Football playoffs present some interesting matchups

This weekend’s WIAA football playoffs present some intriguing matchups.
One of the most intriguing is the rematch between Somerset and Ellsworth in Division 4. Somerset won the Middle Border Conference this year. Ellsworth started strong, but slipped to third place with losses to Somerset and New Richmond. The scenario was just the opposite a year ago. Ellsworth topped Somerset for the MBC title, only to see Somerset knock off the Panthers in Level 2 of the playoffs.
Ellsworth is surely hoping to return the favor this year. But which Ellsworth team will we see? The Panthers had a good amount of success passing the ball when they faced Somerset in the regular season. But in last Friday’s 21-6 win over Northwestern, the Panthers relied completely on their ground game to earn the win.
This will be an entertaining game because of the coaching. Somerset’s Bruce Larson and Ellsworth’s Clair Austin are two of the most battle tested coaches in the area. They will have their teams prepared for every scenario.
The Division 3 game between New Richmond and La Crosse Logan also has the possibility to be a knockdown, drag-out battle. Logan is undefeated and is known for playing a power, smash-mouth type of offense. New Richmond’s defense has held up pretty well against some strong opponents. And New Richmond’s offense, with the double-barrel running attack of Jake Singerhouse and Sam Altena, could be the best that Logan has seen all season.
The Division 4 game between St. Croix Central and Black River Falls will keep fans on the edge of their seats. Talk about two opposing styles. With Central’s fullback tandem of Cody Gostovich and Trent Smith, the Panthers can pound the ball between the tackles with the best teams around. Black River Falls plays more of a free-wheeling style where a trick play could be coming at any time, in any situation.
Hudson will have a battle on its hands in the Division 1 matchup against Appleton North. The Raiders lost games early in the season to Superior and Rice Lake, but they’ve seemed to get back on course in their recent five-game win streak. The Raiders appear to be getting their defense where it needs to be, and the defense will be challenged by Appleton North. North had five games this season of scoring 35 points or more, including a 44-14 win over Eau Claire Memorial in Level 1 of the playoffs.
In Division 6, Spring Valley is coming off a 65-point performance in its Level 1 win over Elmwood-Plum City. The Cards can run the ball all night, as shown by the 459 yards they gained on the ground against E-PC. The Cards aren’t one dimensional. They completed 10 of 14 passes for 148 yards in the win.
The Cards are facing a Hurley team that played most of its schedule against Michigan teams. Hurley has shown it can pile up points too, and both teams have given up a fair amount of points against tougher opponents.

The fantasy football fanaticism

It has been reported that more than half of the adult males in the United States play some version of fantasy football.
Think about that for a minute. We can’t get that percentage of citizens to vote. We can’t get that percentage of American citizens to agree on much of anything.
But when it comes to our love of football, and the entirely legal way to gamble on football, American men flock to fantasy football at a mind-boggling level. The percentage of women playing fantasy football is also increasing rapidly.
What is it about football that makes it such a blissful marriage with the fantasy aspect? Such a high percentage of American males have played football at some level, whether it was in the backyard on a Sunday afternoon or in their school program. And a huge percentage of the people look back at those days with a wistful, glorified view, like it is bringing back the best of their youth.
While fantasy football is somewhat romanticized, it is also a big business. The fantasy football craze has spawned thousands of websites with their own versions of the game. It would be interesting to see how many people are making their living strictly by running fantasy sports websites. It has to be in the thousands. Everybody and their brother seems to have a fantasy football website. The esteemed sports sites like and have them. But so do websites like, and
There are even sites now that judge the accuracy of all the fantasy sites. Fantasy Librarian ( is one of the main websites dedicated to testing the validity of the picks of the different sports websites.
Some people have built pretty hefty sports reputations by being at the leading edge of fantasy sports. Paul Charchian of was one of the originators of fantasy football rankings. Charchian has parlayed his fantasy knowledge into a semi-regular role on KFAN radio. Honestly, he’s one of the best things about the station and if they had any sense, they’d be hiring him for a full-time gig. But he probably doesn’t need it, with all his fantasy ventures working so well.
For those who’ve played fantasy football throughout the years, they’ve seen it follow the changes that have happened in the NFL. In past decades, every team had running backs who would get 20 carries per game and the first rounds of every draft would be made or broken by selecting the correct running backs.
Those days are over. There are just a handful of teams that have one running back playing on all three downs and those players go in a hurry in fantasy drafts. But you have to be careful, because those running backs burn out quickly. People who drafted Arian Foster last year can tell you all about it.
In the past five years, quarterbacks and receivers have become just as valuable as the top running backs in leagues. It seems that more leagues are going away from the basic scoring to PPR (point per reception) or other equations to add spice to the league’s scoring. It does add interest and make league members pay closer attention to every game, which is exactly why the NFL is so happy to see the fantasy football crazy continue rolling merrily along.

