There's no place like Saturday...

June 26, 2010

USA Soccer

The USA exit in the World Cup doesn't have to be all glum. There are some things Americans should be happy they no longer need to put up with.

Tim Howard versus Ghana. Photo (Kevin Djansezian, Getty Images)

My focus on soccer is about to take quite the plunge. Think sky-diving, but without the parachute to slow you down. Sure the World Cup is/was exciting. Somehow though, with the loss of the US, the stage just got a whole lot less intense.

The US soccer team falling to Ghana Saturday was just one more reminder of the inferior status of soccer in America. Sure it was a good run, like a Cinderella excavating its way through a March Madness bracket, the US soccer team carved through the first round of the World Cup in cardiac fashion. Sure all American’s felt as if we could take the whole cup after the ending of the pull through match-up against Algeria, it was a dramatic finish; crazy things seem to come out of the mouth of people following spectacular circumstances, just ask Ron Artest. In losing to Ghana, the US lost to an even lower ranked country and a country 90 percent of American’s probably cannot even point out on a map. Somehow it just doesn’t feel right. In the sports world, and I suppose, in testament to our sense of geography.

Those of you whose focus will now head back to your jobs or other important things, like sleeping at 7 a.m. instead of watching soccer, can look at the positives to the US punching its ticket early:

No more vuvuzelas: Ever take a bat and thrash a wasp nest with it then stand by for 90 minutes to see what may happen? Thirty-thousand people blowing vuvuzelas gives off a strikingly close sound to just that, and amazingly inflicts the same amount of pain one could expect from the wasps. Those of you who were left beating the top of your TV thinking ABC and ESPN were experiencing technical difficulties throughout the World Cup can take a seat. That was just the sound of 30 thousand elementary school kids learning to play the trumpet. The sounds of the Vuvuzelas became so entrenched in my head the eloquent feeling of a tack to an eardrum began showing up in my daily TV shows. I began to wander why the crew on the set of Seinfeld was blowing the African horns.

Good bye referees: Never have I witnessed a sport where a game can be changed by a ref as much as World Cup soccer. I realize every country in the world hates the US; I just didn’t realize FIFA was a country. The best example of the pours’ refereeing came from Koman Coulibaly in the US match against Slovenia. What again was the penalty? Oh, that’s right you don’t have to state what you called. Ok. I guess we’ll just take your word for it. Coulibaly’s call, taking away what would have been a go-ahead goal for the US, made Jim Joyce’s call almost look like the right call.

All of those cards: I don’t care what color it is. Yellow, red, purple, hell even turquoise, try running up to Ray Lewis right after he de-cleats Eli Manning and stick one of those cards in his face then right his name on your little pad. The outcome probably wouldn’t be so great. I’m giving this part of the game a billboard size red card.

All of the faked injuries: The amount of flopping in the average World Cup match rivals watching a Celtics game. It’s one thing to fall to the ground because you got your legs taken out. But to cover your face with both hands then grab your left ankle…wait no, the right ankle...wait, what one did you get hit in again? Are these grown men playing a sport we’re watching or an improve class on Broadway? Last time I checked a baseball player getting hit with a 95 mph fastball in the leg takes a deep breath, and then takes his base. What, Fabio, you don’t think people are getting stepped on with cleats in a football pile? It seemed as soon as a player realized there wasn’t a penalty, that once compound-fractured leg seemed to be well enough to cherry pick a goal. Do you believe in MIRICLES! A little note to FIFA; A lot of your boys are pansies.

All of the ‘self proclaimed soccer experts’ can shut it now: I for one feel comfortable to say I did more question asking than watching during the matches. I felt a little alone though. Suddenly everyone in the country that knew nothing of the world’s most popular sport were giving speeches, preaching and doing book signings on soccer. I’m all for supporting the US, or whatever country you’re pulling for, but some took it to their heads a little far. Parts of the US games gave me goose bumps. It’s special when countries compete. But all the American fans who badmouthed soccer for the last four years, or since the last World Cup, can get off the out of control bandwagon they've been riding. It almost made out-of-state Yankee fans look noble. A large portion of the US couldn’t care less about soccer, ‘large portion’ meaning nearly everyone. Oh, no? How many MLS soccer teams can you name, city and mascot? I’m stuck at three. I think there are more though.

