Football looking at long road back to top

By Cole Sheeks, Sports Editor
Follow him at @ColeSheeks

Vacated sports accomplishments have always confused me.

I am familiar with the concept. Team X cheated in various games, so part of their punishment includes the loss of all the positive achievements the team and the players earned when they cheated.

The idea makes enough sense, yet, as it applies to EC and the NCAA ruling, it really just seems like a great big shame.

The individuals who were members of the vacated conference championship teams put in hours upon hours of hard work to earn those titles only to see them taken away due to what seems to be a technicality.

Now to be fair, you can debate how much losing the volleyball and wrestling championships really matter in the big picture of EC sports history.

Julie Hall has been the head volleyball coach at EC for 24 years and her teams have won the CCIW title via the regular season or conference tournament a combined 15 times.

The program has an entire wall dedicated to it in the fieldhouse. They have experienced their fair share of success and losing a few championships is not going to hurt them that much.

It is pretty much the same story for wrestling, as the team has won eight CCIW titles since Steve Marianetti took over the program prior to the 2002-2003 season, including a pair of three peats over a nine year time period.

That is a borderline 90’s Bulls level of dominance in CCIW wrestling.

I cannot imagine there will be many tears shed around the conference over the fact that Hall falls down to a mere 11 conference titles and Marianetti slips to seven.

However, none of this applies to the EC football program.

That 2012 football championship was the only CCIW title the Bluejays could lay claim to since 1980.

It was one of three total football championships in school history and it was the year of the program’s only playoff appearance.

With the title being vacated, the only EC alumni who can still say they witnessed a football championship while they were on campus are approaching retirement age.

What I’m trying to say is that winning the 2012 CCIW football championship was a big freaking deal around here.

Vacating that title sucks. Period.

Volleyball and wrestling compete year after year and will surely run into more championships in the future. Meanwhile, football is on the decline and the now 37 year title drought for football does not appear to be on the verge of ending anytime soon.

And it only gets worse as you put it into perspective.

Three different schools claimed a share of the 2012 CCIW football championship: North Central, Wheaton, and EC.

For North Central, I’m sure winning the CCIW was exciting, but it was their seventh championship in a row (and they won an eighth in 2013 before winning again last season).

Over in Wheaton, it was a similar story. The title represented the Thunder’s sixth since the turn of the century and, just like North Central, they have won another two since.

As for EC, they have been mediocre at best since 2012 and they have completely fallen off the face of Earth this season.

The road back to the top of the CCIW for the program appears to be a lengthy one and the loss of their most recent conference championship will not help matters.

 

David Michaels tackles cancer, football, and life as a student athlete

By Cole Sheeks, Sports Editor
Follow him at @ColeSheeks

David Michaels during the Bluejays game against Olivet this fall. File Photo

David Michaels during the Bluejays game against Olivet this fall. File Photo

It was his freshman season at EC when Bluejay’s offensive lineman David Michaels found a lump on his neck. He did not know what it was, all he knew was he wanted to keep playing football.

When he finally had the lump checked by a doctor, Michaels’ life changed forever.

The doctor told him he had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Not only that, but after further testing it was revealed that Michaels did not have the first stage of the disease, as was initially suspected. He had Stage 4.

“Everything was crumbling right there. I didn’t know what would happen,” said Michaels, now a junior at EC.

“The first thing I had to do was go tell the team and coach Planz,” added Michaels. “He sat me down and told me that no matter what happens I’m always going to be on this team, that I don’t have to leave the team, that there is always a spot for me no matter what.”

Ron Planz, head coach of the Bluejays football team, believes that the adversity his team is accustomed to facing prepared them for the battle that Michaels was about to begin.

“We talk a lot about doing things together and the fact that being a college football player is hard and the things we do aren't average … that naturally builds a bond,” said Planz.

“When something like this happens with David, getting diagnosed with cancer, nobody really flinched,” Planz added. “Nobody really said, ‘ah, what are we gonna do?’ It was just, ‘alright, well we're gonna do this together and we’re gonna be together with this and we're gonna help him in any way we can.’”