Bye in Hall of Fame, MBC coaching changes, local NFL news

While the start of the 2014 high school football season is getting everyone back into the sports mode, there are a number of other sports topics that are taking center stage this week.

Bye in Hall of Fame
River Falls native Karyn Bye Dietz was announced as a member of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame on Wednesday. Bye, who now lives in Hudson, helped the United States win its first Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey in 1998. She led that team with six goals. In 2002, Bye was part of the United States team that earned the silver medal in the Olympics.
Bye is part of a Hall of Fame class that has many Wisconsin ties. Former University of Wisconsin men’s hockey coach Craig Sauer is also an inductee. Sauer led the Badgers to two NCAA men’s hockey national championships.
Brian Rafalski is also an inductee. Rafalski was a standout defenseman for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team. That was followed by a lengthy NHL career, mainly with the New Jersey Devils.
Lou Vairo, a longtime coach and a scout for the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, is the fourth inductee. The induction ceremony will be held on Dec. 4 in the Twin Cities.

MBC coaching changes
Two significant coaching changes around the Middle Border Conference occurred in recent days.
Former Ellsworth wrestling standout Mark Matzek is coming home. Matzek will take over as the Ellsworth wrestling coach, leaving his position as the Augsburg College head wrestling coach. Matzek has been Augsburg’s coach the past six years. In that time, he has maintained Augsburg’s reputation as one of the finest Division III wrestling programs in the country. Matzek was an assistant coach for the Auggies for three years before becoming head coach.
As a wrestler for the Auggies, Matzek won two national championships and he was accorded with All-American honors three times in his college wrestling career.
Matzek also has been hired as a middle school mathematics teacher in Ellsworth.
While Matzek is making the move from the college to the high school ranks, Somerset boys basketball coach Brent Larson is making the opposite move. Larson resigned late last week after accepting an offer to become an assistant coach in the UW-Eau Claire men’s basketball program.
It’s easy to argue that Larson has been the most successful boys basketball coach in Somerset history. In his six years leading the Spartans, Larson took his team to the sectional tournament three times. The Spartans were MBC co-champions in 2013-14, when the team set a school record with 21 wins in the season.

NFL news
Two offensive linemen from St. Croix County started the 2014 NFL season in training camp. One of them is flourishing as an NFL starter, but one has already seen his NFL season come to an end.
Hudson native Kraig Urbik returns as the starting right guard for the Buffalo Bills. Urbik moved into the Bills’ starting lineup in 2011 and has become one of the mainstays of the team’s offense. He signed a $15 million contract extension in December, 2012 that carries through the 2016 season.
Urbik grabbed some attention in one of the first Bills practices of the 2014 training camp. Because the Bills have several injuries at tight end, Urbik lined up at tight end for the team’s short-yardage blocking packages. Urbik, listed at 328 pounds, fulfilled every lineman’s dream in the series of eight plays. On the fifth play, Urbik was sent out on a pass pattern, catching a pass from quarterback E.J. Manuel in the end zone. Knowing it might be his only chance to do such a celebration, Urbik spiked the ball quite vigorously to cap his moment in the sun.
Somerset native Bryan Witzmann has apparently seen his first NFL season come to an early end. While the Houston Texans aren’t releasing many details, Witzmann has suffered an injury that caused him to be put on injured reserve for the 2014 season. The injury reportedly occurred during a collision in practice, where Witzmann suffered a right arm/shoulder injury.
There had been several reports that Witzmann had been impressing Houston coaches with his work in the early practices. Some reports had Witzmann in contention for playing time at right tackle, which was considered the weakest of the Texans’ offensive line positions.
Hopefully, Witzmann can make a full recovery and be back competing for a position on the Texans’ line in 2015.

