High-SchoolIllinois: Blake Winkler

Winkler wins Gatorade POY

December, 1, 2011
Blake Winkler may not have been the highest-ranked football player in Illinois, but there was no one more feared with the game on the line. For his steady play and clutch leadership, Winkler took home the Gatorade State Player of the Year award for 2011.

The 6-foot senior passed for 2,369 yards with 30 touchdowns this year, while tossing just five interceptions. His Lincoln-Way East squad was upset in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs, but Winkler was still the choice for the Gatorade panel.

It won't be a popular decision in some circles, as there were some spectacular performers across Illinois this year. Montini senior receiver Jordan Westerkamp became the state's all-time leader in every pass-catching category while leading his team to the Class 5A championship. Bolingbrook junior quarterback Aaron Bailey burst onto the scene and won the Class 8A championship. Joliet Catholic junior running back Ty Isaac ran for 2,629 yards and scored 51 TDs.

And those are just the offensive stars. Glenbard West senior defensive tackle Tommy Schutt may have been the most dominant player in the state.

If I had a vote, in all honesty, I probably would have cast it for Isaac or Bailey. But since both are juniors, we'll likely get to see them battle it out for this award next year. For 2011, I have no problem with Winkler taking home the hardware.

To read the complete rundown of Winkler's credentials, click here.

To see all the winners for every state, click here.

Football playoffs: Week 1 review

October, 31, 2011
With the first round of the playoffs in the books, we've learned a lot about which teams are for real, and which teams are not. Let's jump into things with a feature I like to call "Contender or Pretender (or Chicken Tender)."


Aaron Bailey and Bolingbrook: The junior quarterback was spectacular in Bolingbrook's 33-14 win over Neuqua Valley, rushing for 304 yards and four touchdowns. Three of the TDs came on huge plays (66, 71 and 80 yards), and that's something Bailey has been able to do consistently this season. Because of that big-play ability, Bailey and the Raiders are definitely contenders in Class 8A.

Lincoln-Way East: The Griffins' passing attack was in high gear on Friday night, as senior quarterback Blake Winkler threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-7 win over Plainfield South. Senior wideout J.J. Robertson caught a pair of touchdowns and senior Jay Yancy paced the squad with 133 receiving yards and a touchdown. Wheaton-Warrenville South is next on the schedule for the top-seeded Griffins.


Stevenson: The Patriots may have defeated York, 31-28, in the first round of the 8A playoffs, but the win was not exactly impressive. Stevenson entered the fourth quarter leading by 17 points, but back-to-back late touchdowns took things down to the wire. With No. 1 Maine South up next in the second round, Stevenson doesn't look long for the postseason.

Brother Rice rushing TD record: The Crusaders' single-season record for rushing touchdowns fell on Friday night, as senior RB Martez Walker reached the end zone three times to break the mark. Walker ran for 183 yards and three scores to give him 19 on the season.


Simeon: The Wolverines opened the season at No. 7 in the POWERADE state rankings and with hopes of a state championship. Those hopes crumbled in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs, when fourth-seeded Simeon lost to No. 13 seed Lockport, 18-15. Simeon led, 12-0, at halftime before Lockport came alive. The Wolverines gave up the go-ahead touchdown with less than four minutes to play.

Want to play Contender or Pretender (or Chicken Tender)? Hit me on Twitter (@ESPNHSGrimala).
There are two games worthy of the top spot in our weekend preview, with both matchups pitting undefeated teams against each other in games that could shake up the Illinois POWERADE state rankings. I decided to spotlight No. 4 Mount Carmel vs. No. 6 Loyola, but you should also definitely keep an eye on No. 3 Lincoln-Way East, which is traveling to take on 5-0 Bolingbrook.

The Game:
No. 4 Mount Carmel at No. 6 Loyola
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

The Players:
Mount Carmel — The quarterbacks are the players to watch in this contest. Junior Don Butkus has been effective this season, but he'll need to be more than that in order for Mount Carmel to win this one. He'll need to make plays, or else things could get one-sided very quickly.

Loyola —It's all about Malcolm Weaver, the senior quarterback making a run at Player of the Year honors. He's a threat to account for five touchdowns every time he steps on the field, and Mount Carmel will devote everything to slowing him down.

The Prediction:
Mount Carmel won this meeting in overtime last year, but Loyola is back with an offense that has to be considered among the best in the state. Weaver is too good, and he has too many weapons at his disposal. I think he finds a way to break down the Mount Carmel defense and leads Loyola to victory.

