extra opportunities and take advantage of them, will be big.”
    Prediction: Barrington 24, Fremd 17

    No. 11 Stevenson (7-0) at Libertyville (3-4) on Friday
    The story: Stevenson looks to remain undefeated while Libertyville hopes to stay in the playoff hunt. Stevenson is known for its offense, but the Patriots have only allowed 83 points this season.
    Prediction: Stevenson 35, Libertyville 17

    Lake Forest (5-2) at No. 12 Vernon Hills (7-0) on Friday
    The story: Can Vernon Hills shut out an opponent for the eighth consecutive week? This is will be its toughest challenge. Lake Forest has scored 256 points this season, which ranks second in the North Suburban Lake, and hasn’t been held to less than 13 points all season. The Cougars should be happy with just a win against Lake Forest.
    Lake Forest player to watch: Junior running back Owen Williams can be tough to stop. He had 272 yards on 18 carries against Libertyville earlier this season.
    Vernon Hills player to watch: Do-everything senior DaVaris Daniels has scored in almost every way possible this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can find another way against Lake Forest.
    Quote: Vernon Hills coach Tony Monken – “The difference in Lake Forest is they have a better balanced offense than we’ve played this year. When we crossover over to the big-school North Suburban division, we only play them once every seven years. It’s an uphill battle for us because they have more numbers than our program. When we have a crossover game, we try to sneak up on them. I don’t think we can sneak up on anyone this year. I think it’s going to be a heck of a ballgame.”
    Prediction: Vernon Hills 34, Lake Forest 21

    No. 20 Prospect (6-1) at No. 13 Elk Grove (6-1) on Friday
    The story: The winner of this clinches at least a share of the Mid-Suburban East title. Prospect lost its season-opener, but has been winning big ever since. The Knights have one of the state’s most potent offenses with 292 points this season. Elk Grove’s offense isn’t too shabby itself. Led by quarterback Nick Meyer, the Grenadiers have scored 212 points a game. Prospect has won the last five meetings between the two teams.
    Prospect player to watch: Quarterback Steve Dazzo threw for two touchdowns and ran for four in last week’s win over Wheeling. This will be a chance to really make a name for himself.
    Elk Grove player to watch: Joey Bishoff has been Meyer’s favorite target this season. He has 33 catches for 455 yards and three touchdowns.
    Quote: Elk Grove coach Brian Doll – "Prospect is very sound on offense. With great offensive line play and two strong running backs in Steve Dazzo and Peter Bonahoom, they force you to defend both of them on every play.”
    Prediction: Elk Grove 42, Prospect 38

    Mundelein (0-7) at No. 14 Lake Zurich (6-1) on Friday
    The story: Lake Zurich’s defense has held opponents to 59 points this season. Outside of Libertyville and Stevenson, the Bears’ opponents have only scored 13 points.
    Prediction: Lake Zurich 31, Mundelein 0


    Naperville North (5-2) at No. 15 Wheaton North (5-2) on Friday
    The story: Neither team may still be in the running for the DuPage Valley title, but there are playoff points to still be earned. Neither team wants to fall to 5-3 either. Both have lost to Glenbard North and Wheaton Warrenville South this season.
    Naperville North player to watch: Antonio Owens can score in a variety of ways. He caught a touchdown pass and rushed for one last week.
    Wheaton North player to watch: Wide receiver Johnny Daniels was the hero last week. He caught a game-winning touchdown as time expired.
    Quote: Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski – “We don’t have the big-name players that Naperville North does, but I do feel that we’re coming together well as a team right now. I’m hoping that the kids are starting to see that it takes offense, defense and special teams to win close ball games. In addition, it takes solid backups at several positions for a team to get good results on Friday nights.”
    Prediction: Naperville North 27, Wheaton North 20

    No. 16 Mount Carmel (5-2) at St. Laurence (4-3) on Friday
    The story: The Caravan still have an outside hope of earning a share of the Catholic League title. The Corsairs have defeated Loyola and fell to St. Rita this season.
    Prediction: Mount Carmel 35, St. Laurence 13