2014: A baseball odyssey

How does a sports editor spend a vacation?
Watching eight minor league baseball games in an eight-day span.
Iowa isn’t necessarily the first place most people would want to spend their vacation. But for an all-inclusive baseball experience, that included watching tons of baseball and several chances to stir baseball’s historical waters, it was a trip of epic proportions.
One of the most memorable times of the trip was a visit with former major league pitcher Bill Fischer, who lives in Council Bluffs. Fischer holds two major distinctions in baseball history. In 1964, he set a record that still stands today, by throwing 84.1 straight innings without walking a batter. During that stretch, Fischer faced 350 batters without walking one of them.
Fischer, who was born in Wausau and grew up in Marathon, pitching in the major leagues from 1956 to 1964. He’s better known, however, for his work as a pitching coach.
Fischer retired as a player in 1968 and he was immediately hired as a scout. He’s worked as a pitching coach, scout and minor league coordinator and supervisor ever since. This year is the 67th year he’s spent in baseball.
Fischer served as a major league pitching coach with Cincinnati in 1979-83, Boston in 1985-91 and Tampa Bay 2000-01. He receives a great deal of credit from two of the greatest pitchers of the past 50 years, Tom Seaver and Roger Clemens, for being one of the strongest influences in their baseball careers. When Seaver was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he was sure to thank Fischer during his acceptance speech.
Talking with Fischer was like a whirlwind trip through baseball history. He told stories about Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. He spoke about the handling of pitchers and how he built upon pitchers’ strengths, while watching for flaws that might be limiting their effectiveness.
Fischer joked that he was a far better coach than he ever was a pitcher. One of the infamous moments of his career came when he faced Mantle. He gave up a homer to Mantle that nearly sailed out of old Yankee Stadium. A scientist studied the homer and estimated that it would have carried 620 feet if it hadn’t struck the facing of the Yankee Stadium roof.
A baseball trip to Iowa isn’t complete without a trip to the Field of Dreams, made famous in the movie of that name that starred Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones 25 years ago.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in the visit. When you drive up, it’s just a small ballfield surrounded by a field of corn, something you could find anywhere in the Midwest. Maybe it’s the power of suggestion, or maybe it’s the mystique created by the movie. But as I walked around the field, or sat on the wooden bleachers that were used in the movie, I couldn’t stop James Earl Jones’ booming voice from filling my thoughts.

“The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”

