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Young Gun: The CLS Gators Kyle Leva

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Editors note: This is the first in a series of articles @ bergsworld.live about local high school athletes who excel BOTH on AND off the field.

Crystal Lake, IL – It doesn’t take a physics teacher to know that sophomores usually don’t play on the varsity football team. Well, most physics teachers anyways. Crystal Lake South head coach Chuck Ahsmann is an exception to this rule. When he decided to move running back Kyle Leva up to the varsity, the coach was thinking great things were about to happen.

Kyle comes from a good family that supports him and wants to see him succeed but not at all costs. Tony and Tracey, his dad and mom, appreciate the competition and thrill in seeing their only son show his stuff on the gridiron but want to keep him focused on the bigger picture. That being a complete and productive future for Leva after he graduates from Crystal Lake South in the spring of 2018.

The Levas moved to Crystal Lake when Kyle was five years old (Kailynn, a freshman cheerleader at CLS, is his younger sister) and immediately began playing sports. It began with baseball and soccer. According to his dad, Kyle was OK in baseball but didn’t quite fit into the world of youth soccer. Soccer only lasted one season.

According to Tony, “Kyle was a little rough in his soccer matches. His coach kept trying to get him to be less physical but it really didn’t pan out. Kyle spent time on the bench for his aggressive play, sometimes for half the game.” Tony and Tracey realized soccer was not going to be Kyle’s cup of tea.

After baseball and soccer, Kyle moved on to football. The Levas saw this as a perfect outlet for young Kyle’s style of play. It was a very good move.

The first stop on Kyle’s road to “Gatorball” was playing for the Crystal Lake Raiders. The Raiders are the feeder program for both CL’s Central and South HS football teams. Starting in flag, Kyle moved up through the Raiders ranks playing various positions until settling in on running back in 7th and 8th grade. This is where you began to see something special in this young lad.

 

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Leva now entered high school and was looking forward to seeing how he would do playing the game he loved at the next level. He did very well. His Gator team finished their first year at 6-2-1 and he had some great games that caught the attention of the varsity coaches.

One of those games was against Dundee-Crown HS. Kyle now had established himself as the team’s wing back and really showed the Chargers harbingers of the future. Halfway through his freshman campaign, the Gators locked horns with D-C. The game was a blowout with Kyle scoring 4 touchdowns on only 6 touches (Editors Note: Leva scored 4 TD’s against D-C this season also. It was at the Gators 2015 Homecoming game-see picture). He sat out the second half. Kyle had gotten Coach Ahsmann’s attention. The icing on the proverbial cake that would cement Leva’s varsity future came in the last game of the season against the Cary-Grove Trojans. Leva blitzed C-G with a rushing TD, a passing TD and a TD reception that won the game! After that, Coach Ahsmann was sold.

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Kyle was going to be on the varsity his sophomore year, the big time, exactly what the Levas had hoped for, right? Not so fast, my friends. His mom, Tracey, was leery of how her son might be treated at the varsity level. Would he be hazed? Would the older boys pick on the young, talented, but shy newcomer? Would the juniors and seniors feel threatened by Kyle’s emergence? Tracey is a mom and moms can and should think these things. The answers to her concerns were no, No and NO. They embraced Leva and treated him like one of them from the very beginning.

Tracey looked back and said,”Not only were my fears unfounded but Kyle made a new group of friends, while keeping his same age friends too. His old friends were proud and happy for him.”

Kyle had a banner sophomore year for the playoff bound Gators. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 95 rushes and 517 yards. He also was a very proficient pass receiver. Leva, who has “great hands” according to Coach Ahsmann, compiled 291 yards receiving on 20 catches for a 14.5 average. He scored 8 touchdowns, 6 rushing and 2 receiving.

Leva’s production suffered after the injury to outstanding running back Corey Sheehan midway through the season. It was quite understandable as Sheehan, a senior, was the team’s workhorse. After he got hurt, teams then concentrated on Leva.

