Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chippewas drop three of four at UNLV

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || February 27, 2011

The Central Michigan baseball team is getting used to fighting back a week into the season.

On Saturday night, in the first game of a doubleheader at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and for the second time this season, the Chippewas squandered an eighth inning lead, reclaimed it and beat the Rebels, 9-7, in its final at-bats.

“We fought our way through it,” said head coach Steve Jaksa. “Our guys did a nice job of doing that.”

But the Chippewas couldn’t fight back in the final two games of the series and dropped three out of four games in the weekend series at Wilson Stadium.

In Sunday’s series finale, UNLV (7-1) scored a run each in five innings and rode a complete game from starting pitcher Tyler Iodence to a 5-2 victory.

“It was a hard fought game,” Jaksa said. “But at the end of the day, it was game where we were just beat.”

CMU mustered only six hits off of Iodence, pulled within one run late but couldn’t salvage its second split of the season. Senior first baseman Brendan Emmett recorded two hits and starting pitcher Ryan Longstreth was tabbed with the loss, pitching five and two thirds innings.

The junior southpaw struck out six and walked two.

“They scored five single runs and we only countered with two,” he said. “It’s tough to win that way.”

Late-inning win

In the team’s Saturday victory, hot-hitting sophomore second baseman Jordan Dean delivered the game-winning hit, singling home two runs up the middle in the top of the ninth to lead CMU (3-5) to the win.

The reigning Mid-American Conference West Division Player of the Week recorded three hits, drove in three runs and recorded three hits for the third time this season. He is riding a seven-game hitting streak.

“He’s swinging the bat real well,” Jaksa said.

The Rebels touched sophomore reliever Dietrich Enns for two runs in the bottom of the eighth on a triple by junior shortstop Daniel Higa, but CMU responded with three runs in the ninth and Enns picked up his first victory of the season.

“There’s a belief that they can do it,” Jaksa said about coming back. “We’ve done it before, we have the right guys to do it and they think that they can do it.”

In the Saturday nightcap, UNLV answered with a 7-2 victory, scoring runs in five of its first six innings and in the series-opener on Friday night, the Chippewas fell 10-2.

UNLV (7-1) recorded double-digit hit totals in all four games.

“We just didn’t get into a good flow,” Jaksa said about the weekend. “The games just got away from us.”

CMU returns to action on Friday against Illinois in the start of two Florida tournaments over spring break.

“It was a competitive series,” he said. “We have some things we can work on and when we hit this stretch, I think we’ll continue to make strides.”

Friday, February 25, 2011

PODCAST: Project 989 -- Fridays with Fenech and Stover featuring SGA president Brittany Mouzourakis

Fridays with Fenech -- What happens in Vegas

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || February 25, 2011

So where were we?

Ah, yes — creeping. On coaches. And athletes. And girls that work at the SAC and girls that sit in the front of you in class. And you didn’t want this to turn into a creeping column, but you’re creeping when you eat and you’re creeping when you sleep and —

So where are we?

Ah, yes — Vegas. We’re in Vegas. You’re hung over. You’re always hung over. But Vegas hangovers are different. Its mid-afternoon, your head is still throbbing, the liquor still lingering, all you’re thinking about is sleeping —

And then you meet her.

You meet her and then you’re at dinner. You’re watching fountains and walking the strip together, inside the Mirage and through Caesars Palace. You’re wearing a black shirt, she’s wearing a white dress; there’s a Heineken in your left hand and a tall margarita in her right. You’re falling in love under the lights and it’s kind of like a Taylor Swift song —

And then she grabs your hand.

Or you grab hers. Palm-to-palm for a second before interlocking fingers and you smile. She smiles. You’re in love, she’s probably definitely not in love. You walk to her room and ask for a kiss; she doesn’t give you a kiss, but you absolutely love that she didn’t give you a kiss and you stumble off in this dreamy daze —

And then you wake up.

You wake up hung over, but you’re always hung over. Athough these hangovers are different, your heart still throbbing, the love still lingering, all you’re still thinking about is sleeping. And then you work all day and now its late and you’re playing slots and she’s watching you –

And then she says hey.

“You might have a Facebook message from someone.”

You say no way, she says yeah and you’re baffled. She’s got a boyfriend, you’ve been creeped on. You’re in love with this girl that’s got a boyfriend and it’s all because you didn’t creep in the first place.