And so his battle began. While most of his classmates dealt with the everyday struggles that college freshmen face, Michaels was right by their side. He never missed a day of class and he never missed a day of football. However, unlike his peers, Michaels had to do it all while going through chemotherapy.

“I would have a doctor's appointment every other Tuesday in the morning,” said Michaels. “I would have to drive back [home] Monday night, and then I would have a doctor's appointment from 10 in the morning, all the way until about four in the afternoon … then I would actually come back for night class on Tuesday night. Never missed a day.”

While at his appointments, Michaels would get his blood drawn for testing and put through a physical before he headed into the chemotherapy room.

“[The doctor] would get all the drugs ready for the chemotherapy and I had to pour it in my chest,” said Michaels. “So they would have to take a needle and stick the syringe in me just to get it all hooked up and I had to sit there for four hours [to] five hours to let the drugs go inside me.”

For the average college student going through all of this, it would have been easy to give up on the idea of playing sports. However, with the support of his teammates, Michaels continued.

In a moment that Michaels remembers as one of the main reasons he kept coming back, former Bluejays linebacker, Alec Datoli, spoke to him and provided him with a message that has stuck with him to this day.

“I showed up to every lift during the offseason, which was four days a week and [DaToli] came up to me and told me, ‘You know Dave, I don’t know how you do this. You come here every day with a smile on your face and you don't have a problem just standing here watching us grind. You're the reason why we're grinding so hard. You’re the reason we are trying our hardest this offseason. We’re gonna do amazing things for you this season.’”

“He would be in the weight room [and] he was never moping around, very positive,” said Datoli. “He would just stand there and watch us work out and talk to us.”

“I would say, in that moment, seeing him, this wasn’t like a planned conversation,” added Datoli. “I didn’t talk to my buddies and say, ‘hey I’m gonna talk to David,’ it just kind of came over me that day.”

“I was like ‘hey, this is incredible,’” DaToli continued. “The fact that this kid is doing all this for us and he’s only been with the team for not even a whole year just goes to show his character … I mean, he put his body and his life on the line, practically … for the team.”

“I can really say that the reason I was able to get through without a problem was because of the team,” said Michaels. “I went through flying colors without any kind of complication during this and my doctors were amazed that someone who had Stage 4 was able to not have any complications.”

Upon receiving the news that he was cancer-free, the first thing Michaels wanted to do was tell his teammates.

“I was waiting for [a] call from my mom to tell me before [a] team meeting we had and I get the call, find the news that I’m all good, cancer-free,” said Michaels. “So, I go to the team meeting beforehand and see my o-line coach at the time.”

Michaels continued, “I tell him that I had some news to tell the team, so he says ‘ok I'll tell coach Planz that you need to speak in the meeting at the end.’”

“He came up in front of the meeting and it was like from a movie,” said DaToli, who mentioned that he was getting chills reliving the scene in his head. “He told us he everything was in remission and he was healthy and he’s cancer-free and everyone immediately jumped out of their seats screaming and cheering, all of us basically tearing up in joy … and mobbed him.”

“He let the guys know and it was an eruption,” added Planz. “It was as if we had won the national championship. That's how excited and happy guys were.”

“I think emotionally, because of that family atmosphere, they were invested,” said Planz about the team. “They were invested in Dave and the process he was going through.”

“I got tackled on the stage. It was a great experience … I got a hundred hugs, everybody was in a line ready to hug me,” said Michaels.

“It was remarkable. He is an inspiration, that story is an inspiration,” said DaToli.

But the story does not end there.

“And he is playing now,” added DaToli.

Michaels said that it was “a tear jerker” getting back onto the field.

“As soon as I stepped on the field with all my pads on I kinda teared up in our stretch lines,” said Michaels. “Right from there, the coaches told me that I had a chance to compete for varsity playing time, even last year.”

“My goal was just to make the travel roster,” Michaels continued. “But I actually was able to get some playing experience last season. So after everything I went through it was a humbling experience.”

As of this season, Michaels is now a starter on the Bluejays offensive line, with another year of eligibility ahead of him.

“His will and his determination have led him to the position he is in now,” said Planz. “As he continues to grow and get his body back from all the radiation and chemo, he is going to be where he wants to be [on the football field].”