    Gordon Tech (1-6) at No. 17 Loyola (6-1) on Saturday
    The story: Like St. Rita, Loyola has taken Gordon Tech seriously this week, but also has taken a peak at next week’s all-important Catholic League game.
    Prediction: Loyola 42, Gordon Tech 6

    Plainfield East (1-6) at No. 18 Plainfield South (7-0) on Friday
    The story: Plainfield South is tied for third in the state with 342 points this season. The Cougars have scored 50 or more points three times this year.
    Prediction: Plainfield South 52, Plainfield East 10

    No. 19 Schaumburg (5-2) at Palatine (4-3) on Friday
    The story: Palatine may not have the record to show for it, but it’s been a handful for every one of its opponents this season. The Pirates’ losses have included a 28-21 to Lake Forest, 41-27 to Prospect and 17-16 to Fremd. They close out the season with Schaumburg and Barrington.
    Prediction: Schaumburg 35, Palatine 17

    Week 7 notebook: Defensive standouts

    October, 12, 2010
    10/12/10
    2:30
    AM CT
    Defensive standouts Joe Zolper of Schaumburg and J.J. Raffelson of Lake Zurich headlined Week 7 in Illinois high school football. The two went on a rampage this past week.

    Powers’ playmakers:

    1) Prospect quarterback Steve Dazzo ran for four touchdowns and threw for two more in the Knights’ 62-24 win over Wheeling. Between Dazzo and Elk Grove quarterback Nick Meyer, this week’s meeting between the two Mid-Suburban East teams should be interesting.

    2) Homewood-Flossmoor’s Malik Norman rushed for 244 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries in the Vikings’ 28-21 win over Lockport.

    3) Glenbrook South’s Max Pompilus caught five passes for 104 yards and three touchdowns in the Titans’ 56-7 win over Niles West.

    4) Cody Gillard rushed for two touchdowns and caught another to help Senn remain undefeated with a 34-6 win over Schurz.

    5) Crystal Lake South quarterback Drew Ormseth was 5-of-6 passing for 112 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 122 yards and three touchdowns in the Gators’ 48-14 win over Huntley.

    Defensive delights:

    1) Vernon Hills’ defense is playing out of its mind. The Cougars forced seven turnovers in their 20-0 win over Grant on Friday. The Cougars have outscored their opponents 310-0 this season.

    2) Schaumburg defensive tackle Joe Zolper had 5 sacks in the Saxons’ 42-21 win over Conant.

    3) Lake Zurich linebacker J.J. Raffelson had five sacks and a forced fumble in the Bears’ 14-0 win over Warren.

    4) Plainfield South’s Ryan West intercepted three passes in his team’s 57-30 win over Oswego.

    5) Kaneland’s Quinn Buschbacher and Tyler Callaghan each had an offensive touchdown and a defensive interception in the team’s 34-13 win over Yorkville.

    Five-star football:

    1) Thornton 32, Lincoln-Way West 27: Wildcats quarterback Charles Knowles connected with Jamel Frazier for an eight-yard touchdown pass in the game’s final seconds for the win.

    2) Bishop McNamara 28, St. Laurence 21: Theo Bradley intercepted a pass in overtime and threw the game-winning touchdown pass for the Fightin’ Irish.

    3) Minooka 35, Plainfield North 34 OT: Minooka fullback Taylor Salazar scored on a two-yard run, and Jason Lizalek made the extra point to give the Indians the narrow victory.

    4) Wheaton North 23, Naperville Central 21: Reece Butler hit Johnny Daniels for a 19-yard touchdown pass as time expired.

    5) Fremd 17, Palatine 16: Freshman quarterback Sam Beutler threw a 37-yard touchdown pass and ran in for a two-point conversion in the second half to lift the Vikings to the victory.

    POTW: Schaumburg's Shepard Little

    October, 8, 2010
    10/08/10
    5:44
    AM CT
    SCHAUMBURG, Ill. -- Schaumburg senior Shepard Little didn’t like where his life was leading a year ago.