At least we made it farther than France. I shouldn’t have to say anything else on that one.

Now that it’s all said and done for the US team, they should still be walking off the field with their heads held high and be thankful they leave the before mentioned behind. This team was able to do what previous generations and Bend it like Beckham could not do. They were able to get the entire US to back soccer. Suddenly, millions of American’s sports fans focus was on the worlds sport. Not Stephen Strasberg, Kobe’s fifth ring, or Ben Roethlisberger, it was on Soccer. That’s a win in itself.

June 7, 2010

Is This Their Year

Is This Their Year?

2010 marks as a last chance for some and the start of a career for others

Each year the once highly rated recruit such as 2003 Miami commitment Kyle Wright goes forgotten. While the seemingly unknown, like '03 BC quarterback Matt Ryan, emerge as stars.

In 2003, California high school quarterback Kyle Wright was sought after as the No. 1 player in the country and one of the most gifted quarterbacks to come out of the high school ranks in years. Wright signed with Miami, just one of his 50 plus scholarship offers. That same year a three star, No. 44 ranked quarterback, Philadelphia recruit by the name of Matt Ryan, made the decision to play his college football at nearby Boston College, one of a far less number of offers.

What’s the difference between the two then and now? About the same difference between 1998 The Parent Trap kid star Lindsay Lohan and 2009 Lindsay Lohan. Wright went on to be one of the biggest college quarterback busts in years at Miami, going undrafted by the NFL and out of football altogether. While at Boston College, Ryan seized the opportunity becoming an All-American and #3 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

Each year high school standouts fail to live up to their high school hype and fall through the cracks of college football. Then there are the players we seemingly knew nothing of that become the stars of Saturdays. Players like Wright, Florida State quarterback Xavier Lee of ‘04, or 2002 Ohio State linebacker commit Mike D’Andrea, fit the mold of a bust player.

This year lies as a make or break year for some and a year to start a career for others. Players from the class of 2006 have just a year to live up to their past hype, while the stars of more recent classes may have more years, 2010 serves as a year to prove something at the risk of being passed on the depth chart. For the following players, I can’t help but ask: Is this their year?

From the class of 2006 to 2009, the players below have something to prove.

*Note: rankings are by

The class of 2006:

#1 ***** WR – Vidal Hazelton, Sr. – Cincinnati Bearcats (USC transfer)

The Past:

Hazelton, a native of New York, committed to USC out of high as the number one ranked wideout by After playing sparingly in his first year, only catching one pass, he broke out in 2007 catching 50 passes for 540 yards and four scores, leading the USC offense. It appeared Hazelton would be the next great USC pass catcher. High expectations laid on the shoulders of the 6’2’’ 210 pound wide receiver heading into 2008, but injuries and an apparent rift with coaches sent Hazelton down the depth chart. He only caught six passes for 38 yards. In December ’08, Hazelton was cleared to transfer, choosing Cincinnati to be closer to home.


Hazelton was forced to sit out last season after not gaining acceptance from the NCAA to play following transfer sit-out rules. This spring the senior wideout brought in four catches for 88 yards and a touchdown in the Bearcats spring game. Depth at wide receiver runs deep, even with the loss of All-American Mardy Gilyard. Second leading receiver Armon Binns and junior D.J. Woods returning return. Hazelton should be able to make a splash in the pass happy offense of first year coach Butch Jones though. A gifted athlete and physical receiver, Vidal Hazelton could once again be a household name halfway through the 2010 season.

#1 ***** CB – Jai Eugene, Sr. – LSU Tigers

The Past:

One of the most sought after cornerbacks in years out of high school, the Louisiana native spent his freshman year redshirting and next year watching from the sidelines. In 2008 Eugene finally cracked the starting lineup in nine of thirteen games, but brought in just 35 tackles and no interceptions. In 2009 he was passed on the depth chart making just two starts with one interception, the first of his career.