Other notable games:

No. 3 Lincoln-Way East at Bolingbrook
Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Two loaded teams go at it in the second-biggest matchup of the week. I have to believe QB Blake Winkler wins it for the Griffins. LINCOLN-WAY EAST 35, BOLINGBROOK 19

No. 1 Maine South at Niles West
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
No scare for Maine South this week. Alviti and Co. light it up early. MAINE SOUTH 48, NILES WEST 9

No. 10 Prairie Ridge at Crystal Lake South
Friday, 7:15 p.m.
Another matchup of two undefeated teams. Prairie Ridge has the edge on defense. PRAIRIE RIDGE 20, CRYSTAL LAKE SOUTH 7
With an impressive victory over a tough Homewood-Flossmoor team, Lincoln-Way East made the biggest leap of the week, climbing all the way to No. 3 in the POWERADE state rankings. QB Blake Winkler and WR J.J. Robertson hooked up for a pair of long touchdown passes in the 38-21 win. Robertson ended the game with 226 receiving yards, while Winkler finished with 290 passing yards. Maine South and Glenbard West both won easily to solidify their spots atop the rankings.
  1. Maine South, 4-0 — Defeated Niles North, 42-6 (last week: No. 1)
  2. Glenbard West, 4-0 — Defeated Hinsdale Central, 45-14 (last week: No. 2)
  3. Lincoln-Way East, 4-0 — Defeated Homewood-Flossmoor, 32-14 (last week: No. 10)
Click for full POWERADE Illinois Weekly Rankings
This weekend's slate of games have the potential to shake up the POWERADE state rankings, starting with No. 10 Lincoln-Way East's matchup against Homewood-Flossmoor.

Lincoln-Way East is 3-0 and looks ready to break through into the elite level. Though I have them ranked 10th, ESPNChicago has them at No. 3. A win over 3-0 Homewood-Flossmoor could vault them to that area in our rankings as well. Homewood-Flossmoor has allowed just 13 points on the season, so the Lincoln-Way East offense will have to earn this one.

The Game:
No. 10 Lincoln-Way East at Homewood-Flossmoor
Friday, 7:30 p.m.

The Players:
Lincoln-Way East — Senior receiver J. J. Robertson returned from a two-game suspension last week and made game-changing plays, racking up more than 100 yards and catching a long touchdown pass. Senior quarterback Blake Winkler has more than enough arm strength to stretch the field against Homewood-Flossmoor.

Homewood-Flossmoor — Much like Lincoln-Way East, the Vikings have an elite QB-WR combo to spark the passing game. Senior Tim Williams has been one of the most productive passers in the area this season, and receiver Gerald Butler is capable of making big plays.

The Stakes:
This game could end up deciding the Southwest Suburban Blue, as it did last year. Expect both teams to bring everything.

The Prediction:
Both teams have explosive offenses, but I believe in Lincoln-Way East's defense more. I think they'll get a couple more stops than Homewood-Flossmoor, and that will be enough.

Other notable games:

No. 4 Loyola Academy at Providence
Friday, 7:30 p.m.
I'm a big believer in Loyola Academy QB Malcolm Weaver. That's enough for me in this matchup of 3-0 teams. LOYOLA ACADEMY 41, PROVIDENCE 28

No. 8 Wheaton South at Naperville North
Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Both teams are 1-2, and falling to 1-3 is not an enticing option for either. I think Wheaton South's defense will stand up and win this one. WHEATON SOUTH 24, NAPERVILLE NORTH 7

No. 7 Montini at Marian Central
Friday, 7 p.m.
Montini barely squeezed past Marmion last week, and I see another close win this week. MONTINI 20, MARIAN CENTRAL 18

Stock is rising for Gregory, Winkler

September, 14, 2011
In this week's edition of All-State Stock Watch, we're looking at All-State football players who saw their potential value rise or fall over the past week. A player could have had a huge game, gotten a big-time scholarship offer, or broken a leg. Whatever the case, I chart all the data (in my head) and give you the biggest movers of the week.


UP — Robert Gregory, Simeon QB
This past weekend, Gregory carried the ball twice and attempted two passes. Doesn't sound like much, but after missing the previous game with an injury, it was extremely positive to see Gregory back in action. The Arkansas-bound senior was eased back into the lineup against Morgan Park, but he still made a big impact. His two carries both went for touchdowns (63 yards total), and he looked comfortable moving at full speed. As Gregory gets back up to speed, he should return to being one of the state's most dangerous offensive threats. His stock is pointing UP.

DOWN —Mitch Stefani, Waubonsie Valley QB
Stefani was in the process of being integrated into the role of starting quarterback this season, and it was going seamlessly through the first two games. Waubonsie Valley was 2-0, and Stefani's play was a big reason for that. But a broken collarbone suffered in a Week 3 loss to Bartlett has Stefani looking at four-to-six weeks of inactivity. For someone with little starting experience, missing half the season with injury is a big blow and could prove too difficult to recover from. Stefani's not to blame for this DOWN grade, but the injury couldn't have come at a worse time.

UP — Blake Winkler, Lincoln-Way East QB
With a full complement of receiving options, Winkler is really hitting his stride as the Griffins' field general. Against Lockport on Friday, he completed 18 of 25 passes for 269 yards, leading Lincoln-Way East to an easy 38-7 victory. He did throw one interception, which was returned for a 103-yard pick-six, but his three TD passes more than outweighed the one mistake. Winkler appears to be getting more comfortable as the season goes on, which is what you want to see before giving out an UP grade.

Have an insider stock tip? Don't keep it a secret — hit me on Twitter (@ESPNHSGrimala).