It was like they were playing his baseball overture over a loudspeaker, but it was all between my ears. I had to sit on the right corner of the bench, where Mr. Jones began his speech. Groups can sign up for time slots to play on this historic field. It gave me butterflies, to watch as people with little baseball skill, but a ton of baseball love, took their turn batting on the hallowed field.
The third piece of the baseball history portion of the trip was a stop at the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter. Feller is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Feller won 266 games, but he also gave up four seasons in the prime of his career to serve in World War II. Feller earned the nickname “Rapid Robert” by being one of the hardest throwers in baseball history. He has three no-hitters to his credit.
Feller’s museum was packed with photos of his baseball career and his military career. It’s a treat for any baseball junky to visit.
Feller was a great ambassador for baseball until his death in 2010. Sadly, interest in his museum has fallen off sharply since then. The museum manager said the museum will likely close this year. Most of the items will be sent to a museum in Cleveland, where Feller played his entire career.
The first three days of the trip were centered around watching Cedar Rapids Kernels games. The Kernels are a farm team of the Minnesota Twins. The games at Cedar Rapids are a fun experience. The ballpark is new and maintained well. The between inning promotions are fresh and entertaining.
The Kernels are managed by Joe Mauer’s brother, Jake. The biggest names on the roster are pitchers, like high draft choices Kohl Stewart, Nick Burdi and Ryan Eades. Lewis Thorpe, an 18-year-old Australian, is another prized prospect.
Burdi provided the most memorable moment of the three games. Burdi has the tools to be a major league closer. He was brought in to save the second game of the series, pitching the ninth inning. He struck out three straight batters, with his fastball registering 96-99 miles per hour. The opposing batters clearly were overmatched, unable to catch up to his blazing pitches.
The final five games were spent in Des Moines, home of the Iowa Cubs, the top farm team of the Chicago Cubs. The I-Cubs were drawing huge crowds, including a packed house of more than 12,000 fans, on our final day at Principal Park. The big reason for the upturn in attendance? The Cubs have been stockpiling top prospects and several of them are now playing in Des Moines.
Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler are all considered to be among the top prospects in minor league baseball and are key figures in the Cubs’ future plans. The I-Cubs had them batting consecutively in the 3-4-5 spots in the lineup. It seemed that at least one of the three was making things happen each time through the lineup.
The most entertaining game of the visit was a July 22 battle between the I-Cubs and New Orleans. New Orleans started its prize pitching prospect, Andrew Heaney, and he was awesome. He had a perfect game going into the seventh inning, before the Cubs scored on a hit and an error. Iowa finished with two hits, but a 1-0 win in a tremendous pitching battle.
This was the first time I’d ever spent time in Iowa and I was surprised. Cedar Rapids and Des Moines were both much larger than I’d imagined. They were both clean, active cities with some interesting places to visit. And the reputation that Iowa has for being flat and covered in corn? That’s only if you follow I-35 through the state. Much of Iowa’s terrain is similar to northern Wisconsin, with many rolling hills and a nice variety of scenery.
My best friend, Tim, and I made this trip. During the 1990s we made a number of baseball trips, traveling mainly around Wisconsin to visit former ballplayers. With families taking a higher priority, we got away from doing making these journeys, with the plan that we’d start again some day. I’m hoping this is the first of many yearly adventures.

Middle Border Conference gets three all-state baseball players, Big Rivers gets five

The western part of the state did quite well in the voting for the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association All-State Baseball Team.
Three players from the Middle Border Conference and four players from the Big Rivers Conference were named to the 2014 all-state team. The MBC player who received the highest honor was Prescott junior infielder Michael Brookshaw. Brookshaw, who hit .515 for the Cardinals this season, was a third team all-state selection. He follows a family tradition of all-state recognition. His older brother, Billy, was a first team all-state player in 2012.
Two Ellsworth seniors received honorable mention all-state honors. Dennis Schutz and Logan Armstrong were both honored, Schutz as an outfielder and Armstrong as a utility player.
River Falls junior outfielder Jon Krueger led the Big Rivers Conference selections. Krueger was also a third team all-state selection. Four players from the Big Rivers Conference received honorable mention all-state recognition. They included senior pitcher Dalton Roach from Eau Claire Memorial, senior infielder A.J. Naatz from Menomonie, junior infielder Isaac Gibson of Eau Claire North and senior outfielder Zach Pasano from Chippewa Falls. Krueger and Roach were the BRC Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year, respectively.
There were several players on the all-state list who area teams saw up close this season. Viroqua pitcher Mitch Stalsberg was named the WBCA State Player of the Year. It was Stalsberg who knocked Ellsworth out of the WIAA Division 2 sectional tournament by throwing a two-hitter against the Panthers. Stalsberg also recorded a victory in the opening round of the WIAA state tournament, setting a state tournament record by striking out 21 batters in a nine-inning, 2-1 win over Ripon.
Marshfield catcher Daulton Varsho was also a first team selection. Another of the standouts from the Varsho family, he ran wild in carrying Marshfield to a double-header sweep over New Richmond just before the start of the WIAA tournaments.