You didn’t accept her friend request yet. You didn’t want to read her life story on a website; you were having enough fun doing that in real life.

You didn’t need to see pictures online; you had a gallery of shots all the time. And you certainly didn’t want to know that there was a boyfriend on the other line.

But you think its funny. She thinks its embarrassing, and then she talks and you listen. And it sounds bad – the relationship. And you feel bad — for her. And she talks and you listen. Then you walk her up to her room and you don’t ask for a kiss, but she asks for a hug and it’s kind of like that kiss —

And you just stay up.

You stay up and work all day. You get another Facebook message from the boyfriend — “What, no answer?” And you tweet about it. Then he creates a Twitter feed and he tweets about it, and you think its funnier and she doesn’t think it’s funny at all. But regardless, you only have one more, so you play all night and talk all morning and you don’t want to say bye —

And then it’s bye.

You say you loved meeting her and that she deserves better. She says thanks for not responding and it sucks that it’s over. You get on a plane to your cold-weather home and she gets on a plane to her warm-weather home with your heart in tow and wrapped in a bow —

And then you get a Facebook message from someone.

You see the face, you get real excited and, with each word you read, it hits you in the jaw like you you’re blindsided.

Your jaw drops. Your eyes pop. For a minute, everything just stops.

Whatever happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

PODCAST: Project 989 -- NASCAR: sport or not?

Baseball ready for high-powered UNLV offense

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || February 24, 2011

Tim Chambers hasn’t found much.

“I’ve been asked that question a bunch,” the University of Las Vegas Nevada head coach said about the difference a year makes. “It really hasn’t been any different.”

And early in his first season at the helm of the Rebels baseball program, after 11 wildly successful years coaching on the junior college level at the College of Southern Nevada, the results really haven’t been any different.

Chambers, who built the CSN program from the ground up and won seven Scenic West Athletic Conference championships, including the 2003 Junior College World Series, has the Rebels off to a hot start heading into a four-game series against the Chippewas this weekend.

“I don’t know much about his style,” said CMU head coach Steve Jaksa. “But we know they like to run and do some things pretty well from what we saw.”

Central Michigan enters the series on the heels of a season-opening four-game split at Florida Gulf Coast University, and will carry the same four-man starting rotation of senior Bryce Morrow and juniors Trent Howard, Zach Cooper and Ryan Longstreth.

“We’re comfortable with the way those guys have thrown,” Jaksa said.

Howard will get the series-opening honors against Rebels sophomore Tanner Peters.

In a four-game sweep over Maine, UNLV smacked eight home runs and hit to the tune of a .376 batting average and .638 slugging percentage in their first series.

And while seeing balls fly out of the park is nothing new to Chambers, who was instrumental in landing and developing Bryce Harper, the 18-year-old hitting phenom selected No. 1 overall in last year’s MLB Amateur Draft by the Washington Nationals, hearing the sound of aluminum bats hitting those balls out of the park is.

At CSN, the Coyotes competed in a junior college circuit using wood bats.

“The scores are going to be up because of the bats,” he said. “But the game is pretty much the same although last weekend’s scores didn’t look like it.”

The Rebels scored nearly 13 runs a game in their victories over Maine.

Chambers served as athletics director of CSN since 2003, and chalks the dead time of only filling a head coach’s role as the biggest difference in the change of scenery.

“It’s a little different from the standpoint that I’m not as busy,” he said. “In junior college, you do everything, raising money and stuff like that. Here, there’s more time.”

And time wasn’t on the Chippewas side returning from Florida earlier this week.

After a two-hour flight delay and four-hour bus ride from Grand Rapids, the team returned to Mount Pleasant at 4 a.m. Monday morning and will face a three-hour time change this weekend.

“I feel pretty good about the guys,” Jaksa said. “They looked good in practice and recover well.”

On Tuesday, sophomore shortstop Jordan Dean was named the year’s first Mid-American Conference West Division Player of the Week. He went 8-for-14 with a home run in his first three starts.

“It feels great,” Dean said. “I just have to stay humble and keep doing what I’m doing.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Baseball caps off series with win

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || February 20, 2011

The Central Michigan baseball team split its season-opening series against Florida Gulf Coast University over the weekend.

On Sunday, the Chippewas, led by a three-hit performance from sophomore second baseman Jordan Dean, defeated the Eagles, 10-5, at Swanson Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla.

“I was really happy with how we responded today,” head coach Steve Jaksa said. “I liked how we played and it was good to get a win today.”