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Coach Ahsmann was very generous with his time and spoke at length about Leva and his Gators heading into the 2016 season.

“We’re excited about next year because we have Kyle coming back. He was our leading rusher, leading scorer. We get Luke Nolan back, he’s our quarterback.” Ahsmann continued, “We feel real good about his athleticism at QB. Matt Meyers, a junior, comes back at receiver, so we have someone to throw to. We moved Blake Kuffel up at the end of the season to receiver. Likewise, we started a freshman, Trevor Keegan, at right guard and then we started a sophomore, Enok Dragon, at left guard. We felt there were a couple of good sophomores and we started junior Frank Harenza at right tackle. So we feel we have a good core of guys coming back on offense, so we feel good about that.”

On Leva, the head coach had this to say, “He was a big contributor on the offensive side of the ball but the other part of it is that he’s a good student and a great kid. We hope as we go into next year and the next he becomes more of a leader of the team. He’s not super vocal but leads by example.” Ahsmann will be heading into his 7th season as the Gators head coach.

Kyle has a 3.8 grade point average and is on the High Honor roll and also plays a good game of hoops. His basketball coach and Mathematics teacher, Carson Sterchi, had this to say about Leva, “This is my second year coaching Kyle on the sophomore basketball team. I also had Kyle in class last year. Kyle is one of the most dedicated and coachable kids that I have ever been around. Kyle is extremely humble, which is why it’s so fun to watch him succeed in both football and basketball. I am looking forward to watching his career unfold at CLS.”

Brian Murphy, a Social Studies teacher and conditioning coach, enjoyed interacting with Leva, “Kyle was an absolute pleasure to have in class! He was respectful, hard-working, punctual, organized, and intelligent when it came to the content. Kyle is the type of student every teacher wants to have in class.” Murphy went on, “He is a coach’s dream! Kyle has a work ethic and leadership abilities that are far beyond his age.”

Kyle currently plays forward on the Gators sophomore basketball team and after that will continue to lift weights and run in anticipation of his junior year of football. Kyle somewhat reluctantly drinks his dad’s homemade protein shakes. He made the All-FVC football team, IHSA All-Academic team (along with senior linebacker Dylan Sambrano) and was CLS Gators Co-Offensive Player of the Year with good friend QB Luke Nolan. His family has enjoyed Kyle’s journey so far, the excitement of the games, and the camaraderie that football brings. It’s family and friends first for Kyle, then school, followed by sports. No one knows what the future will have in store for Kyle, but I like what I’ve seen to this point. Good luck and God bless the Levas and the Crystal Lake South Gators.

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Honors Pile Up for Roadrunners

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La Grange Park- Their season ended a few weeks ago but the awards keep on coming for the players on the IHSA Class 5a state football champion Nazareth Academy. The Roadrunners finished the season 12-2 and according to MaxPreps were ranked 113 nationally and 3rd in Illinois. EdgyTim had Nazareth ranked 6th in the state (up from 10th from previous)) and the Tribune had them ranked 5th (Mike Helfgot strangely left Naz off his preseason poll) in the final rankings for the year.

While graduating a plethora of outstanding talent including QB Carson Bartels, LB Joe Muscolino, WR/DB Chris Simmons, WR/LB Christian Davis, CB/WR Julian Love, DE/TE Matt Prendergast, C Mike Carpenelli, K/P Will McKenna and T Bryan Behrendt to name a few, 2016 still looks very promising.

The following are the post season accolades garnered by the Roadrunners during the 2015 campaign:

  • Julian Love, Sr : All-American selection for Blue-Grey Bowl, Pioneer Press Player of the Year, Sun-Times Player of the Year, Tribune First Team All-State, Under Armour All-American finalist, IHSA 5a All-State selection, ESCC MVP/Player of the Year. Not bad, not bad at all!
  • Ivory Kelly-Martin, Jr : Tribune Second  Team All-State and ESCC All-Conference team.
  • Devonte’ Dunn, Jr : ESCC All-Conference team.
  • Matt Prendergast, Sr : Tribune Honorable Mention, ESCC All-Conference team and IHSA Academic All-State.
  • Chris Simmons, Sr : ESCC All-Conference team.
  • Christian Sampleton, Jr : ESCC All-Conference team.
  • Bryan Behrendt, Sr : ESCC All-Conference team and IHSA Academic All-State.
  • Christian Davis, Sr : ESCC All-Conference team and IHSA Academic All-State.