In March, Eugene was moved to safety to fill a void left by third-round pick Chad Jones. Safety could prove to be a better position for Eugene in 2010, as he will have more space to work with and won’t need to rely on his shaky coverage skills. With an All-American corner in Patrick Peterson in front of him, Eugene will be able to bait quarterbacks into making tough decisions on where to throw the ball against the Tigers pass defense. A track star in high school, speed is the name of Eugene’s game and he will be able to cover a lot of ground from his new position in 2010. If he fails to live up to the challenge, however, 2010 may be the last chance Jai Eugene has in football.

#11 **** RB – Emmanuel Moody, Sr. – Florida Gators (USC transfer)

The Past:

Moody, a talented, powerful back from Texas, chose USC out of high school and proved right away he belonged in the rotation of running backs with the Trojans. He finished his freshman year with 459 yards and two touchdowns in a backfield that also saw carries go to Safon Johnson, C.J. Gable, Chauncey Washington and Hershel Dennis. The crowded backfield would be what would push Moody away from Southern California just one year later. Moody chose Florida as his new home, sitting out the 2007 season. One would have to wonder why the Gators would be a running back who doesn’t want to share touches choice. In 2008 and 2009 Moody split carries with the likes of Brandon James, Chris Rainey and Jeffery Demps, all of which seemed to fit better in the pass happy offense of the Gators. In two years with Florida, Moody has only amassed 795 yards rushing and four touchdowns.

(Image, Tim Casey/


Is this yet another year of Moody being tortured by a multiple back system? By the looks of it, it would appear so. Moody has a chance to gain most of the Gators 2010 carries, but in the spread system with new quarterback John Brantley tossing balls around, there may not be much to go around. Now juniors, Demps and Rainey, will still be in the pecking order for touches as well. Moody may find himself getting more redzone carries for the Gators with the departure of bruising runner Tim Tebow. We may not know until the 2010 season begins just how much Moody is used by head man Urban Meyer.

The class of 2007:

#6 ***** QB – Pat Bostick, Jr. – Pittsburgh Panthers

The Past:

Pat Bostick has experienced highs and lows while at Pittsburgh. His first career pass his freshman season was intercepted while in cleanup duty against Grambling. That same year Bostick ended the season starting the last eight games of the year for the Panthers. A far turnaround. As far as freshman quarterbacks thrust into action go, Bostick didn’t half disappoint. He finished his freshman year with 1,500 yards eight scores and 13 interceptions. The following season, junior Bill Stull took the starting reins, giving Bostick just one start on the year. Last season Pitt elected to redshirt the sophomore while Stull took the Panthers to a 10-3 season.


The 2010 season for Bostick comes down to a few “If’s.” The first and most important if, is whether or not Bostick will be able to beat out sophomore Tino Sunseri. Sunseri saw limited action last season attempting just 17 passes, but came away from spring ball the more impressive quarterback. The second If, will be if Bostick does win the starting nod, can he limit his mistakes to keep the position? The junior has nine starts under his belt as a collegiate starter but has thrown 17 interceptions. If he continues to make mistakes the Pitt staff should have no problem starting Sunseri. In all likelihood, Bostick will get a chance to prove to be a more matured quarterback after having a year to sit and learn. With plenty of weapons around him in wideout Jonathan Baldwin, whose freak athleticism rivals ex- Pitt great Larry Fitzgerald, along with sensational freshman running back Dion Lewis, Bostick should have no excuses for not performing well. This year may just be his last chance.

#2 ***** RB – Marc Tyler, Jr. USC Trojans

The Past:

Out of high school, Tyler was part of a California Westlake Village team that sent 11 players to Division-I football in the class of 2007 – including USC teammate Marshall Jones, and Notre Dame alum Jimmy Clauson. At USC, Tyler has been a casualty of the stacked Trojan backfield that Moody ran from a year previous. After redshirting in ’07, Tyler saw action in seven games rushing for 198 yards on 36 carries. Last season it appeared he would find more time on the field after rushing for 72 yards and a score on just five carries in the first game of the year, but a toe injury would sideline the sophomore for the season.