After getting swept in an afternoon doubleheader on Saturday, the Chippewas never trailed in Sunday’s series finale and leaned on the shoulders of junior starting pitcher Ryan Longstreth and sophomore relief pitcher Scott Marinier for the victory.

Longstreth pitched four-plus innings, allowing three earned runs and Marinier was tabbed with the victory, striking out six and allowing three hits in four and two-thirds innings of relief.

“We got two real nice pitching performances,” Jaksa said, noting that Marinier’s stuff was “quite frankly lights out.”

Senior outfielder Matt Faiman led off the game with a solo home run to left field, CMU added another run in the first and didn’t look back.

The Eagles cut the lead to one run on two occasions, but were unable to get closer than three after the Chippewas scored four in the fifth inning.

“When they scored, we answered with runs,” Jaksa said. “We played nine good innings.”

Dean led off the fourth inning with a home run to left field and recorded his third multi-hit game in as many starts.

“Being down in the order I think helps me,” he said. “I get to see a lot of fastballs and I took advantage of one.”

The sophomore went 8-for-13 on the weekend, driving in four runs with a pair of runs scored.

“The most important thing for me was his approach,” Jaksa said. “He was calm at the plate, trusted what he could do and didn’t swing at bad pitches.”

Sophomore catcher Jordan Adams went 2-4 with a pair of RBI and doubled twice.

Weekend results

On Saturday, the Chippewas dropped both games in an afternoon doubleheader.

In the first game, the team couldn’t recover after three first-inning errors led to six Eagles runs and a 10-7 defeat; and in the second, FGCU infielder Stephen Wickens singled home the game-winning run in the 11th inning for a 4-3 Eagles victory.

On Friday, CMU blew a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth but recovered to score a pair of runs in the 10th inning for an 8-6 season-opening victory.

“We liked what we did this weekend,” Jaksa said. “That’s going to be a really good team when you look at them at the end of the season and I feel pretty good about where we’re at.”

The Chippewas (2-2) resume play Friday, on the road against the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Errors mount in pair of losses against FGCU

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || February 20, 2011

The Central Michigan baseball team didn’t get off to a good start Saturday.

In the first game of an afternoon doubleheader against Florida Gulf Coast University, the defense committed two errors on the first two batters of the game.

“We spotted them a lot of runs,” said head coach Steve Jaksa.

Six of them, all unearned, which led to a 10-7 Eagles victory.

And the Chippewas couldn’t finish either.

In the second game, FGCU took advantage of another CMU error, which led to senior catcher Robert Greene scoring the game-winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning of a 4-3 FGCU victory.

“I thought we were in position to be able to capture both of those games,” Jaksa said about the sweep.

The Chippewas were able to recover from their error-filled first inning by scoring five runs in the seventh inning and taking the lead, but the Eagles responded with three runs in the bottom half of the inning and never looked back.

”We needed to make a stop that inning,” Jaksa said. “But we made a couple of mistakes and weren’t able to come back.”

Starting pitcher Bryce Morrow survived the first inning and pitched five innings, striking out six and walking three. Senior Jake Sabol was tabbed with the loss.

Junior third baseman Tyler Hall and sophomore second baseman Jordan Dean collected three hits each in the loss.

In the second game, Eagles senior shortstop Stephen Wickens’ single to right field scored the winning run in the Chippewas second extra-inning game in as many days.

“It was a great game,” Jaksa said. “I think we’ll learn something from those games. I think we worried too much about the outcome instead of playing the game one play at a time.”

After allowing a run in the third inning, CMU scored three runs in the top of the fourth, in large part by taking two walks and advantage of two errors.

Ahead by two runs, FGCU finally chased Chippewas starter Zach Cooper in the seventh inning, after the junior allowed an RBI double to Eagles second baseman Mikel Alvarez.

“Zach gave us everything he had,” Jaksa said.

Cooper finished with six-plus innings pitched, striking out six and allowing three runs.

The Eagles bullpen kept CMU scoreless for seven innings after the fourth inning, highlighted by Jason Forjet’s five innings of two-hit baseball. He struck out eight and walked one.

“He was real tough on us,” Jaksa said.

The Chippewas (1-2) conclude their series with FCGU at 12:30 p.m. Sunday in Fort Myers, Fla.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

CMU baseball beats Florida Gulf Coast in extra innings

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || February 19, 2011

He stepped to the plate in extra innings as the only Central Michigan batter without a hit.