    Little had already paid a price for one of his mistakes and was suspended from playing in games last football season due to an undisclosed disciplinary reason. He wasn’t sure it was going to end there. He wasn’t in danger of falling into a life of crime or anything that extreme, but he was concerned about the person he was becoming.

    [+] EnlargeShepard Little
    Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.comSchaumburg's Shepard Little has rushed for 1,175 yards and 12 touchdowns in six games.
    Little wanted to be someone different than who he perceived himself to be. He wanted to be a role model for his three younger siblings. He wanted to play his senior season and have his teammates trust him. He wanted to play college football and not have to worry about a coach questioning his character when recruiting him.

    For all those wants to become reality, Little knew changes had to be made.

    “I wasn’t really heading down a good road when I got into trouble,” Little said. “I got into trouble and started making big mistakes. I had an attitude. I had an attitude toward my parents. I felt I needed to change that.

    “I stopped being a sneaky kid and stopped hiding stuff. I’m more of an honest person. I decided I was going to a great big brother, great family member, a great teammate and a great friend.”

    It’s what Little, the ESPNChicago.com Prep Athlete of the Week, has become. While much of his headlines these days have been generated from being one of the state’s top running backs, Little has impressed Saxons coach Mark Stilling the most with his actions off the field.

    “I do think what happened to Shepard was extremely important,” Stilling said. “I’m a believer in things happen for a reason. It wasn’t like he was an awful kid, but part of becoming an adult is learning how your decisions not only affect yourself, but how they affect others. I think what happened was he had a pattern of making choices and making decision and not thinking of the consequences.”

    Little did have to face the consequence of his decision -- which Stilling described as non-malicious -- when he was suspended last season. The one positive in the situation was Little was still allowed to practice if he chose to.

    Little didn’t hesitate. He was there on the practice field every day. Fridays weren’t easy to watch from the sideline, but he understood that was his punishment.

    “I hated it on Friday nights, but during the week I was there to make my team better,” said Little, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound halfback. “Friday night I would hate seeing plays where I would think, ‘You should have made this play, made this read.’ It was my fault that I wasn’t playing. Everything happens for a reason.”

    Stilling was glad to have Little there, but he also never expected otherwise. Little’s work ethic has never been questioned.

    “He was the best scout-team tailback in America,” Stilling said. “I know how important football is to Shepard. I guess I wasn’t surprised when he came every day despite knowing he couldn’t dress on Friday nights. I guess it was reassuring to know that it was important to him. Throughout the process of suspending him, on a daily basis my thought process was I hope this changes his life.”

    Coming into the season, Little was getting his personal life in order, but he worried about his football game as well. He was afraid that he couldn’t be the same running back he was as a sophomore when he rushed for 1,700-plus yards on varsity. His fear was he had lost too much of his game by being away for the year.

    One game in, he proved otherwise, rushing for 244 yards and a touchdown in the Saxons’ upset of No. 1-ranked Maine South. Two games in, Little took it even further, running for 331 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo Grove.

    Through six games, Little has compiled 1,175 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns and has put himself in the running for ESPNChicago.com High School Football Player of the Year award. The Saxons have also been ranked for much of the season.

    “I think his vision is good,” Stilling said. “I think he’s sneaky powerful for his size. I don’t think you expect someone of his size to hit you like he does. His ability to hit you and make you miss, that’s the tough part. His speed is good, but it’s not great. He’s not going to run past everyone on Friday night, but he’s going to make everyone miss.”

    Colleges have taken notice, too. Eastern Illinois has offered him. Others are evaluating him. Stilling believes Little could play in the MAC if given the opportunity.

    A lot has changed for Little in the past year, but it’s all been for the better. He doesn’t miss his old life.

    “It feels a lot different playing football,” Little said. “My name is in paper, and my picture is in the paper. I have to be more careful where I’m going. I don’t have to worry about that. I lost the attitude that I had being a negative person, being a tough guy and all that.

    “It’s not about being cool. It’s about being respectful and doing what’s right. It’s not cool to be one of those kids who’s getting in trouble. That’s what I gained out of this.”

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