Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
(Photo Credit: JOIQUE BELL from Wayne State. – Lakeshia Harvey photo)
ALLEN PARK – The Detroit Lions have surely fallen short of most expectations; however, as is the case in any professional sports endeavor there are those that are fighting to make a place for themselves in the mega-sports world of the NFL.
The Lions fans can speculate the reason their team have basically taken itself out of the 2012 NFL Playoff picture, is bad karma and a not ready for prime time roster.
Even in the midst of this disapproving season, there are always highlights and unexpected positives.
One unexpected positive has been the play of Detroit Wayne State University running back Joique Bell. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound running back is making his mark as the Lions' go-to guy late in games.
“Man I’m just trying to help this team win games,” Bell said. “When they call my number to respond I try to do just that. I always had confidence in myself as a running, but it mattered not if I was never given a chance to do what I do.
“So far the Lions have given me shot and I’m trying to make the best of it.”
After his record breaking senior year at Wayne State Bell was signed by the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2010. In succession he played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, and New Orleans Saints.
Getting kicked around is always a unique and uncertain burden for undrafted players in the NFL, or any sport.
However, as a senior at Wayne State, Bell won the Harlon Hill Trophy, awarded to the Division II player of the year, after he rushed for 2,084 yards and 29 touchdowns.
His first few NFL stops had him resigned as a practice squad player. Finally in December, 2011, Bell was signed by the Lions. All Lions fans wondered who was this running back with the big stats?
Since his opportunity the bruising Bell has averaged 5.2 yards a carry and 12 yards a reception in the second half as the Lions have used him to shred tired defenses. The move has paid off for all involved, and Bell, who had stints with four teams in two years before coming to the Lions, has carved himself quite a niche.
"When the coaches look at you and have faith in you, you have to realize, their decisions are being judged just as much as my play is being judged," Bell said. "So if I go out there and do a terrible job, their job is on the line. So for them to put that trust into me, it just gives me that much more confidence in my play.”
Bell left Wayne State, just down the road from Ford Field, as one of the best running backs in Division II history. He ripped defensive lines for 6,728 yards in his four seasons, including 88 touchdowns.
Bell is the first player from Wayne State to make the NFL since 1996. His college coach, Paul Winters, said Bell was easily the hardest-working and most talented player on the field.
"In college, he was a good-sized tailback for any level," Winters said. "He combined that with his speed and natural instincts. I think he has really great vision and great feet, and you combine that with his hard work and you have a great talent."
"I always dreamed of it, but you're just dreaming," Bell said of getting a chance. "You really don't know how it goes. You have to be prepared when opportunity presents itself and just attack it."
Opportunity and preparation is a powerful combination. With Jahvid Best (concussion) and Mikel Leshour fighting back from injuries, the opportunistic Bell slid into the opening and immediately started paying dividends.
"It feels good for a guy like Joique," Lions coach Jim Schwartz. "It's tough to be an NFL football player; it's tough to break a roster. We had him in the Senior Bowl a few years ago and he's made teams and been on practice squads and stuff like that, and it felt good to see him earn a roster spot with our team.”
Bell has a noteworthy 4.9 yard peer carry average and had scored three touchdowns. He is also fourth on the team in receptions.
Last Updated on Friday, 30 November 2012 11:39
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
( Photo Credit: Keymonn’e Gabriel sets sail on a 20-yard touchdown run. – Andre Smith photo)
For the first time in Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) football history, two Detroit based teams – Cass Tech and Loyola – appeared in the state Finals.
With the Division 7 championship on the line Loyola ran into a hungry Upper Peninsula (UP) team, Ispheming, that had won two State titles and knew how to get the job done.
The upstart Detroit squad had what appeared to be a better roster of athletes, but as is the case in sports the best, or perceived best team does not always win.
Showing guts and grit, Ispheming nursing a 20-14 lead and inches from a first down, late in the fourth quarter from its own 19-yard line, gambled for all the marbles and won them all.
If Loyola had shorted Ispheming, they would've likely have scored and left little time on the game clock, but the boys from the UP had what it took to get the job done.
With that first down Ispheming effectively squashed Loyola’s change at victory.
"I'm surprised I didn't want to go for it right off the bat," admitted Olson. "When we called time-out I said we're going to punt it, and I think half of the guys said 'no, we're going for it.' We always go for it on fourth-and-1. If someone offers us fourth and three inches for a state championship, I'm going to go for it."