But two strikes and one gritty at-bat later, Jordan Adams was the Chippewas batter with the biggest hit.

The sophomore designated hitter delivered a game-winning RBI single in the top of the 10th inning as the team opened its season with an 8-6 win at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla.

“It was a heck of an at-bat,” said CMU head coach Steve Jaksa. “I was real proud of how he battled.”

With a man on third and two outs, Adams fell behind in the count to hard-throwing FGCU right-hander Jacob Barnes and smacked a breaking ball up the middle to score Matt Faiman.

“He was coming at him, [Jordan] fouled a couple of pitches off and the guy threw him a breaking ball,” Jaksa said. “He didn’t do anything but hit it hard up the middle for a nice clean single.”

Junior first baseman Nate Theunissen followed the single with a double down the right field line, scoring Adams and giving the Chippewas a two-run lead they would not relinquish, just an inning after blowing a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth.

“Our guys battled,” Jaksa said. “They got some hits and earned the runs.”

A pair of two-out RBI singles by FGCU tied the game before Eagles first baseman Justin Maxfield singled off of junior reliever Jon Weaver to tie the game at six.

“They didn’t quit,” Jaksa said of FGCU.

CMU scored four runs on five hits in the fifth inning thanks to RBI doubles from William Arnold and Brendan Emmett and a RBI triple from senior third baseman Tyler Hall.

Chippewas starter Trent Howard was chased by Maxfield’s two-RBI double in the bottom of the sixth inning. The junior struck out eight, walked a pair and allowed two hits.

“It’s good any time you get a win to start the season,” Jaksa said.

CMU (1-0) plays the FGCU in an afternoon doubleheader today starting at 1 p.m.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

PODCAST: Project 989 -- Javo's beef with FSD

CMU baseball opens season with four games against Florida Gulf Coast

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || February 17, 2011

All winter, the Central Michigan baseball team has been training.

“We’ve been working hard for a long time,” said starting pitcher Bryce Morrow.

And since last May, when the team fell in the Mid-American Conference tournament championship game, the Chippewas have been waiting.

“From that day,” said starting pitcher Mike Nixon, “We got a taste.”

Last year, the team got a taste. CMU won the MAC regular season championship with a 36-22 record before falling just short to Kent State.

This year, the team wants its cake.

“We want to do more this year,” Morrow said. “We want to be the team winning the [MAC] Tournament and the team going to [NCAA] Regionals.”

And starting today, as the team travels to Jacksonville, Fla., to open their season with four games against Florida Gulf Coast University, the Chippewas are on its way.

“We’re ready for it,” Nixon said. “Our focus has been there and our attitude has been there.”

The season-opening trip to FCGU is the second in the past three years for CMU.

In 2009, the teams played as part of Midnight Madness and the first college baseball game of the season.

“They’re a young program,” said head coach Steve Jaksa, “Historically, they’ve been a good ballclub.”

The Eagles return seven position players, four pitchers from last season and are led by senior starting pitcher Richie Erath.

Junior left-hander Trent Howard will oppose Erath on the mound for the Chippewas tonight, followed by right-handers Morrow and Zach Cooper in a Saturday doubleheader.

Junior Ryan Longstreth will round out the series-opening rotation on Sunday.

“It’s going to be good to get outside, play someone other than ourselves and get some wins,” said Morrow, a senior.

On Wednesday, the Chippewas were able to get outside for the first time all winter, practicing on the football field at Kelly/Shorts Stadium thanks to mild Mount Pleasant temperatures.

“It was awesome,” he continued. “The weather was really nice, it just gets you excited to get down to good weather.”

FCGU has won the past three Atlantic Sun championships and split the pair of games against CMU in 2009.

Nixon, a senior, made the trip that season as a sophomore.

“A big group of us have played them and they have a pretty good team,” he said. “They’ve been down there, outside for three months so we’re going to have to play hard and hopefully it will turn out well.”

Jaksa said he’s most excited to get onto a baseball diamond and compete.

“You set a tone anytime you go out there to play,” he said. “The thing that’s really important to me is to see how prepared we are and to see where we’re at competing.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

PODCAST: Project 989 -- Fridays with Fenech and Stover featuring CMU gymnast Andrea de la Garza

COLUMN: Creepin' on the coach

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || February 11, 2011

He says, “You’re on time.”