Catching Up: Spring sports, Relay for Life and other notes

The spring high school sports season is officially completed for area teams.
For most of them, it was a whirlwind season, and we’re not just talking about the weather.
The weather did have a major bearing on the 2014 spring season, though it didn’t do nearly the damage that was done to the 2013 spring schedules. This year’s spring sports did get a bit of a late start and saw its share of washouts, but there was enough good weather where teams were able to get in complete seasons. That wasn’t the case the year before, when the horrid weather led to a rash of double-headers, and in many cases, a slew of canceled games.
For the Middle Border Conference, this spring wasn’t as successful as in past years in terms of getting teams to the state tournament. There were high hopes that Baldwin-Woodville would earn another trip to the state softball championships and that Ellsworth, Prescott or Somerset would advance in baseball. That doesn’t lessen the fact that they had outstanding seasons. The Ellsworth-Prescott rivalry in baseball has to be one of the most passionate in this part of the state. Both towns have long traditions of success in baseball and that doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon.
Track athletes got a much better experience in 2014 than the previous year, though there were several meets washed away this year too. The area was represented well this year. Somerset had a pair of state champions in Aaron Joppru and Max Praschak. The Dunn-St. Croix Conference had state champions in Elk Mound’s Jonah Bauer and Spring Valley’s Zac Webster.
Webster was a treat to watch. When you see him standing among the other competitors, he’s one of the smaller guys in the group. It isn’t until you see Webster jump that you get an understanding of why he was the state triple jump champion and that he took second place in the long jump and high jump. He jumps like he was born with wings. His hang time is just incredible, especially in his final bound in the triple jump. It’s like he floats in the air, he’s got that sort of propulsion in his legs.
Getting to attend the WIAA state track meet is one of the highlights of my sports year. Each year, I am constantly amazed by the incredible athletic performances. Through the years Wisconsin track fans have gotten to witness Olympians like Suzy Favor Hamilton and future National Football League stars like Michael Bennett and Jim Flanigan. There have been milers who’ve lowered their times under 4 minutes, 10 seconds. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see a runner break the 4-minute mile at the state meet in future years.
One of the things that amazes me most is the progress made by female athletes every year. Female athletes have been becoming more and more dedicated to strength and conditioning each year and it continues to pay dividends. I remember covering Terri Tretsven of St. Croix Falls when she won the girls state discus championship in 1986, when the state meet was still held in Madison. She had a winning distance of 119 feet. That distance wouldn’t have gotten through most of the state’s sectional tournaments this year.

Relay for Life
Another great Relay for Life in New Richmond was completed over the weekend. At last count, they had nearly $95,000 raised for the American Cancer Society.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, it took me several years before I could get up the nerve to attend a Relay. Now it is one of the most rejuvenating steps in the cancer journey each year.
My favorite part is the introduction of the cancer survivors each year. Every one is an amazing story. Whether it’s the survivors who’ve won the battle for 20 years or more, or the people who are attending their first Relay as a survivor, they’ve had to fight the battle and they are winning.
My personal favorite is seeing some of the young people who were diagnosed as children and seeing how they’ve grown each year. To me, that’s why research for cancer and other diseases is so important. It’s giving life to young people who would otherwise by taken away from us. Seeing them get to live out normal, full lives goes beyond heart-warming. And I think it helps every one of us to fight a little harder.

Check out the University of Minnesota football website for Gaelin Elmore’s profile. Though he’s listed as a tight end, all the video clips feature his blocking prowess. One of the best parts of this time of year is seeing the May graduates starting their progression toward college. Those graduates hoping to gain a foothold in college athletics have an especially important summer. They need to be in peak condition heading into their freshman seasons so they can make a memorable first impression on their coaches and new teammates.
Is anyone fired up for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game coming to the Twin Cities? I thought there would be more excitement, but the Minnesota Twins aren’t doing much to grab the interest of local fans. There has been no publicity on all the events that surround the All-Star Game. With less than a month before the big event, you’d think the Twins would be doing more to promote the event, especially considering how much money they spent to bring the event here.

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NFL Draft has more questions than usual

There are no guarantees in the NFL Draft every year. But this year, some of the best players seem to carry the biggest question marks.
It would be easy to claim that Jadaveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel are the most talented defensive and offensive players in the draft, respectively. While both have the talent to be stars in the NFL, both have questions about whether all of that talent will ever turn into production. Clowney is unbelievably talented, but his ambition has not yet matched his talent. Manziel is a mercurial quarterback woth immense talent, but also could end up as a Ryan Leaf-sized bust.
Here is one fan’s mock draft to go along with Thursday’s NFL Draft.