This season appears to be Tyler’s best shot at running away with the rushing title for the Trojans. Running backs Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson have moved on to the NFL leaving a once loaded running corps depleted of a feature back. Senior Allen Bradford appears to be Tyler’s stiffest competition after rushing for 668 touchdowns and eight scores, but Bradford at 5’11’’ 237 pounds, won’t carry the load alone. C.J. Gable once again returns as it seems the senior is entering his eighth season for the Trojans. Gable will get carries, but Tyler should be able to beat out the beaten down Gable, for the share of the load. If Tyler doesn’t get things going this season he may fall even farther behind incoming All-American freshman runners Dillon Baxter and D.J. Morgan.

#3 ***** WR – Deonte Thompson, Jr. – Florida Gators

The Past:

Thompson is one of the most electrifying receivers to come out of the high school ranks in years. A former member of Belle Glade High in the everglades of south Florida, Thompson has been timed at under 4.30 in the forty. At Florida, Thompson spent his 2007 under redshirt and then found himself overshadowed by another speedster by the name of Percy Harvin in ’08. Last season he showed flashes of greatness, and speed at times. Against Arkansas, Thompson brought in a 77 yard touchdown catch, and then against Cincinnati in the bowl game he caught five balls for 63 yards and a score. On the season, Thompson finished with 24 grabs for 343 yards and four touchdowns.


There is a lot of excitement brewing around Gainesville about Thompson in 2010. Taking away the team MVP award this spring, Thompson showed the type of receiver he is capable of becoming. The junior returns as the leading receiver for the Gators and has built up a solid relationship with new starter John Brantley over the years working with the second team. This season should be the time Thompson shows he is just as valuable a football player as other members of the wide receiver class of ’07, which includes NFL draftees: Dez Bryant, Golden Tate and Arrelious Benn.

The Class of 2008:

#3 ***** QB – Dayne Crist, Jr. – Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Past:

Crist is yet another California single caller for the Golden Domer’s. With plenty of talent before him, most notably Jimmy Clauson, Crist has spent his time watching and learning on the sidelines for the Irish. In 2008, his freshman season, Crist was not redshirted but saw no game action, a questionable call by the previous Weis staff. Last season he saw game time vs. Nevada, Michigan State, Purdue and Washington State. Late in the Washington State game Crist blew out his ACL ending his season. He finished his year going 10-of-20 passing for 130 yards, a score and a pick each.


The junior entered spring football as the unquestioned starter of the Irish and there was little he did, or could do to lose the job. Still recovering from the ACL injury from months before, Crist was limited as to what he could participate in. A new coaching staff, headed by Coach Brian Kelly, also brings a new playbook. Luckily for Crist, the spread system implemented by Kelly is similar to what he ran in high school. With plenty of talent around him in All-American candidates, tight end Kyle Rudolph and wide receiver Michael Floyd, Crist should have no reason not to complete a fair number of passes and touchdowns in the fall. Senior, Brian Castello, will be nipping at Crist’s heels if he fails to move the ball in early games against rivals Michigan and Michigan State.


#2 **** OLB – Ramon Buchanan, Jr. – Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes

The past:

An athletic standout at Palm Bay high school in Florida, Buchanan played defensive back, linebacker and wide receiver. Projected as an outside ‘backer in college, Buchanan started his career at Miami at safety. Playing mostly on special teams throughout the ’08 season, he would later be moved to outside linebacker. Last season he continued to play special teams while seeing increased action at linebacker, playing in every game for the Hurricanes, starting against UNC while starter Sean Spence was out with an injury. Buchanan finished the year with 28 total tackles with 3.5 for a loss.


The 2010 season is an important one for the junior who is looking to grab a starting position entering fall camp. Buchanan sat out the spring with an injury so he was unable to prove his progress. Head Coach Randy Shannon has previously stated that the best three linebackers will start come fall. With sure starters Colin McCarthy and Sean Spence locking up two of the positions, Buchanan will have to out battle fellow outside linebacker Jordan Futch and middle linebacker Kylan Robinson, for a chance to start. If that happens, McCarthy may be moved to the inside. Buchanan has shown flashes of his past high ranking in both coverage and stopping the run, but will have to up his game come August camp. If he gains the starting nod, Buchanan will help the Hurricanes defense become even more of an athletic unit.