Sincere congratulations to all the Roadrunners mentioned above and to all the graduating Seniors for their commitment and leadership. Kudos also to Head Coach Tim Racki and his talented staff. Looking forward to 2016!    #Back2Back2Back baby!!!!

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D(eKalb) Day for Nazareth

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DeKalb, IL- The clock is ticking. Kick off is at 10:00 this morning. God bless the Nazareth Academy Roadrunners (11-2) and the Lincoln-Way West Warriors (11-2). The two #7 seeds will square off in today’s 5a IHSA state finals at NIU’s Huskie Stadium. According to Freddie it’s Navy and Columbia Naz wear for the Roadrunner fashion statement. I will see everybody there!! If you unfortunately cannot make it to DeKalb, tune in to ComcastSports for the coverage.

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Nazareth Academy: The Road to DeKalb III

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LaGrange Park, IL- Nazareth is 24 hours from kick off against Lincoln-Way West in tomorrow’s IHSA Class 5A State Final. The game will played in DeKalb at NIU’s Huskie Stadium at 10:00 am. The #7 seed Roadrunners and the #7 seed Vikings both sport 11-2 records and are very highly regarded on offense and defense. Today in the third of our “Road To DeKalb” series we are going to highlight some of the upper management tasked with the job of getting the Nazareth juggernaut prepared for their exciting journey to glory.

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Dr. Tom Nelson and Julian Love

Dr.’s Tom Nelson and Eric Janota are the glue that keeps the Roadrunners together from a physiological  and psychological standpoint. The duo keep our boys tuned for both the prevention and treatment of the myriad of afflictions that a high school football team faces during the long and arduous season. The good Doctors implement an innovative technique called Activation to address many of the concerns Head Coach Tim Racki has regarding his football team.

Activation is a holistic approach to keeping the body and mind in sync, with proper breathing an utmost priority. Founder and developer Douglas Heel, a physical therapist from South Africa, initially won over Dr. Nelson with this new and unorthodox method. Nelson eventually convinced Janota and Racki of the awesome benefits to the ‘Activation Way’. (Editors note: coming soon an in depth story on Heel, Nelson, Janota and Racki and the Activation process.)

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Dr. Eric Janota

Nelson on starting the Activation movement at Nazareth, “It wasn’t until the third year (2014) we got it right. We had two years (2012/2013) of mistakes.” Of course, 2014 was the first state championship for Roadrunners football. Coincidence? Many do not think so. Nelson continued, “Breathing is the most powerful part. Activation, in part, is about creating imagery. We have to make an unsafe environment safe for the boys. Be positive, keep them relaxed vs tense. The reason it (Activation) works at Nazareth is because you need the CEO to buy in and he did (Racki). Society is too negative, so we need to make the boys feel they are playing in a safe environment.”

 

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I sat down for lunch at a Panera’s for a talk with Dr. Eric recently. Here is some of what he said, “Activation is more than just the sports side of it. We want the boys to carry the good habits taught and learned to be with them for life. We want the spiritual aspect of what we are teaching them to be beneficial and help them lead good and productive lives. This serves as a life lesson and we feel we are doing a service for the boys.” Well put, Dr. J.

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WR/FS Justin Weller

The CEO and main architect of what is called the “Brotherhood”, mentioned first to me by QB Carson Bartels, is the very successful Head Coach, Tim Racki. He has been at Nazareth since 2005 after leading the Driscoll HS football program for 13 years. Racki won four state championships while at Driscoll and one last year with the Roadrunners. We spoke with Racki after the victory over St. Laurence last week in the 5A semi finals.

