JUST LIKE THE OLD MAN

LOVIE, ILLINI LOOK­ING FOR­WARD TO KREUTZ 2.0 AS FOR­MER BEAR’S SON DE­CIDES ON CHAM­PAIGN

Chicago Sun-Times - - CENTER OF ATTENTION - BY MIKE CLARK @mikeclarkp­reps

Illi­nois foot­ball coach Lovie Smith didn’t have to in­tro­duce him­self to the par­ents of his first in-state re­cruit in the Class of 2021. Loy­ola cen­ter Josh Kreutz, who an­nounced his com­mit­ment to the Illini via Twit­ter on Thurs­day night, is the son of long­time Bears cen­ter Olin Kreutz. The el­der Kreutz played seven of his 14 NFL sea­sons un­der Smith with the Bears.

But Olin Kreutz didn’t push his son into play­ing for his old coach.

“He agreed with my de­ci­sion,” Josh Kreutz said of his dad. “[But] he wanted me to make the de­ci­sion.”

Loy­ola coach John Hole­cek, him­self a for­mer Illi­nois and NFL player, be­lieves the Illini are get­ting a good one in Kreutz.

“Josh is a chip off the old block,” Hole­cek said. “He’s an un­der­sized kid for the Big Ten [at 6-2, 265 pounds]. But just like his dad, he’s go­ing to im­prove him­self, and he’s go­ing to be a heck of a player.

“Lovie knows what he’s get­ting.” Kreutz, ranked as a three-star re­cruit by Ri­vals.com, played through a fin­ger in­jury last sea­son that pre­vented him from play­ing cen­ter full-time.

“He’s ex­tremely ath­letic and com­pet­i­tive,” Hole­cek said. “Com­pletely healthy, he’s scary.”

Like other prospects, Kreutz saw his re­cruit­ing process up­ended by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, set­tling for some vir­tual vis­its and Zoom calls.

In the end, he said, “I felt like I got a good fit at Illi­nois.”

not look­ing back

The good­byes have been said, and Nazareth is ready to move on.

The Road­run­ners, like all teams, dealt with grad­u­a­tion losses from last year’s team, which was the Class 7A run­ner-up.

But Nazareth also is re­group­ing af­ter los­ing two high-pro­file play­ers to trans­fers.

Quar­ter­back J.J. McCarthy, a Michi­gan re­cruit who was the state’s top-ranked player in the Class of 2021, is headed to IMG Acad­emy in Florida. Syra­cuse-bound re­ceiver Lan­don Mor­ris trans­ferred to Fish­ers, In­di­ana.

“For sure, J.J. was a huge part of our team,” said four-star re­ceiver Tyler Mor­ris [no re­la­tion to Lan­don], who is Illi­nois’ No. 2 ju­nior prospect. “[But] we can’t de­ter­mine our team based on [los­ing] him.

“A lot of peo­ple are say­ing Naz is go­ing to be bad. Naz is still Naz. We’re go­ing to do us.”

In­deed, the Road­run­ners still have plenty of high-level tal­ent. Be­sides Mor­ris, there are se­nior de­fen­sive ends Ryan Keeler and Daine Han­son, three-star prospects with 32 and 13 schol­ar­ship of­fers, re­spec­tively.

Nazareth coach Tim Racki is look­ing ahead, not back­ward, af­ter McCarthy and Lan­don Mor­ris’ de­par­tures.

“It comes down to cul­ture,” he said. “It was bit­ter­sweet with both of them leav­ing. It wasn’t like any­one was hacked off or had a grudge.”

His play­ers, Racki said, “were sad that we were los­ing team­mates, but more so re­la­tion­ships.”

One con­se­quence of McCarthy’s de­par­ture is the quar­ter­back com­pe­ti­tion that is hap­pen­ing a year ahead of sched­ule.

Racki said there are four can­di­dates: re­turn­ing backup Cass Kin­sella, a se­nior; ju­niors Ben Michel and A.J. Par­nell; and sopho­more Ben­jamin Par­rott.

Par­rott, who trans­ferred in from Alabama at the se­mes­ter break af­ter his fa­ther got a job in the area, al­ready has im­pressed.

“He’s got a pretty good arm,” Tyler Mor­ris said. “He can get the ball where it needs to go.”

Racki watched Par­rott in open gyms be­fore the pan­demic lock­down, in ad­di­tion to look­ing at video.

“He’s got in­cred­i­ble ath­leti­cism,” Racki said. “Just watch­ing tape from Alabama, you know

he’s got spe­cial abil­i­ties.”

Back on the field

Though prep seven-on-seven com­pe­ti­tions are on hold af­ter an Illi­nois High School As­so­ci­a­tion rul­ing last week, some of the area’s elite play­ers have been get­ting reps in on the na­tional club cir­cuit.

That has helped to restart an eval­u­a­tion process that was paused by the pan­demic in March.

One player back on the field was Oak Park se­nior Jaden McGill, a three-star prospect get­ting in­ter­est on both sides of the ball.

Western Michi­gan has of­fered a schol­ar­ship as a quar­ter­back, while Michi­gan State and Kansas State have of­fered McGill as a de­fen­sive back.

It prob­a­bly didn’t hurt that one scout­ing website sin­gled him out as one of the top 11 de­fend­ers at a re­cent seven-on-seven event in Texas. That was just a bonus to McGill.

“It was great to get out and be able to play,” he said. “We played against some of the top guys in Texas, USC com­mits and LSU com­mits.” There was a bit of catch­ing up to do. “We came down there, we were all rusty,” McGill said.

But as the eval­u­a­tion showed, he quickly got up to speed. He cred­its that to work­outs with Josh Smith, an Oak Park bas­ket­ball stand­out who is trans­fer­ring to Cul­ver City, Cal­i­for­nia, for his se­nior year.

“In the be­gin­ning [of the lock­down], I took a cou­ple weeks off,” McGill said. “But now I feel like at this point, I worked out more than I did last year.” ✶

Lovie Smith

Olin Kreutz

ALLEN CUN­NING­HAM/SUN-TIMES

Loy­ola’s Josh Kreutz (63) was slowed by a fin­ger in­jury last sea­son but is “scary” when he’s healthy, his coach said.

ALLEN CUN­NING­HAM/SUN-TIMES

Nazareth’s Lan­don Mor­ris is mov­ing to cen­tral In­di­ana, where fall sports are more likely to hap­pen.

ALLEN CUN­NING­HAM/SUN-TIMES

Oak Park’s Jaden McGill has par­tic­i­pated in drills on the na­tional club cir­cuit dur­ing the shut­down.

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