Ispheming would eventually have to punt, but the courageous play took valuable time off the clock and the 44-yard punt gave the Loyola (13-1) 72 hard yards to travel through instead of, say, 19.
That was not the only big play that Ispheming produced. With 5:36 to play in the game, the Hematites stopped Loyola and star runner Keymonn'e Gabriel (21 carries, 129 yards) at its own 8 yard line.
The final play of the third quarter saw Gabriel score from 20-yards out to make it 14-12 Bulldogs. But the team from up North had a never say die spirit.
Led by Eric Kostreva (182 yards on 20 carries) Ispheming held the ball for seven minutes in the third and cashed in on a two-yard TD run by Kostreva to lead 12-8. He added his third touchdown of the game, a 3-yard blast with 10 minutes left in the game. That last run would be all Ispheming would need to win the title.
"They just outplayed us," Loyola coach John Callahan said in the post game press conference. "I thought they came ready to compete. There are no excuses. I think we got outplayed today, but we're a young team. We plan on being back."
A loss at this level is always a hurting thing especially at the moment of the occurrence. All the Loyola fans and players were distraught at knowing they were so close to making history. Yet so far!
“This program has come a long way,” said Principal Delisa Jones. “Sure we want to win, but I very proud of what these young men have accomplished.”
Gabriel said the he also though his team came out sluggish. “We need to come out from the snap playing Loyola football, but we did not for some reason.”
Said quarterback Toby Sharp: “We were not as physical as we should have been at the start. They threw the first punches and that put us on our heels. We did not play as good as we are capable of, but the senior have set the tone of the future of this program.”
There is a giant void left with the closing of Detroit Saint Martin DePorres, but it looks like Loyola has the players, coaches and administration to recreate one of the best private school programs in the city and state. Time will tell.
Last Updated on Monday, 26 November 2012 15:28
Category: Sports Written by Michigan Chronicle
The Detroit Lions had regenerated hope from its faithful, that last week’s victory over a good Seattle Seahawks team would propel them forward for the second half of the second.
In fact, I had coined the Lions the Comeback Cats after their thrilling 28-24 victory over the Seahawks at Ford Field.
So, it was with great anticipation, hope and wonderment when the Lions went up to Minnesota to face the Vikings that the recent streak would continue. Even though the Lions lost to the Vikings at home early in the season and dropped to 1-3, the loss appeared to be a game they should have and could have won.
At the time, for the second consecutive game the Lions gave up two special team return scores that became the margin of victory in each loss (Tennessee and Minnesota). Against Minnesota, Percy Harvin took the opening kickoff 105 yards and Marcus Sherels sprinted 77 yards with a punt return in the third quarter in a 20-13 loss.
After the game Lions coach Jim Schwartz told the media that the team would fix the special teams’ gaffs and they did. Coming into the Vikings game last Sunday Detroit had posted a 3-1 record and appeared to be on a roll. It was safe to assume that they had a shot at making the NFL Playoffs again..
However, after the Lions disappointing 34-24 loss, at Mall of America Field, their playoff hopes are becoming a distant dream.
With only seven games left in the season, the Lions have to win six of them, and, a 10-6 record may still not be enough to make the playoffs. Three of their next four games are at Ford Field - Green Bay, Houston on Thanksgiving and Indianapolis. Closing out the 2012 season Detroit has a road game against Arizona and season-ending home games against Atlanta and Chicago, the highest-ranked teams in the NFC.
“It’s hard to make sense of it all,” Lions center Dominic Raiola told reporters after the game. “It’s hard because three out of the last four games we found a little rhythm and we found a little consistency. We felt good about ourselves and to come in and lay an egg early in the game, and scratch and claw, we had a chance there to tie it up and we didn’t take advantage of that and they came back out and (Adrian Peterson) put his stamp on this game. That was it.”
Peterson, one year removed from a seriously torn left ACL, indeed stuck a running dagger in the Lions comeback attempts. The NFL’s leading rusher ran for 171 yards on 27 carries and broke open the game with a 61-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter.
“Our game plan was limit him (Peterson), limit his production, not let him get any breakout runs,” defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch exclaimed, “but it’s easier said than done. He’s a dynamic player. He may be the most dangerous back in the league right now and we just didn’t get it done.”