The top five reasons you should attend an EC sports game

 by Cole Sheeks, Sports Editor
Follow him at @ColeSheeks

Attending sporting events is usually one of the last reasons why a student would choose to enroll at a Division III college and for the most part, the average student has more important things to worry about than watching their classmates play sports.

That being said, as somebody who goes to a lot of these games, I can speak from that unique perspective and tell you guys about all of the exciting things that you can see at Division III games.

 

Reason #1:

A good, close game.

Nothing is quite as exciting as a sports game that goes down to the wire. Whether it is football, soccer, basketball or anything else, you never know when you are going to see a really good, close game at EC.

 

Reason #2:

We have cool uniforms

Navy and white are really nice colors. What’s more, most of our teams add light blue to the mix to change things up and the end results are some of the finest uniforms offered in the CCIW.

Regardless of the score or the outcome of the game, you can be confident that you will be seeing some of the best uniforms available when you watch sports at EC.

 

Reason #3:

Victor E. Bluejay

If you are lucky enough to go to the right game, you may be able to spot our school mascot: Victor E. Bluejay.

I’m not sure when we was created or who designed his costume, but I would definitely rank him up there as one of the top mascots in the conference.

If I’m being honest, Vic is probably the primary reason I came to this school in the first place.

 

Reason #4:

The pregame

I haven’t been able to actually convince anybody I know to go to these games with me yet (fingers crossed), so I generally attend our games sober; however, from what I hear, sporting events are a great place to hangout and drink.

I know our concessions stands refrain from serving alcohol, but it can’t really be that hard to sneak it into games. If you manage to pull that off, prepare to have the time of your life.

If you are underage, you could pregame it and then hang out at the game for a little while.

Personally, I think it would be pretty cool if we had a bunch of drunk college kids at all the games, but there aren’t always that many people who come out to support the Bluejays, so don’t get too excited about this one.

 

Reason #5:

A fight could break out

This is really my number one reason and it is the reason I became Sports Editor at The Leader.

Now understand me for a second, I have never personally witnessed a fight at any EC sporting event, nor do I endorse this sort of behavior, BUT this kind of thing happens at games all the time. Go on YouTube and type in “College of DuPage football fight.”

This was not an EC fight and it wasn’t even a Division III game; however, it happened pretty close to EC and I imagine it is possible at one of our games.

The whole video is pretty awesome and I highly recommend that you go check it out.

We will have the link embedded on ecleader.net for those who care to watch it.

Football games get pretty chippy and emotions can run wild in the heat of the game. If I had to bet on a sport a fight could happen in, football would be my best guess.

In addition to that, I am always on the edge of my seat at EC baseball games when somebody gets a pitch up and in. Like I said, it has not happened yet, but I can envision a Rougned Odor versus Jose Bautista-esque showdown at Butterfield and it is beautiful.

But this is not limited solely to the players. People in the crowd at sports games start fights all the time too. Hell, it could happen to you.

So there you have it. These are the top five reasons to attend a Division III sports game. Come on out to EC and support the Bluejays at their next home game. Hopefully I see you all there.

COLUMN: How to spend $5 million

by Cole Sheeks, Sports Editor Follow him at @ColeSheeks

by Cole Sheeks, Sports Editor
Follow him at @ColeSheeks

Meeting with President Troy VanAken this summer in order to talk with him about parts of the administration's strategic plan for the future at EC and how it relates to athletics was an exciting experience.

I was able to sit down with him and learn about this potential dome that I had heard many rumors about, in addition to seeing pictures of what the dome would look like and how it would work.

Immediately upon hearing about the plan, I was all for it. The manner in which a dome would benefit the baseball and softball programs (who I believe have the worst facilities on campus) really impressed me and although the plan did nothing to improve the conditions of the fields those teams play on, it represents progress for the athletic department.

However, the more I thought about the entire plan, the more doubts I had and after discussing the prospect of a dome at EC with various members of the campus community, I have come to the conclusion that it is not the right course of action for the school to take.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel that the school needs to do something to reinvigorate the athletic department, but the problem I see with the dome is that it does not address many of the primary issues that the athletic department is facing.