No. 1: Jadaveon Clowney, Houston Texans. If the Texans keep this pick, it’ll either be Clowney or Khalil Mack. Clowney, from South Carolina, has freakish skills, but his motor doesn’t run all out, all the time. Mack is a safer bet, but few teams play it safe with the first overall pick.

No. 2: Greg Robinson, St. Louis Rams. Most teams in the top 10 of the draft would like to trade down and the Rams are a strong trade candidate. If the Rams stay put, Robinson is the best offensive lineman in the draft. The Rams’ offensive line has seemingly always been patched together. This would give them a supreme blocker.

No. 3: Khalil Mack, Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville badly needs a flashy impact player to renew fan optimism. There isn’t a quarterback they view as worth this pick, so they’ll go with Mack, a fierce outside pass rusher. He’ll be a massive upgrade to their pedestrian defensive talent.

No. 4: Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns. This is where the intrigue in the draft starts. Cleveland could go in a number of directions. They could take one of the two skilled wide receivers or they could go for offensive line help. With the two best defensive players gone, Cleveland will take the big gamble and bet their future on Johnny Football.

No. 5: Sammy Watkins, Oakland Raiders. The Raiders are always unpredictable. Watkins gets the nod because the Raiders badly need offensive help. One of the two remaining elite offensive tackles could also land here. So could Mike Evans, the other top wide receiver.

No. 6: Jake Matthews, Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons’ prayers are answered as they get one of the two top offensive tackles without needing to trade up. Matthews will provide a quick cure for an offensive line that’s gone unaddressed in several drafts.

No. 7: Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Evans will join with Vincent Jackson to give the Bucs a pair of bookend wide receivers out of the same mold. Evans is a tall receiver who can stretch the field. The Bucs now have a pair of wideouts similar to the Chicago Bears’ tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey.

No. 8: Blake Bortles, Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings need a quarterback they can groom for the future. Bortles is an ideal candidate. He’s a pocket quarterback with some evasive ability. If the Vikings are patient and give him time to learn, they might have their quarterback of the future, this time.

No. 9: Taylor Lewan, Buffalo Bills. The Bills have several glaring needs. But the one most screaming to be addressed is the offensive line. There are three elite tackles in the draft and the Bills can’t let one slip by when they have this chance to make such a major upgrade.

No. 10: Justin Gilbert, Detroit Lions. Don’t be surprised if the Lions trade up, possibly to the fifth spot, to snare one of the two top receivers in the draft. If the Lions can’t get one of those receivers, they’ll likely address their need at cornerback by taking Gilbert, the best corner in this year’s draft.

No. 11: Anthony Barr, Tennessee Titans. The Titans need to inject talent into a mild defense. Barr is the best available pass rusher. He’s a major upgrade to the athleticism of the Titan defense.

No. 12: Aaron Donald, New York Giants. The Giants continue rebuilding their defensive front by taking Donald. He’s a quick interior lineman and the Giants love collecting pass rushers.

No. 13: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, St. Louis Rams. The Rams could go in any number of directions with this pick. Cornerback and receiver are among the team’s most glaring needs, but they are one of several teams that are looking to improve their safety play.

No. 14: Calvin Pryor, Chicago Bears. There’s little doubt the Bears will use this pick on a defensive player, but which position do they address? Their secondary quality has dropped off sharply in recent years. Taking Pryor renews their commitment to pass defense.

No. 15: Darqueze Dennard, Pittsburgh Steelers. Dennard is a perfect fit for Pittsburgh’s style of defense. He’s a physical cornerback who plays the run well and isn’t afraid to hit. If one of the three top tackles is still available, the Steelers would pounce and they’re also a candidate to trade up for a tackle.

No. 16: Timmy Jernigan, Dallas Cowboys. The Cowpokes would love to trade up to get Aaron Donald. Instead, they’ll settle for the next option at defensive tackle. Jernigan is another smallish defensive tackle with quickness. If the Cowboys want to get a beefier tackle, they might go with 331-pound Louis Nix.

No. 17: Jimmie Ward, Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens drafted a safety last year and they could take another this year. The Ravens could go in a number of directions on defense, or they could make an offensive splash at tight end or wide receiver.