Peterson and the Vikings (6-4) dropped the Lions record to 4-5. Detroit is now 0-3 in division games and in last place in the NFC North, and have absolutely no room for error over a grueling final seven games.
“It hurts bad,” cornerback Chris Houston told reporters. “Our shot for the playoffs is still kind of slim, but if we come back and win these three home games (the next three weeks) we still have a shot.”
Calvin Johnson caught 12 passes for a season-high 207 yards and scored a late touchdown on an 11-yard pass. Matthew Stafford completed 28 of 42 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns; however, as has been the case all season, much of his yardage came playing catch-up in the second half.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 November 2012 14:53
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein, III
Photo:Detroiter Devin Gardner scores winning TD. - Dan Graschuck photo
ANN ARBOR – Although the University of Michigan produced one of its greatest come-from-behind wins, an improbable 38-31 overtime win at the Big House over Northwestern.
Over 112,510 were there to witness the never-say-die Wolverines keep their slim Big Ten title hope alive.
On an absolutely beautiful mid-November football day, not only was UM’s exhilarating victory had all in the Big Ten talking, but among the reporters and I’m sure many others, the question of the day was is there a quarterback controversy?
Concerning current UM quarterback, junior Devin Gardner, and its pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate, senior Denard Robinson, all were wondering if Gardner had overtaken Robinson as the Wolverines’ top signal caller.
In the aftermath of Gardner’s stellar play, after sitting the bench for three years, he even switched to wide receiver in an attempt to get on the field. In fact, before getting the last two starts at quarterback he was second on the team in receptions and first in touchdown catches.
In an early season post-game press conference, I asked Gardner if he now considered himself a receiver. Emphatically he exclaimed: “In spring practice I saw we were a little short at the receiver position so I took some reps there and did kind of good, so they took notice and told me I might be able to help at that position right now. I began to practice hard and work on my mechanics.
“But make no mistake about it, I am a quarterback! I saw a way to help this team win games this season so I moved to receiver. But, I still have every young person’s dream. I want to play quarterback for the University of Michigan. I still feel I have the ability and the heart to play the position. In fact, I look forward to throwing the ball to (Devin) Funchess next season. I can’t wait to get the chance to throw the ball to him.”
Sure most in the interview room smirked and discounted Gardner’s retort as never going to happen, because the word around the UM press corps was that red-shirt freshman Russell Bellomy had snatched the second string quarterback job.
Conversely most considered Gardner’s boast as just that a boast. However, Gardner’s so-called boast had manifest itself into reality as he has taken the reigns and led Michigan to victories over Minnesota and now Northwestern.
Robinson got injured against Nebraska and Bellomy took over but looked overwhelmed in the important loss to their Legend Division foe.
As a result Michigan coach Brady Hoke turned to his quarterback turned receiver, Gardner.
I can understand the media questioning and fascination with who indeed is the starting Wolverine quarterback. Especially after all have witness the mature and poise displayed by Gardner in it last two wins.
Also the fact that Robinson was in uniform with the padded, protected elbow and went to midfield for the pregame and overtime coin flips but did not play a snap, now having missed the past 2 1/2 games since the right elbow nerve injury happened just before halftime at Nebraska, helped fuel the questioning.
Gardner showing clam and poise defused and placated any quarterback controversy coming from him noting: “This is Denard's team, and it's always going to be Denard's team until he's gone. He's done way too much for two games to change that.
“I knew my time would come eventually, whether it was this year or next year. It just happened to come a little earlier than expected. I always knew I could still quarterback this team, After all, I’ve been playing the position since little league.”
Gardner threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns. And he ran for two scores, including a 1-yarder in overtime.
Gardner credited his coaches for the game-winning touchdown run.
The play was called by offensive coordinator Al Borges. "That was a great call," Gardner said. "When I saw how tight they were, I was like; this is the best call possible. When I got around the edge, I basically walked into the end zone. That was all coach Borges."
It is starting to look like Gardner’s early season boast was more that, it was a fact that he indeed is a quarterback.
The question is still on the table, if Robinson is healthy, who will start at quarterback? Hoke, refuses to show his hand so we will all just have to wait and see.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 November 2012 14:58
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
Photo Credit: (Emanuel Steward at his last interview in Detroit. – Dan Graschuck photo)
(The following narrative is the last interview Emanuel Steward had with Chronicle Sports Editor, Leland Stein III, before his passing).