Yes, it will clear out space in the field house, but it fails to address the field house itself, or the baseball field, or the softball field for that matter.

When I have spoken with faculty regarding this issue, there was a general reluctance to the idea of the school investing heavily in athletics. While nobody trivialized the need for improved sports facilities, there were clearly more important issues on their minds.

Knowing this, I fear that EC will only have one shot at improving their athletic facilities in the near term future and if EC is going to make a multi-million dollar investment in athletics, it is extremely important that it does it the right way.

When visiting campuses around the CCIW, it is easy to recognize the difference between the athletic facilities that EC’s opponents have access to and the facilities on campus in Elmhurst.

At North Central College, the Cardinals are able to weight train in their fitness center, as well as their dedicated weight room (featured inside their indoor track). If the weather is nice, they can head outdoors to the main track or even hit the pool.

At Wheaton College, students once again have access to a pool, weight room, and track; however, Wheaton students can also use the dance studios and rock climbing wall found inside their $15 million sports center.

All of that is to say nothing about the football stadiums and baseball fields that these schools play at, nonetheless, it is difficult to compare these large scale facilities to those found at EC.

Simply put, investing around $3 million in a temporary training dome is merely a band-aid solution to a much larger problem. In fact, I would say that it is ultimately a waste of money when it is obvious that the real problem that EC is trying to solve is the field house itself.

And while all of these projects come with ridiculously large price tags, this seems to be the cost of competing in the CCIW and if EC is at all serious about sports, it needs to give athletes a reason to come to Elmhurst.

Whether that reason is a new field house, improved outdoor playing fields or something more creative, the idea of a dome just does not do it for me.

It may take longer to find the right donor and collect enough funding to compete with the North Central’s and the Wheaton’s of the world, but that is what needs to be done if the Bluejays ever hope to consistently compete among the elite teams in the CCIW.

COLUMN: Know your place

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by Cole Sheeks, Sports Editor

Follow him at @ColeSheeks

Working as the sports editor for a small Division III liberal arts college newspaper has been an interesting experience. 

Many people see sports reporters covering national games for professional sports leagues and jump to conclusions regarding what exactly they expect me to do.

That leaves a difficult question to answer: what is the role of a sports editor in my position?

While as much as I aspire towards a career in sports journalism, I would be lying if I said I knew the answer. I have had many different forms of this discussion with various administrators, coaches and professors around campus, receiving many different responses along the way.

Administrators have told me that covering issues that paint the school in a bad light damages the reputation of the athletic department and hurts their ability to recruit.

I can certainly sympathize with this stance and hardly want to do anything that actively hurts the athletic department at EC.

However, I also feel that I have a responsibility to highlight the important issues surrounding the players on our sports teams and if that happens to call for actual improvement, so be it.

Coaches have told me that they do not trust student media, and in fact a few coaches have informed me that they have personal policies in place regarding reporters with the Leader, refusing to speak with us due to a variety of issues. In fact, some coaches have prohibited us from speaking to any of their players as well.

While I understand and respect that many of these coaches have been at EC for decades before I stepped foot on campus (and will likely remain here far after I have graduated), many of the grievances those coaches hold with the Leader occurred long before I personally enrolled at EC and have nothing to do with our current staff at the Leader.

Punishing student journalists by limiting their access to sources is not a productive solution and only makes our coaches look paranoid. Why do we need to treat athletes at EC like children? 

And at the same time, these are Division III sports we are talking about. Why is it a battle for student journalists to cover an event or write a game story with quotes from players and coaches? While I respect the effort involved with competing at this level, is any of this really that serious?

Speaking of talking to players, this is another area in which my role as a sports writer has always felt a bit awkward.

Regardless of the outcome of a game, you can always tell that certain players are  more comfortable than others when it comes to speaking with the media.

Being a peer to all of the athletes I cover, I have always struggled with the idea of ripping apart classmates based on their performance in athletic programs on campus and it was only two weeks ago that I worked up the guts to share my own opinions on the play that takes place on the field at EC in a column.