No. 18: Eric Ebron, New York Jets. The Jets have several needs, including tight end, wide receiver and cornerback. With a serious desire to upgrade their passing game, the Jets grab Ebron. He’s a great receiver, but a negligible blocker.

No. 19: Zach Martin, Miami Dolphins. The Fins replace Richie Incognito with a Notre Damer. Talk about an upgrade.

No. 20: C.J. Mosley, Arizona Cardinals. Many people think the Cards will grab a quarterback. But they came too close to the playoffs last season to not draft an impact player.  The Cards lost linebackers to free agency and Mosley would be a good run stuffer for their defense.

No. 21: Ryan Shazier, Green Bay Packers: Mosley and all the safeties the Packers hoped would last are gone, so Shazier is the best option to upgrade the defense. The Packers’ defense is in bad need of more athletes.

No. 22: Odell Beckham Jr., Philadelphia Eagles. Beckham fits well into the Eagles’ offensive scheme and replaces the big play ability of DeSean Jackson.

No. 23: Brandin Cooks, Kansas City Chiefs. If Cooks doesn’t go to the Eagles, he’ll go here. The Chiefs are in desperate need of receivers and they are looking for someone who can contribute immediately.

No. 24: Jason Verrett, Cincinnati Bengals. Verrett is a scrappy cornerback. The Bengals like their corners to play tough and Verrett fits the bill.

No. 25: Louis Nix, San Diego Chargers. Nix is an anchor-type defensive tackle who can stuff a running game as well as any defensive lineman in the draft.

No. 26: Bradley Roby, Cleveland Browns. If the Browns don’t take a quarterback with the fourth pick, they’ll take one here. If they already have their quarterback, they’ll go for a cornerback to play opposite Joe Haden.

No. 27: Dee Ford, New Orleans Saints. There will be temptations to add to the offensive arsenal, but the need for help along the defensive line will lead the Saints to draft Ford.

No. 28: Marqise Lee, Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have added some second-rate receivers to replace Steve Smith, but they need to get someone with more upside, so they add Lee.

No. 29: Joel Bitiono, New England Patriots. The Patriots are looking to beef up their line play. Bitiono is a nasty offensive tackle who fits the Patriots’ aggressive style.

No. 30: Kyle Fuller, San Francisco 49ers. The Niners could easily go for a receiver, but they love to stockpile defensive backs.

No. 31: Xavier Su’a-Filo, Denver Broncos. With the free agent loss of guard Zane Beedles, the Broncos need to fortify their front wall to protect Peyton Manning. Su’a-Filo is a mountain of a guard, with a streak of meanness.

No. 32: Cody Latimer, Seattle Seahawks. Although they’re Super Bowl champions, the Seahawks have areas where they area vulnerable. The offensive line could use upgrades and so can the receivers corps. The Hawks need to address the free agent loss of Golden Tate and they do so by drafting Latimer.

Spring sports fans know how to accessorize

It’s easy to tell a spring high school sports fan.
They’re the ones whose car trunks are ready to burst because of all the coats, hats, gloves and boots they carry around to be ready for the unpredictable weather conditions that can sprout up for any outdoor sports event.
Dressing in layers is supposed to be for winter conditions, but any sports fan can tell you that having the clothes available to dress in layers is essential. To call spring weather unpredictable is a gross understatement. It’s not uncommon to need to add or subtract a couple layers of clothing during any sporting event, because spring weather can be that fickle. You can start a game putting on sunblock and be scrambling for earmuffs by the end of it.
Fans have it easy compared to the athletes. Prepared fans have a car full of clothing options. Athletes who ride a bus to events often don’t have the space to carry all the clothing options that are needed. It seem track athletes are the ones most prone to the effects of the weather, because they can have lengthy stretches of time between events. I can’t count the time I’ve seen track athletes who were chilled to the bone because they were caught by surprise by a cold turn in the weather forecast. Anyone who had a clothes concession booth at early season track meets could make a killing by selling warm, dry clothing to the fans and athletes who arrived unprepared.
The spring season starts out that way and by the end of the season, you see fans and athletes who should be treated for third degree burns because of the sunburns they get. Loving the sunshine is tricky. You can quickly go from reveling in its warmth to needing bottles of aloe to treat the burns you’ve received.
To athletes and fans, be prepared for anything when you attend sporting events in the spring. Because any weather conditions possible could crop up on any given day.