I think, how? How am I on time? I went to bed at 5 a.m., woke up 10 minutes ago, couldn’t find my keys five minutes ago and definitely forgot about this meeting a day ago.

“Always on time,” I say.

We walk into his office. He takes a seat in a black computer chair behind his desk. I take a seat in a comfortable maroon chair in front of his desk.

He asks if my recorder is running again.

“Always,” I say again.

There’s a color-coded schedule on the screen to his left. I think the time to invest in one might be right.

He tells me I can shut the door. On the back is a 1979 jersey — white with “Central” in maroon script across the chest, the No. 22 underneath and to the left.

“I think we have a good group of guys that learned a lot last year,” he says. “And I think that there’s still some unfinished business that they want to accomplish.”

He talks about winning the regular season again. About winning the tournament to get in.

“It’s not something I need to bring up everyday,” he says. “I think it’s just there.”

He wears a fat championship ring on his right hand. You can’t help but notice it there. He talks about playing day-in and playing day-out. About playing with fundamentals and playing to a potential. He talks about pitching, about defense and rarely, if barely, about offense.

“You want guys that can get you runs,” he says. “But you have to make sure you’re not giving the runs back to them.”

He talks about more pitching, more defense, and his phone rings.

The intro to John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” sings.

He takes the call and I creep on the plaques decorating the back wall.

There’s plaques celebrating a quarter century of leadership and devotion to baseball, his 300th win at Saginaw Nouvel High School, and 2004 Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year honors.

And then there’s a plaque with Derek Jeter; the Yankees shortstop standing in the back row of a picture at the 1992 Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Game.

“We knew he was going to be good,” he says of the former Kalamazoo Central product. “I mean how good, well, nobody knew that.”

He stands in the picture a row below the future hall-of-famer.

“He just wanted to play in Tiger Stadium,” he continues. “There were no guarantees he was ever going to be a major leaguer so he just wanted to play.”

And eight days from the start of his ninth season at the helm of the Central Michigan baseball program, he just wants to play.

“I think we’re ready,” he says. “I’m getting excited.”

The Chippewas are ready. He’s getting excited.

And I’m 15 minutes late to class.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

PODCAST: Project 989 -- Twitter, Datsyuk, and one last SAC flyer

Enos adds Reynolds as defensive line coach

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || February 10, 2011

The Chippewas have a new defensive line coach.

Just three weeks after former defensive line coach Tim Daoust left the program for an assistant coaching position at Syracuse, head coach Dan Enos has picked Vinson Reynolds to fill the position.

“Vinson brings an outstanding knowledge of the game to his role, not to mention a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” Enos said.

Reynolds was most recently coaching defensive lineman at Central Oklahoma, where he worked with a pair of All-Lone Star Conference honorable mention lineman in his only season with the Bronchos.

Before the 2010 season at Central Oklahoma, Reynolds worked as a quality control assistant with a focus on the defensive line at Oklahoma State during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

During his time in Stillwater, Okla., Reynolds worked with teams that posted back-to-back 9-4 records and appeared in the Holiday and Cotton Bowls.
Prior to Oklahoma State, he spent two seasons as the defensive line coach at Division-III Wisconsin-Plateville.

Reynolds was a standout defensive end at Northern Illinois and attended St. Martin de Porres High School in Detroit.

“He’s no stranger to the MAC or the state of Michigan, having played in college at Northern Illinois University and in high school in the city of Detroit,” Enos said.

Reynolds earned four varsity letters at NIU and was named Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2003.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Northern Illinois in 2004, and he earned a master’s degree in adult education from Wisconsin-Platteville in 2007.

Daoust left the program in mid-January, leaving Enos without a defensive line coach on signing day, Feb. 2. Despite being without Daoust, Enos was able to secure commitments from three defensive linemen. During a news conference with media, he admitted that being without a coach for the position worried him, but was confident in the players that signed with the Chippewas.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

PODCAST: Project 989 -- Christina's gaffe and Rodgers' last laugh

Jaksa, CMU excited for chance to play at Comerica Park

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || February 08, 2011

Steve Jaksa likes being first.

Two years ago, the Central Michigan baseball team was part of Midnight Madness and the first college baseball game of the 2009 season against Florida Gulf Coast University.

The Chippewas finished first in the Mid-American Conference last season with a 20-7 regular season mark.

