Prep work

Heard around town

News and notes

– After a 3-22 season, Terrence Gray will not return as the boys' basketball coach at Urbana. Gray, who headed up the program for the last two seasons, was told by district administrators that he would not be retained for a third season.

"Coaching in high school is a year-to-year contract, so it's really up to the administrators to decide," Gray said. "There are some changes going on there this year, football has a new coach (Nathan Watson), the track coach (Harbert Jones) is retiring, so they just kind of made a decision they wanted to go in a different direction and that was about it."

Gray will remain an employee of the Urbana School District as a supervisor in student relations and his son, Darren, a member of the basketball program, will be a junior at Urbana in the fall.

"I'm just kind of hoping they get someone in there because my son is still there," Terrence Gray said. "We're just waiting like the rest of the parents to see who they're going to bring in."

– Former Tuscola football and track standout Ryan Bonner has been added to Dan Hennessey's football staff at St. Thomas More. Bonner, a News-Gazette All-Area pick as a wide receiver in 2002, will serve as an assistant coach for the Sabers' freshman team this fall.

The 2003 Tuscola graduate played his college ball at Truman State, where he was a four-year letter winner and a two-year starter. For his career, Bonner caught 68 passes for 842 yards and six touchdowns. He spent the last two seasons as a member of the Bloomington Extreme of the Indoor Football League.

"It's a good opportunity for me and something I'm excited about," Bonner said. "I've learned a lot throughout my career and I feel like I have something I can pass down to the players at St. Thomas More. I'm ready to get started."

At STM, Bonner will work primarily with the receivers and other skill-position players.

– Former Illinois receiver DaJuan Warren has been added to the football staff at Champaign Central. Warren was a four-year letter winner at Illinois and was a senior on the Illini team that played in the Rose Bowl in 2008.

"Coach (Dave) Jacobs just gave me a call and said he had an opening left for a receivers coach and an assistant offensive coordinator," Warren said.

A native of Southfield, Mich., the 25-year-old Warren had 49 catches for 506 yards during his career at Illinois. He currently works for the UI as a counselor for the Upward Bound College Prep Academy.

"It's been fun teaching the kids what I learned throughout my career," Warren said. "I remember back when I was playing and it's fun just to be a part of those guys' lives.

"I've heard all good things about Coach Jacobs. He's positive, motivates the kids and just seems like a real good guy."

– Austin Johnson, a recent Mahomet-Seymour graduate, has signed a letter of intent to play football at Olivet Nazarene. The 6-foot, 200-pound Johnson could see time at quarterback for the Tigers, as well as any number of the other skill positions.

– Urbana Uni High has hired Jeff Blue to head up its girls' basketball program. Blue takes over for Rebecca Murphy, who spent the last 15 seasons at Uni, including a 16-9 campaign in 2008-09 – the best mark during her tenure. Murphy, who is retiring, will coach the Uni Junior High team.

Blue has been an assistant in the program for the past two seasons. Before that, Blue spent parts of 13 seasons with various junior high and club basketball programs.

Blue was a three-year starter at Jacksonville High School and was named the Greater Midwest Conference's Player of the Year as a prep.

– First-year Urbana football coach Nathan Watson and his staff will be hosting a youth football clinic at the high school July 13-16. The clinic is open to students in grades 1-8. The camp is non-padded and will focus on fundamentals. Contact Watson at uhsfootballcamp<@>gmail.com for more information.

The list: 10 high school football games we're looking forward to this fall

Week 1: Monticello at Meridian – Fans of Sages eager to find out what kind of product new coach Cully Welter will trot out

Week 2: Urbana at Champaign Central – Former Maroons assistant Nathan Watson now running show for the Tigers in battle of longtime rivals

Week 3: Westville at Salt Fork – The only two playoff teams from the Vermilion Valley are expected to do battle for top conference honors in 2009

Week 4: Tuscola at Unity – Matchup of two powerhouse programs always a blast on the field and in the stands

Week 6: St. Joseph-Ogden at St. Thomas More – The Sabers are establishing themselves as a consistent force and SJ-O is looking to bounce back after a down year

Week 7: Danville at Champaign Central – The Vikings won an epic clash between the two last season and plenty of talent returns for each squad

Week 7: Bloomington Central Catholic at Mahomet-Seymour – Bulldogs haven't been able to get past Corn Belt nemesis in a few years. Will things change this time?