WIAA needs 1.65 multiplier to provide sports equity

While pundits from all of Wisconsin’s metro areas are arguing against the proposal, the plan to add a 1.65 multiplier to the enrollment of private schools for WIAA sports events is badly needed to bring equity to the Wisconsin high school playing field.
The WIAA member schools are scheduled to vote on the 1.65 multiplier proposal at the WIAA annual meeting in Stevens Point on Wednesday.
It has been clear that since WISAA stopped holding private school state tournaments, an inordinate number of private schools have been qualifying for WIAA state tournaments. The percentages simply show that the private schools, which can draw from districts outside of their base geographic area, while public schools can’t, hold an unfair advantage over the public schools.
Is the 1.65 multiplier the perfect solution? Maybe not, but it is a start to the badly needed equity that is needed in Wisconsin high school sports.
The inequity is noticeable in sports like football and basketball, where the private schools have prominent teams which make state tournaments every year. In several sectionals around the state, it is nearly impossible for public schools to have a prayer of reaching the state tournament because their hopes are choked by several top private schools within their sectional bracket.
Some of the smaller sports see even more of an inequity. Use boys golf as an example. In Division 2 competition in 2013, two of the top four teams in the state were from private schools. In 2012, private schools filled three of the top four places in the state tournament.
The best solution would be having private schools going back to holding their own state tournament, which they did for decades. With the strong financial backing that private schools possess, that likely won’t happen. And if the multiplier does get approved this week, it will likely face a prolonged court battle from those backing private school athletics.
The multiplier is needed, to begin the fight for equity in Wisconsin high school sports. The WIAA is supposed to provide equal opportunity. In this instance, it clearly does not.

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Strong pitching means MBC baseball race should be a battle

When, or if, the winter weather ever subsides, there should be an outstanding race for the 2014 Middle Border Conference baseball title.
Ellsworth, New Richmond and Prescott were the top three teams in the MBC in 2013 and they all return a solid nucleus of players. That doesn’t preclude other teams from making a run at the title.
Ellsworth has reached the WIAA Division 2 state tournament each of the past two seasons and Prescott was the Division 3 state champion in 2012. That’s an accurate reflection of the quality of ball played in the MBC in recent years.
Ellsworth has to replace all-state pitcher James Georgakas. The Panthers return four All-MBC players, including first team infielder Nick Taranto and first team outfielder Dennis Schutz. Isaac Hines and Logan Armstrong give the Panthers a pair of experienced pitchers to build around.
No team returns more seasoned players than Prescott. One year out from a state title, the Cardinals could be a state threat again. First team All-MBC pitcher Matt Holman returns, as does first team infielder Michael Brookshaw and first team outfielder Alex Helmer. With Clay Seifert, Marty Harris, Brady Schommer and others also returning, there shouldn’t be an easy out in the Redbird lineup this season.
New Richmond relied on young arms last year and sophomores Cam Hausman and Drake Durham lead a young pitching staff this season. Senior Hayden Nelson will contribute on the mound when he’s not catching. The Tigers also return All-MBC infielders Jeremy Leavens and Josh Kizer to lead the offense.
Amery returns Broden Schock and Jordan Luehman, among others. Whether the Warriors can find the pitching to compete in a pitching-deep conference will determine whether they can challenge this season.
Osceola graduated some key offensive pieces in Bryce Byl, Logan Hatella and Alex Freese. The Chieftains will lean heavily on returning pitchers Victor Lowney and Tyler Maxon.
Somerset’s main returning strength is also pitching, in the persons of senior Zac Waalen and junior Tyler Lueck. There’s been a change at the helm for the Spartans, with long-time New Richmond coach John Ball leading the Spartan varsity team this season.
Durand returns a top flight pitcher in Tyler Gruber. If the Panthers can build around him, they could surprise. Jake Bauer and Jacob Biesterveld will be keys for Durand’s hopes.
Baldwin-Woodville was one of the youngest teams in the conference last year. The Hawks will have to replace Coleman Roskam, the anchor of last year’s pitching staff.

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