And this year, the team will be part of the first collegiate game played at Detroit’s Comerica Park, when they renew their rivalry with Michigan State on April 20.

“I always like being first,” head coach Jaksa said on Tuesday.

“This is a unique thing and it’s a special thing,” he continued. “We have a really good alumni base in that part of the state and sometimes they don’t always get a chance to come up here. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Jaksa, along with CMU Athletics Director Dave Heeke and 2009 MAC Freshman of the Year Dietrich Enns, will be on hand at Comerica Park today for the game’s official announcement at a 10:30 a.m. news conference.

Representing the Spartans will be head coach Jake Boss and senior first baseman Jeff Holm.

“I’m really pumped,” Enns, a sophomore left-handed pitcher, said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to play in a major league park. We all watched those games growing up and it’s going to be a great honor.”

In his rookie campaign, Enns compiled a spotless 7-0 record out of the bullpen, appearing in 20 games while recording a 2.12 ERA.

The April 20 meeting will be the second time he competes on a major league diamond. In high school, the Frankfort, Ill., native pitched in a showcase game at historic Wrigley Field in Chicago, home of the Chicago Cubs.

“It was sweet,” he said. “But I’m sure this will be just as sweet.”

The Chippewas were informed of the announcement last week during a team meeting with Jaksa and Heeke.

“I think the whole team is pretty excited for this,” said sophomore infielder Jordan Dean. “We always play Michigan State tough and to play them on a professional field, everyone is really antsy for that.”

CMU leads the all-time series against MSU, 62-46, dating back to 1911.

Jaksa said the idea was born after the annual game between the two teams at Dow Diamond in Midland fell through because of a scheduling conflict.

After contacting the Spartans, Jaksa reached out to former Chippewas player and current Detroit Tigers suite sales manager Dan Griesbaum to get the ball rolling.

“I told him what our situation was and what we’d like to do,” Jaksa said. “He explored it, got back to me and at the end of the day, we came up with an agreement.”

Jaksa said the idea presented itself in late December and was finalized about 10 days ago.

“I think we have an opportunity to get a nice crowd there,” he said. “I really believe it’s a win-win situation. It’s a win for college baseball and I think the Tigers look at it as win for them.”

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Live blog: Packers capitalize on Steelers' turnovers, win Super Bowl XLV


Free Press special writer Anthony Fenech is live-blogging Super Bowl XLV tonight. Per NFL rules, Anthony may not be in the building while blogging, so he will be bringing you his thoughts off of Fox's telecast.

Feel free to discuss the game, the commercials, the music and whatever else with Anthony in the chat below. For those of you on our mobile site, we will post periodic updates below the chat. Enjoy the spectacle, everyone!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Super stardom: Former CMU players looking to make an impact in Super Bowl XLV

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || February 04, 2011

They just wanted to make the team.

They didn’t ask to play with the first team, didn’t ask to travel with the team and they certainly didn’t ask to live out a Super Bowl dream.

No, the preseason goals of Green Bay Packers defenders Frank Zombo and Josh Gordy weren’t too extreme.

“I was just hoping to make the practice team,” Zombo said.

He did.

“My whole goal really was to make the practice squad,” Gordy said.

He didn’t.

But fast forward from preseason to postseason, past all of the injuries that might have opened doors and past all of the cuts that might have closed them; fast forward from Mount Pleasant to Green Bay to Sunday evening at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, where the former Central Michigan standouts will be on the field and part of the biggest spectacle in American sports.

“I’m really blessed,” Zombo said over the phone this week.

“It’s been a blessing to make it this far,” Gordy said.

And the Packers rookie linebacker and defensive back aren’t alone, joining seven-year veteran and teammate Cullen Jenkins and opposing fellow Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Antonio Brown to give the Chippewas a power-program presence at Super Bowl XLV.

“I won a championship last year at this time with these guys,” Brown said at Super Bowl media day on Tuesday. “Now, we’re playing in the biggest bowl on Earth.”

The quartet of former Chippewas is tied with perennial college football powers Ohio State, LSU and Tennessee for most in the game, and the 15 players competing from Mid-American Conference schools trails only the football hotbed of the Southeastern Conference, which sports 18.

“This definitely looks good for Central Michigan and the MAC,” Gordy said. “We all take great pride in our school.”

And the two Packers rookies also take great pride in their journeys, from the bottom of draft boards to playing for the top prize in football and from being on the same team and to not having a team, to having a chance at fulfilling a dream together.