As I move forward working as the Sports Editor for The Leader and writing about EC sports, I can only hope that those in charge of athletics on campus will allow for our writers to further pursue journalism in an enhanced setting.

The Leader Reviews: Madden 18

By Brandon DeJesus, Staff Writer

Follow him @WRSEBrandon

 

“Madden NFL 18” (“Madden 18”) may have a glossy new engine to make it look pretty, but on the field, it drops the ball to make this year's game fresh in terms of refining the actual gameplay.

The graphics in “Madden 18” are absolutely stunning thanks to the upgrade to the Frostbite Engine. It finally looks like fans expected it to when the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One first launched four years ago.

“Madden NFL 18” introduces Longshot, a narrative story mode where players embark on their own NFL career. Internet Photo

“Madden NFL 18” introduces Longshot, a narrative story mode where players embark on their own NFL career. Internet Photo

Factors such as body types, lighting effects and uniform and stadium details are all drastically improved from last year. Players need to look no further than the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes Benz Stadium and the attention to detail given to the Buccaneers’ orange trim and the Seahawks’ lime green. It is dazzling and illusive.

On the field, the Frostbite Engine makes the gameplay fluid and responsive thanks to more reinforced movement and new interaction animations. One-on-one interactions between cornerbacks and wide-receivers as well as line plays all look seamless.

While it is nice to see improvement, it still does not feel all that different from previous Madden games and the little changes are for the most part disappointing.

One of “Madden 18”’s unique new features is having the ability to choose between Arcade, Simulation and Competitive modes. This is a great feature because it provides different play styles for different skill levels.

Without question, the highlight of “Madden 18” is that EA Sports finally invigorates life into a single player campaign called Longshot. Longshot is a short but fantastic story-based experience using a great cast of characters and writing that is sharp and filled with career-altering decisions.

The story follows Devin Wade, an up-and-coming young quarterback through high school, college and the NFL Scouting Combine trying to pursue his NFL dream. Longshot presents players with button prompts that can affect Devin’s football IQ, social status and draft stock.

It is a bit puzzling that Longshot does not rely much on actual gameplay to succeed, especially in the first couple hours where you do nothing more than press a few buttons and do a quick on-field challenge. Still, the story itself stands out and Longshot definitely plants a seed for Madden to build upon in future releases.

After the story is finished, players can go straight into Madden Ultimate Team and complete Longshot-specific solo challenges, which harken back to the days of the EA Sports NCAA Football franchise. It is nice to continue the story and a good way to earn coins to build your Ultimate Team.

Madden Ultimate Team adds a new feature to this collectable card mode called MUT Squads. MUT Squads is a 3-on-3 online mode where three players assume the roles as head coach, offensive captain and defensive captain. The teams themselves are a mix of the three players’ Ultimate Team lineups which opens up some interesting possibilities.

Communication and team chemistry are the keys to success in this mode. Just be prepared to spend some hard earned money if players want to have a good squad.

Like Longshot, MUT Squads plants a seed for EA Sports to build upon and I hope other video game franchises such as “MLB The Show” can take some ideas from MUT Squads and apply it to Diamond Dynasty.

The move to the Frostbite engine, the fantastic new Longshot story mode and MUT Squads definitely make “Madden 18” a foundational title in the series.

COLUMN: Where is the beef?

by Cole Sheeks, Sports Editor Follow him at @ColeSheeks

by Cole Sheeks, Sports Editor

Follow him at @ColeSheeks

September 11th, 2017

Heading into this season, the most obvious strength the Bluejays football team showed was the offensive talent that was returning.

Between junior quarterback Orlando Hernandez, junior receiver Austin McKellar, sophomore receiver Jawan Gaines, and junior tight end Matt Brachmann, the Bluejays had speed, size and experience on their side and the offense was expected to be a dynamic group that could threaten teams all over the field, early and often.

However, after two weekends of football at Langhorst Field, the Bluejays offense has shown its glaring weakness: the offensive line.

Despite returning three starters, including 2016 2nd-team All-CCIW selection Garrett Underwood, the boys up front have forced their quarterback to run around like a lunatic on nearly every pass attempt as he tries to get the ball down field without being maimed in the process.