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Nazareth HS weight room

“The win feels great. I’m really happy for the kids. The two losses we had this year (@ Marian Central HS & @ Joliet Catholic Academy) really helped us in the playoffs. I’ve never seen a team that’s learned from past failures this well. I tell them that you’re gonna have more failures than successes in life. It’s learning from those times, when you don’t succeed, that’s gonna make you better.” Racki articulated.

He continued, “From when we were up in the game at Woodstock (vs Marian 19-0 in the 3rd quarter) and the first time against JCA (down big early only to have a great comeback fall just short), the kids learned from it. The maturity level of this team, I’m very impressed with. They are very intelligent and not a big ‘rah rah’ team. They like to be loose. It’s been a real fun ride and great to be a part of.”

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Coach Tim Racki

I asked the coach what it feels like to be going for his 6th state championship. Here is what he said,” I’m blessed. I’m good at surrounding myself with a very intelligent coaching staff that cares about the kids. Of course, it’s the kids who make the tackles and score the touchdowns. They listen to me and the coaches. And you know the Brotherhood and the Family and unity that we have and that really adds to it.” Racki continued, “The kids have developed a sense of selflessness and a drive to work hard for the guy next to him that will serve them well in life.”

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Coach Racki’s five IHSA championship rings

A very impressive management team, that also includes Nazareth President Dennis Moran, directs the outstanding Nazareth Roadrunner football program with a passion for excellence. Excellence on AND more importantly, off the field. It’s not too surprising that they are so darn good!

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Nazareth Academy: The Road to DeKalb II

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LaGrange Park, IL- Welcome back to the second installment of our Road to Dekalb series. Today we will continue hearing from some of the players who helped the Roadrunners reach the IHSA Finals for the second consecutive year. Here we go:

There are many stars on the 2015 edition of Nazareth football but WR/RB/CB Julian Love is a really special young man and a great athlete. Quiet on and off the field, he let’s his superior talent be his form of leadership. The senior, who is headed to Notre Dame University next year, is one of the best athletes this writer as ever watched play high school football (and I’m 56!).

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Julian Love with Dr. Tom Nelson

I had the opportunity to chat with Jlove after his 4 touchdown and 281-yard rushing performance against St. Laurence last Saturday.

“It was a fun game. Ya know I love that there was a lot of snow. It’s kinda of our makeshift Turkey Bowl, ’cause we’re gonna be somewhere else next weekend. ” Love joked.

He continued about the next game versus Lincoln-Way West from New Lenox, “I know the coaches will be ready tonight and by tomorrow they will have a full game plan ready. So when we get back at it Monday, we’ll know what we’re going up against.”

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Love is a kid at heart as he explains his affinity for snow, “It’s all mental because I’m a snow person. I love snow and appreciate it. It’s (winter) my favorite season. I just thought about it like, I’m here to have fun and it’s one of our last games at Nazareth. So I’m gonna go out with a bang.” A ‘bang’? How about a very loud explosion? That sounds more accurate, Jlove. IMG_1331

Being a sophomore starter on Coach Tim Racki’s Nazareth football team is not totally unique. Racki’s done it maybe once or twice in his illustrious career. Center and long snapper Gavin Smith is another second year player up with the varsity.

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Smith had a great game against St. Laurence, he was involved in so many plays (including a forced fumble on a Viking’s punt return), I jokingly asked if he played defense too.

Smith on the game, “The weather was rough at first, it was hard getting footing in the snow but I think it was a good game. The snap wasn’t too hard to get off. We had those heaters on the sidelines and the coaches were real helpful keeping everything dry.”

I asked Smith how he and some of his fellow Roadrunners played with no long sleeves, “It’s mind over matter and once you get out there you forget everything and just play football.” He continued, “It’s real exciting. I wasn’t on the team that went down state last year, so it’s a first for me and I can’t wait.”

Kudos to the entire offensive line for their great run blocking for Kelly-Martin and Love. It was quite impressive. Lincoln-Way West is about to find this out Saturday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

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