Local football players sign on dotted line

  • Written by Ken Karrson


HEADLINE: Local football players sign on dotted line


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor


Hasan Muhammad-Rogers can relate to what Illinois State University football players recently went through.

A memorable 2014 season by the Redbirds ended one step shy of complete glory. While ISU reached the FCS championship game in January and held a late lead, it couldn’t close the deal versus three-time defending champion North Dakota and had to settle for national runner-up status. Muhammad-Rogers experienced a similar thing at the prep level in 2013 when Richards came up short in Illinois’ Class 6A title contest.

Now Muhammad-Rogers will try to help the Redbirds take that final step and achieve some personal vindication in the process. The 2014 area Player of the Year was one of several local athletes to make their college choices official last Wednesday on National Signing Day.

“This is a great place for him,” Bulldogs coach Tony Sheehan said of the impending ISU-Muhammad-Rogers association. “He is going to a national contender that runs an offense perfect for his abilities.”

Muhammad-Rogers wound up his three-year varsity career at Richards with 6,110 aerial yards on 361-of-670 passing and 72 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1,569 yards and 25 more TDs. With Muhammad-Rogers running the offense, the Bulldogs went 22-4 the past two seasons and collected a total of seven postseason victories between 2012 and 2014.

Muhammad-Rogers isn’t the only local athlete headed to Normal. Also signing on with the Redbirds was Marist’s Jawill Aldridge, who continued to draw interest from ISU despite an injury-plagued senior campaign with the RedHawks.

One of Muhammad-Rogers’ favorite receivers at Richards, Spencer Tears, is headed to Northern Illinois. The “very explosive” Tears should be a “good fit” with the Huskies, according to Sheehan. Joining Tears in DeKalb will be Brother Rice all-stater Marcus Jones, who rushed for over 1,850 yards the past two seasons.

Linebacker Ramontay Hill (South Dakota), cornerback Lucas White (Northern Michigan), cornerback Kentrell Pierce (Central Methodist), lineman Josh Hettiger (Wisconsin-Whitewater) and cornerback Maurice Coleman-Williams (Wisconsin-Stout) were Richards’ other signees. Hill and Hettiger, who will be joining the Division III national champions, were both all-area first-teamers in the fall.

Sheehan believes each of his players can eventually make an impact.

“[White is] a good corner that has the length that a lot of coaches like,” he said. “Pierce is a good cover corner that will only get better and [Coleman-Williams] got better as the year went on.”

Other Rice players who signed last Wednesday were quarterback Alex Alarcon (McKendree) and kicker Spencer Scott (Harvard).

Shepard’s Kyle Dye declared his intention to attend Valparaiso, all-area defensive back Keyon Lansdown will play for Robert Morris and quarterback Chris Henington is going to Lindenwood-Belleville. Evergreen Park’s two signees were quarterback Sean Ryan (Grand View) and receiver Kerron Brown (Washington Christian).

“I am looking forward to see what they can do at the next level,” said Mustangs coach Ray Mankowski, who added other athletes he expected to make a decision last week “are holding out for whatever reason.”

While St. Laurence didn’t announce any football signings, it did have four soccer players make their future intentions known. Mike Witkowski and Josh Niloff will both enroll at Loras, Palos Hills resident will stay in the area by attending St. Xavier and Mikey Stevens is planning to attend Cornell (Iowa).


Wujcik is Hall of a guy

  • Written by Ken Karrson


HEADLINE: Wujcik is Hall of a guy

SUBHEAD: Richards coach honored by IBCA


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

            When congratulated recently for his induction into the Illinois Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Brian Wujcik jokingly credited his lengthy stay at Richards as the main reason he received the honor.

            “Stick around long enough and someone somewhere thinks you need an award for it,” he said.

            On a more serious note the Bulldogs leader greatly appreciated the gesture as he became just the 11th local coach to be chosen by the IBCA for its Hall of Fame.

“I always pictured Hall of Famers as guys who’ve had tremendous postseason success,” Wujcik said. “With only two regional championships in 22 years, I hardly qualify in that category, so it is a special honor for me to be recognized by my peers for the way the Richards baseball program is run and not the number of state championships we’ve won. 

“We try to do things right here: right by our players, right by our opponents and [the] umpires, and right by the school that we represent. I think we’re very successful in that regard.”

There’s little to argue on those points, particularly when it comes to the student-athletes who have played for Wujcik. More than 80 have gone on to play collegiate baseball, including 15 that are currently active. Nine players achieved all-state status while at Richards, 67 were all-area selections and 110 gained all-conference status.

Program-wise the Bulldogs have captured 10 conference championships and compiled a 448-319 record during Wujcik’s tenure.

“We don’t get the most talented ballplayers at Richards,” he said. “We’ve only had five [NCAA] Division I baseball scholarships in 22 years, but we work hard to give each kid who has the tools, desire, work ethic and grades an opportunity to play at the next level -- wherever they fit in. 

“I’m proud that we currently have 15 former Bulldogs on collegiate rosters [in 2015]. They’ve earned that through hard work and dedication.”

Wujcik also said none of this was accomplished solely because of his coaching influence.

“This award belongs just as much to the guys who’ve coached with me as it does to me,” he said. “I have a tremendous staff. 

“Bob Peck, Chuck McCullough and Kyle Rathbun at the lower levels not only teach our guys the proper fundamentals, but more importantly they teach ballplayers how to work hard and to compete. Jeff Kortz and Kevin Quinn are hardly my ‘assistants’ on the varsity level -- they are my partners. Both are tirelessly dedicated to the kids who come through our program, and Richards baseball is successful because of them.”