“We’re real close,” Gordy said.

And many a time, they were real close to not having this opportunity.

“It’s been a heck of a journey,” Zombo said. “We’ve had some chances that we’ve had to take advantage of and things have worked out in our favor.”

Even when things didn’t seem that way.

After signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in May, Gordy competed for a roster spot throughout training camp, only to be cut loose before the team’s final preseason game.

“I was playing with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “You have to play like that and it paid dividends.”

Green Bay signed Gordy to the practice squad on Sept. 15, where he stayed until being placed on the Packers active roster and making his NFL debut on Dec. 5 against the San Francisco 49ers.

“It’s about stepping up when you have to,” he said. “When we have injuries, it’s about stepping onto the field and being productive on Sundays.”

He recorded one tackle in his debut against the 49ers and played a week later in a 7-3 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

Just six months after having nary a question asked his way, the 23-year-old Gordy fielded a wide range of questions Tuesday inside Cowboys Stadium.

“That’s probably when it hit me the most,” he said.

But that moment still hasn’t hit Zombo.

“I think on Sunday, when the fireworks are blasting off and all the people are out there,” he said, “I think that’s when it will hit me.”

The moment might not have come for the Sterling Heights native had he not hit Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning from the blindside in a nationally-televised preseason game.

The hit caused a fumble, and along with five solo tackles, put the linebacker on the inside track for a roster spot.

“That was a big opportunity,” he said of his first preseason start.

And that opportunity might not have come if the Packers linebacking core wasn’t battling injuries at the time.

“A lot of guys were hurt and I had to step up.”

He stepped up, performed, and earned eight starts during his rookie campaign, recording four sacks and 28 tackles.

Now, along with Gordy and Jenkins, Zombo, who said “It’s looking good,” that he’ll see the field on Sunday, is preparing to contain Steelers wide receiver Brown, who has made big catch after big catch for Pittsburgh this postseason.

“I haven’t talked to him yet,” Zombo said. “I’ll probably mess around with him before the game.”

But Gordy has.

“He was trying to get some information out of me,” he said on the phone from Dallas, laughing. “I wouldn’t tell him nothing.”

And if you would have told these two Packers a year ago that they would be playing in the Super Bowl?

“I’d tell you that you were crazy,” Zombo said.

They just wanted to make the team.

Fridays with Fenech: Social Activity Creeping

By Fenech

I touch the screen.

I like this thing.

It’s kind of big, with a little too much bling and my patience could really do without switching tracks every time it flings, but it is what it is – a late Christmas gift – and as much as my old-school sense of technology wanted to sell it, my new-school sense knew that eight gigabytes equaled a lot more than 512 megabytes, won, and I kept it.

Plus, it’s got the internet.

So we’re at the Student Activity Center. Well, I’m there. With my iTouch. She’s working there. With no idea of what I’m about to do with my iTouch.

We’re inside that makeshift fitness room on the downstairs level. I’m sitting on a bike, cycling away and touching away; she’s sitting behind a desk, doing the same nothing I think she does at work everyday.

She catches my eye. I don’t know why.

Now I’m not saying that she’s not good-looking; all I’m saying is that she’s probably not the best-looking girl to work at the SAC and definitely not the best looking to work out there.

But sometimes, catching an eye is all it takes to create a social spy.

So I squint my eyes her way, toward a plate with her name. Again, I don’t know why.

I make out her first name – it’s common, usually spelled one way – but can’t make out the first letter of her last name. It looks like K but might be H and could very possibly be an A. Or is it a J? Wait – that looks nothing like a J. Why am I thinking about a J?

She gets up and takes a walk around the room. I make my move.

I hop off the bike and I should feel creepy. I walk close to the desk and I should feel guilty. But we’re doing the same thing; the only difference is that I’m not getting paid.

She creeps, day after day, sitting behind her desk, waiting until some kid lifts a dumbbell and breaks his neck.

Most of the time, that doesn’t happen. So to pass the time, she watches people work out, never – ever! – passing judgment on the thousands of coeds that filter through the fitness center every day.

Of course.

So I hop back on the bike and I should feel creepy. I palm my iTouch and I should feel guilty. I open Facebook and I should –

Tick, tick-tick-tick … Tick, tick, tick-tick, tick …Tick.

She’s single.

I touch the screen.

I love this thing.

PODCAST: Project 989 -- Super Bowl special (part 2)