 

 

“However, after two weekends of football at Langhorst Field, the Bluejays offense has shown its glaring weakness: the offensive line.”

 

 

With eight sacks on the ledger through two games, the Bluejays are on pace to allow 40 over the course of their schedule (and they have yet to play CCIW bullies Wheaton and North Central).

Without the ability to threaten opposing defenses down field, teams have been able to load up against the run and hold the Bluejays down.

The running game has been a non-factor (and looks even worse if you remove passing plays that have resulted in Hernandez fleeing the comfort of his pocket and racing down field). Averaging 3.3 yard-per-carry, the Bluejays are on pace for their worst season on the ground since 2008.

This prevents play-action attempts from making any meaningful difference in the passing game and allows defenses to dictate and take additional risks, oftentimes leading to turnovers.

A lack of support up front severely limits the creativity of a coaching staff and the Bluejays will not be able to compete like this during conference play.

Something clearly has to change.

In the second half of the Bluejays loss to Olivet, there were fleeting moments of hope and Hernandez was able to get the ball down field to players like Brachmann, McKellar, and even freshman receiver Hasahn Austin.

 

 

“A lack of support up front severely limits the creativity of a coaching staff and the Bluejays will not be able to compete like this during conference play.”

 

 

While it is unclear exactly what recourse offensive line coach Chris Kirkpatrick has, his group needs to channel whatever it found late in the Olivet game and translate it into a consistent four quarter performance against a weak North Park squad in order to gain the confidence necessary to upset a team like Wheaton at Langhorst in two weeks.

Until they can establish a consistent push up front, all of the Bluejays offensive weapons will be neutralized and the offense will not live up to the potential it has.

Bluejays soccer coach reaches milestone with 200th victory in home opener

An EC men’s soccer player battles for possession at Langhorst Field. File Photo

An EC men’s soccer player battles for possession at Langhorst Field. File Photo

By Brandon DeJesus, Staff Writer

Follow him @WRSEBrandon

Dave Di Tomasso, head coach of the Bluejays men’s soccer team, won his 200th career gameat EC on Sept. 1 with the team’s home opening win against the Greenville University Panthers at Langhorst Field. 

The team earned their 2-0 victory after senior goalkeeper Nick King recorded his first shutout of the season, stopping all three shots he faced while senior mid fielders JD Garnett and Matt McNamara combined for a pair of first half goals.

Despite the milestone victory, Di Tomasso declined to speak with The Leader following the game, instead issuing a statement.

“It all starts with great goalkeeping and then an insane amount of discipline and focus from our defensive unit,” read Di Tomasso’s press release. “[Our defensive unit was] first to the ball in the air and on the ground and did not put our team in jeopardy one time.”

Di Tomasso did not permit his players to speak with The Leader regarding the match; however, his statement reflected on the people who he believes have helped him reach this milestone.

“200 wins is a direct reflection of all the great players and people that have worn the Elmhurst College uniform. Without successful, passionate, and talented players this milestone would not have been reached,” the statement read. 

 

In 13 seasons as the head coach of men’s soccer, Di Tomasso has compiled 132 total wins, with 49 of them coming during conference play. Prior to coaching the men’s team, Di Tomasso served as the head coach of the women’s soccer program for six seasons, winning 68 total games, including 30 CCIW matches.

A Bluejay striker approaches the net with a teammate in sight at Langhorst Field. File Photo

A Bluejay striker approaches the net with a teammate in sight at Langhorst Field. File Photo

Under Di Tomasso’s guidance, the Bluejays have averaged ten or more wins per season, with much of them coming during CCIW play, as well as a non-conference schedule that Di Tomasso believes is among one of the top ten most difficult in the nation.

In addition to Di Tomasso’s milestone victory, the game also marked the beginning of the Bluejays season and opened their home schedule. Di Tomasso also addressed that in his release.

“Players are always excited to participate in a home opener because they have been working on so many things during the preseason. It allows them to let loose and implement the knowledge they have gained,” said Di Tomasso in his statement.

The Bluejays men’s soccer team looks to continue their momentum for their next home game against Loras College, taking place on Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. at Langhorst Field.