While Week 1 of the high school football season brought hope and excitement to area schools such as Waukegan, Lakes, Round Lake and Lake Forest, the absolute best news of the weekend involved two area grads who are now playing professional football.
When NFL teams cut players over the weekend to get down to the 53-man limit for the regular season, North Chicago High grad O’Brien Schofield officially made the Seattle Seahawks and Waukegan high grad Rashaan Melvin made the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Both had been pretty much in survival mode during the preseason and took very different routes to make their respective teams.
Schofield was a linebacker on the Seahawks’ Super Bowl champion team last year and was a free agent after that game, allowed to sign with any NFL team that wanted him. The New York Giants wanted him, but NYG decided that a knee problem revealed during a physical exam was not worth a two-year, $8 million contract risk, so they opted not to sign him.
Schofield eventually signed a low-money, one-year deal back with the Seahawks, who immediately changed him from a linebacker to pass-rushing defensive end.
In that new spot — actually it’s the position O’Brien played in college at Wisconsin — Schofield thrived during the preseason and he now has another year to show he’s worth a big-money contract when he becomes a free agent again at the end of this season.
Melvin is now a second-year defensive back with Tampa Bay, although the first time he steps on the field in a regular-season NFL game will be his first legit pro game ever.
After finishing his college career at NIU in DeKalb, Rashaan wasn’t drafted but signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent and made the team with a strong preseason performance.
Alas, in the final preseason game of 2013, he was injured and missed the entire 2013 campaign on the injured reserve list.
This spring, with new coach Lovie Smith watching, Rashaan again had great minicamp workouts and strong summer workouts. But before he could log any kind of game action during the preseason, he broke down with a bad ankle injury and wound up usually as a spectator.
Fortunately, he had shown enough during workouts to convince Lovie that he can contribute this season.
Melvin is in the second year of a three-year contract he signed in 2013. So, if he thrives on the field this fall, he’ll be back with Tampa Bay next year.
Tampa Bay plays the Bears in Chicago this season, and while that game will be blown up as Lovie Smith’s return to Chicago, it also will be a homecoming for Rashaan, and you can bet there will be a strong Lake County contingent at that game.
As for the area’s third NFL player, the news is not so good for Lake Zurich High grad/Carolina Panthers quarterback Matt Blanchard.
Blanchard, cut by the Bears in 2013 and then signed to Carolina’s practice squad, Blanchard suffered a concussion while playing in a preseason game last month and when the Panthers made their 53-man roster official, he was put on the injured reserve list.
That means he won’t play this season for the Panthers. If doctors determine that Blanchard is well enough to play football game, he has to be released by Carolina and will be a free agent.
Play it again, Sam
That would be Sam Taylor, athletic director at Waukegan High School, and what we want played again in 2015 is a season-opening football game between Waukegan and North Chicago.
The teams played for the fourth straight year last Saturday, with Waukegan dominating 25-0, so that each team has now won twice since the series of games began.
Here’s a vote in favor of Taylor and North Chicago athletic director Brian Colbert agreeing to play again next fall, especially since the sophomore game played on Saturday ended in a tie, suggesting that the teams will be fairly equal next season.
Saturday’s game was played in front of the biggest crowd North Chicago will have at a home game all season. Waukegan’s huge crowd for the game will be topped this fall only by attendance at this Saturday’s home-opening game against rival Zion-Benton.
As for the Waukegan/North Chicago game last, week, here are a some things that come to mind. As they are won to say, eight is enough:
1) Not having rosters/programs for the fans was a total disservice to the communities which came out in big numbers to support the teams. Call it borderline rude. There is no excuse.
People in the stands on both sides are looking for the names of the kids on the teams because everybody in Waukegan has a relative in North Chicago, and vice versa, and the fans want to know who’s playing. Heck, this was Week 1 of the season.
Not having rosters available for the fans brings to mind the oft-heard sentiment about North Chicago High School: “What do you expect? It’s North Chicago.”
You would think that the school district — or the state of Illinois that’s apparently running it these days — would do anything and everything to put the school in a positive light.
Not making the football experience the best possible one for the fans is not the way to do that.
2) Though the game ended in a 0-0 tie, North Chicago’s sophomores did have three touchdowns called by penalties, and by all accounts, freshman quarterback Derrick Turner is the deal and a key piece to build a program around in coming years.
3) North Chicago High’s football field is grass rather than a artificial turf, but it is as good a grass field as you’re going to find anywhere.
4) North Chicago High senior captain Xzavier Johnson led the Warhawks onto the field during the pregame from a wheelchair.
He had a severe ankle injury during an intrasquad scrimmage and won’t play this season. The linebacker/running back still served as captain and watched the game from his wheelchair on the track behind the North Chicago bench.
By all accounts, he’s a hustling, 110-percent type of player who leads by example. The example he’s setting for his teammates is that you can contribute to the team even if you can’t be on the field. Good for him.
5) Don’t know if anybody in Waukegan is connected to Nike or Adidas or some company like that. But, we need to get the Bulldogs purple-colored jerseys. They obviously wore white on the road against North Chicago, but have green home shirts that likely be broken out for Saturday’s game against Zion-Benton.
Some company needs to ride to the rescue here with 60 purple-colored jerseys.
6) Waukegan defensive lineman Lorenzo Tanner is going to play college football somewhere.
7) Waukegan ran basically the same offense in a 25-0 win over North Chicago that Deerfield ran in a 35-12 win over Zion-Benton.
Boring, but efficient.
The fear from the Waukegan side is that Zion’s players have now seen it. And truth be told, Deerfield didn’t run wild against Zion. The Zee-Bees beat themselves.
8) Waukegan has got to beat Zion-Benton to become a legit contender to qualify for the playoffs, but days before kickoff, it’s not really clear whether or not the Bulldogs can do it on Saturday.