Week 7: Arcola at Villa Grove – The Purple Riders would like nothing more than to avenge their only Little Okaw Valley Conference defeat from a season ago

Week 9: Fisher at GCMS – Hoping for better weather for this clash of rivals after last year's mud bowl ended with the Falcons prevailing in overtime

Week 14: State championship weekend – Hopefully one or more area teams will be at Memorial Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend.

3 questions with ...

Mahomet-Seymour's Alex Smith

The football, basketball and baseball player is considered one of the state's top catching prospects in the Class of 2011:

Speaking of busy summers, what's this I hear about you being on the go all the time?

I'm doing a lot of traveling, a lot of baseball showcases across the Midwest. I may do a Perfect Game Showcase in California and I'm going to try to do a couple of university camps, maybe at Auburn. I've been doing a lot of basketball as well, and I've been doing all the football stuff at school. Five days a week, I've been training with Joey Yager on weightlifting and speed enhancement.

So do you have time for anything besides sports during the summer?

Not really. During the morning I'll go and hit or something, then I'll have games at night. Afterward I try to relax by watching a movie or something.

What's it like competing with and meeting some of the best baseball players in the country?

It's a lot of fun, it really is. In your area you can be who you are, but when you go across the Midwest at all these showcases and camps you really see the premier talent. It's really cool to see because in the area you're only subjected to the kids you know, but at these camps everyone's a little better and everyone's fighting to get to the next level.

Around the state

The good news was evident as Providence battled various opponents last Saturday at Pershing Grade School in Week 2 of the annual University of St. Francis 7-on-7 passing camp.

There was senior Mike Hoffmeister running the show at quarterback. All-area running back Tim Hanrahan was attending another camp, but you know he will be there when the bell rings.

Senior Pete Houlihan may do most of his work on the defensive side of the ball, but he swings over to offense often enough to make an impact.

Last season's two leading receivers, Joe Sawicki and Steve Arthurs, also return.

Add in three veteran offensive linemen and the makings of a pretty fair defense, and the Celtics may be primed to take things a step further this season.

Last fall, you may recall, the end came in a 24-17 loss to Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin in the Class 6A state semifinals.

Of course, there is that other matter, the schedule.

If you were among those who thought the Celtics battled through a meat grinder a year ago, finishing 8-5, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Providence opens against Lincoln-Way East in what will be the final game of that series. Then in Week 2, the Celtics take on Joliet Catholic. The last time the two local Catholic powers met was in Round 2 of last year's playoffs, Providence winning 24-21 in overtime.

As if things were not brutal enough playing in the Catholic Blue against the likes of Loyola, Mount Carmel, Brother Rice and St. Rita, lesser Catholic League citizens Gordon Tech and Guerin have been replaced by De La Salle and St. Laurence. Yes, two more playoff teams of a year ago.

Last season, the Celtics were 2-4 after Week 6 and had to battle from there for their playoff lives. They could be an awfully good football team this fall and find themselves in a similar predicament.

Or not.

"Yeah, we probably have the toughest schedule our school has had in a while," Hoffmeister said during a breather in the 7-on-7. "There are no breaks."

But that can work either of two ways.

"The schedule, if we handle it all right, it can show that we will be a force with all the guys we have returning," Hoffmeister said. "The schedule is as hard as it can be, but it sure helps that we have 8-9 guys returning on offense. We can do our summer work and keep building chemistry and all wind up on the same page."

– Dick Goss, Chicago Suburban News

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