Tributes continued to come in from the Sweet Science’s greatest pugilist, its writers, and promoters and fight fans in general. All revel in knowing the one of the greatest trainers ever, Detroit’s own Emanuel Steward.
Yeah, Detroit has gained notoriety for ushering in the industrial age with its car manufacturing, its legendary Motown Records and its Great Lakes, but right up front and center with all of that were Steward and his Kronk Gymnasium.
As a result of Steward’s cajoling The Kronk became synonymous with Detroit. Not only did it become the breeding ground of champions like Tommy Hearns but also a place of pilgrimage for fighters, trainers, promoters and boxing lovers from all over the world.
Kronk was more than just a gym with a boxing ring. Steward through his amazing character, will, caring and force of personality transformed the sweaty gym into a place of hope and inspiration..
Steward put the Kronk Team on the world's map with a stable of champions that began with Hilmer Kenty, Thomas Hearns, the McCory brothers and continued until his death with Ukrainian heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko.
Steward had Kronk to a place where even if one was not a major boxing aficionado, more than likely he or she has heard about Detroit’s Gym.
Although the City of Detroit closed its oldest recreation center - the home of Kronk Gym - in 2006, Steward took his gym to Warren Street in Detroit.
Steward told me: “I’ve talked to Mayor (Dave) Bing and he has expressed an interest in helping Kronk where he can. He comes from a sports background and he understands how it can impact kids in the community. I also get the feeling he appreciates Kronk's contribution to the image of the city over the years.”
To the end Steward was always thinking about how he could help others.
While Steward evolved into an international boxing icon as a trainer, manager and play-by-play announcer, his nephew, Javon Hill, stepped into the mix and kept Kronk on track.
“My nephew,” Steward said, “retired from the police department and he has revitalized the amateur program. He is continuing the traditions that have made Kronk famous. He makes sure that the fighters still focus on basic fundamentals and they get regular fights.”
Steward said that making sure the boxers stay active and in competition was very important.
“It’s just like when a guy only plays basketball in the backyard,” Steward said, “but when he joins a league and goes and play against others from everywhere, he’ll probably get better. It’s the same with boxing.”
Motown has produced an illustrious and renowned leader in Barry Gordy, Kronk has Steward.
Motown has produced The Temptations, Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and The Four Tops, just to name a few.
Kronk likewise has developed champions like Kenty, Hearns and Mickey Goodwin, Duane Thomas, Jimmy Paul and the McCrory brothers, Steve and Milton.
“Getting involved with Kronk has changed my life forever,” Hearns told me. “After Hilmer won Kronk’s first title, we were all determined to keep it going.”
Added Milton: “I was a baseball player at Pershing (High), but once I got turned on to Kronk I was able to travel and see the world and I liked that.”
Steward told me a story about when they first started they drove “old cars up and down the freeways,” stayed one in a room in bad hotels and “shared one meal with four people.”
As Kronk’s fame grew in the late 1970s and 80’s, an unbelievable collection of boxing greats, many who were or became world champions trained at Kronk at least once during their careers. Men like Julio César Chávez, Naseem Hamed, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Wilfredo Benitez (in the Tucson gym), Hector Camacho, and Jermain Taylor.
Others have come behind them like Gerald McClellan, Leeonzer Barber, Michael Moorer, Leon Spinks, Dennis Andries, Mark Breland, Wladimir Klitschko and Johnathon Banks, respectfully.
All these men have helped Kronk’s name, symbol and boxing colors become Detroit icons noted around the world.
Although Steward’s goal is always to produce champions like Motown produced hits, he recognizes that the club is a vehicle to help young men refocus their lives.
“There are kids that have changed their life because of Kronk,” Steward said. “The lessons of discipline, hard work and dedication are learned in the gym, because many do not get them at home.”
As Steward reflected on the amazing history that Kronk has created he even had to take a step back and say, wow!
“I’m still surprised at how it has all happened,” Steward exclaimed. “Just think, I only started this to help my brother (James) learn the sport. Now we are all over the world and Detroit and Kronk is on the boxing map. That’s why I want to keep this in Detroit, because there is a lot more talent out there, all they need is opportunity and a place to learn.”
Indeed Kronk, Steward and Detroit became ingrained in international boxing lore.
Last Updated on Monday, 05 November 2012 11:59
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