Over the years Wujcik has done more than just lead practices and coach in games. He also spearheaded the building of Richards’ baseball complex, widely regarded as one of the Chicagoland area’s finest at the high school level. Wujcik, players and parents volunteered their time to the project and all the construction materials were donated.

Wujcik, a Richards graduate, was a standout at the University of Iowa. He still holds the Big Ten record for most RBI in one game (10) and previously held the mark for most doubles in a season with 12. He also won a conference batting championship.

In 1990 he was named the Hawkeyes’ MVP while earning All-Big Ten and all-region first-team honors. He was a two-time member of the Big Ten’s All-Academic team and received GTE Academic All-America second-team recognition.

The most recent IBCA inductee prior to Wujcik was former cross-town rival Skip Sullivan, who was chosen in 2008 following a 14-year head-coaching career at Oak Lawn. Like Wujcik, Sullivan coached at his alma mater.

Other local members of the IBCA Hall of Fame include Oak Lawn’s Skip Borkowski (1994), Sandburg’s Doug Sutor (2005) and Ron Mellen (1984), St. Xavier University’s Mike Dooley (2005) and Tony D’Anza (2002), Brother Rice’s George Sedlacek (1979), Evergreen Park’s Maynard Stelzer (1983) and Marist’s Don Kuehner (1980) and Joel Jonas (1983). Jonas was selected following a coaching stint at Curie.



Show Time at Moraine

  • Written by Jeff Vorva and Tom Bunch



The gym was rocking and fans were hollering, which made the scene resemble ones found at many other high school basketball games.

What made it different was that cameras were rolling, too.

But these weren’t just Mom-and-Dad-are-videotaping-it recording devices, but the kind that can present an event to a nationwide audience. And they were set up at Moraine Valley College Friday night.

The Palos Hills school played host to a hoops contest between St. Rita and Simeon that was broadcast nationally by ESPN2. And as one Mustangs fan wrote on a poster: It was "Show Time at Moraine Valley."

The game was big enough to entice University of Kentucky coach John Calipari to attend. Calipari, in town with the No. 1-ranked Wildcats for last Saturday’s inaugural CBS Sports Classic at the United Center, was getting a firsthand look at St. Rita’s Charles Matthews, a Kentucky recruit.

And Matthews didn’t disappoint either his future coach or the Mustangs backers in the crowd as he helped his team defeat the Wolverines 51-46. Matthews finished with a double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds.

While the game at Moraine’s new Health and Fitness Center began at 5:30 p.m., preparations for it started well before that.

“It’s been a six-week process,” Moraine Athletic Director Bill Finn said during a Friday interview. “We had to make sure we got the game [and] we had to prove to them that we can handle it with the staff. [There was] a crew of around 40 people [to] set up the cameras, the microphones, cabling and other intricate stuff.

“The main challenge for the school at this point is to make sure the facility is clean, staffed and that there is enough change for those who are buying tickets."

Pre-broadcast work got underway Thursday night and continued in earnest on Friday morning.

 “I’ve been working here since 10 a.m.,” Moraine Valley student worker Richard Gregg Jr. said on Friday afternoon. “It’s a big game. I’m an athlete myself so it’s exciting that ESPN is here.”

Moraine officials said the game was a boon to the school, which got a chance to show off its sleek athletic facility that opened in March.

 “Our [men’s basketball] games usually attract between 150 and 250 people, but this game should have at least 2,000 people watching as well as a national audience,” Finn said hours before tip-off.

Neither he nor anyone else at Moraine went away disappointed.


Life in the fast lane

  • Written by Ken Karrson

Speed kills as Bulldogs race past Spartans

  In automotive parlance it was like pitting a pickup truck against a Ferrari — and letting the Ferrari have a head-start.
  Friday night’s South Suburban Conference Red matchup between cross-town rivals Oak Lawn and Richards pretty much rated that comparison. Here’s how Spartans coach Sean Lucas described his team’s foe:
  “They’re not the big Richards teams of the past, but they are fast,” he said. “Our kids battled them and a few times we had kids in position to make a play, but their feet moved faster than ours.”
  Keeping up with the Bulldogs while competing on a level playing field would have been tough enough for Oak Lawn; making things worse was that it spotted Richards a lead.
  The Bulldogs scored on each of their first three possessions to shove the Spartans into a 19-0 hole. It was 33-7 at halftime and despite Oak Lawn’s best efforts to fight back in the final two quarters it couldn’t avoid a 46-21 setback.
  “I’m proud of our kids, but we knew we’d have to play near-perfect to beat them,” Lucas said. “I wish they had seen a better shot [from us], but I flat-out told our kids after the game this [Richards] team was better than us. There are greater tragedies in life than losing to someone who’s better than you.”
  Just as in their 2012 meeting with the Bulldogs, the Spartans (1-3, 0-2) refused to succumb quietly after falling behind. Two years ago while suffering an 18-7 loss they shut out Richards in the second half.

Doing it by the numbers

  • Written by Tim Cronin

Local grad Vander Laan is a statistics-generating machine at Ferris State

Perhaps it’s fitting that Jason Vander Laan is majoring in actuarial sciences at Ferris State.
He definitely has a way with numbers. And when he's not busy calculating them in the classroom he's piling them up on the football field.
“I really, really enjoy working with numbers,” Vander Laan, a Chicago Christian grad, said last week.
There's little question coaches, players and fans of Ferris State football are really enjoying the numbers he has amassed since becoming the Bulldogs' starting quarterback in 2012. The redshirt junior has thrown for 3,851 yards and 38 touchdowns while guiding Ferris State to 15 wins in its last 21 games.
But wait there's more. Just in case opposing defenses think that stopping the Bulldogs' aerial attack is the answer, Vander Laan will then attempt to run foes ragged. He definitely can, as evidenced by his 3,278 rushing yards and 39 scoring dashes.