#5 ***** RB – Jamie Harper, Jr. - Clemson Tigers

The Past:

As good as a running back can possibly be backing up All-American runners James Davis and C.J. Spiller, Harper has succeeded thus far. In his freshman season he saw action sparingly as Davis and Spiller racked up most of the team touches, let alone the carries. Last season with Davis gone, Harper brought in four games with 75-plus yards. Against Kentucky in the Music City Bowl Harper outgained Spiller, rushing for 79 yards and a score on just eight carries. On the season he ended with 80 carries for 418 yards and four touchdowns.


With Spiller gone it would appear Harper has a clean shot at the starting running back spot, but that isn’t the case. Harper had himself a decent spring but played second fiddle to sophomore Andre Ellington in the spring game. Ellington gained 86 yards on 16 carries, while Harper finished with 12 carries for 33 yards. It shouldn’t be cause-for-concern as the two were on separate squads and will be competing behind the same line come fall. Harper is a powerful back at 6’0’’ 230 pounds, yet has the speed to breakaway. In high school he was a member of the Florida state championship 4X100 relay team. It’s a toss-up whether Harper will be named the starter over the speedster Ellington, but either way, he should be a major contributor for Clemson come September.

The Class of 2009:

#3 ***** QB – Aaron Murray, R-Fr. – Georgia Bulldogs

The Past:

A native of Tampa, Murray is one tough quarterback. During his senior year of high school Murray broke his leg during an October game but still fought back to lead his team to the State Championship game. Last season he spent time redshirting and manning the scout team behind senior Joe Cox. It was a bit of a surprise not to see the young quarterback prodigy, as Cox struggled at times, but an apparent tendinitis in Murray’s shoulder kept him from the field.


According to Head Coach Mark Richt, Murray is “the man” heading into fall camp. Following spring ball Richt named Murray the starter over junior Logan Gray. Murray is a traditional pocket passer, yet smaller that the ideal size at 6’1’’, he still posses the ability to move fluidly inside and outside the pocket. He still has plenty of time to right the ship with his future, but this would be the time to start. Nothing can hurt a young quarterback’s confidence more than getting benched for poor play. With targets like receiver A.J. Green and tight end Orson Charles around him this fall though, Murray could just become “the man,” not just for Georgia, but the country as well.

(Image, Bob Andres, AJC)

#8 **** RB – Jaamal Berry, R-Fr. – Ohio State Buckeyes

The Past:

Before Berry’s senior season, the running backs recruiting stock shot up from a player recruited by his own backyard of Florida, to a player every school in the country was after. Most of that can be credited to his speed, blazing a 4.31 forty at the summer Nike camp in Miami. An injury cost Berry to miss most of his senior campaign, however, he still ended with numerous offers. Last season as a freshman at OSU a hamstring injury in August camp bothered and sidelined him for the year once again.


In 2010, Berry is injury free and ready to shine. That is for now at least. A crowed backfield for the Buckeyes may be what holds Berry back from displaying his speed more than injuries though. Leading rushers, senior Brandon Saine and junior Daniel Herron both return, as well as sophomore Jordan Hall, who showed good burst last season. Berry may find it hard to see the field but if he is as good as advertised, it may be even harder for the Ohio State staff to keep Berry off the field. With two sophomores and incoming freshman Roderick Smith and Carlos Hyde around him, Berry may have to have a breakout year in 2010 to survive his future in scarlet and silver.

#10 **** QB – Kevin Newsome, So. – Penn State Nittany Lions

The Past:

A dynamic quarterback with 4.5 speed, Newsome was a highly sought after Virginia product out of high school. A sprinting champion, as well as a hurdler, Newsome has the ability to beat opposing defenses with his big arm, and quick feet. Last season the freshman sat behind senior Daryll Clark, seeing opportunity in eight games, mostly in clean up duty. He completed 8-of-11 passes for 66 yards, while rushing for 95 yards and two scores.


Yet another quarterback battle ensued for the Nittany Lions this spring. Last time two quarterbacks battled it out for Penn State Clark was named the starter and highly regarded quarterback, Pat Devlin, handed coaches transfer papers. That yet wasn’t the case this spring as Newsome fought for the job with fellow sophomore Matthew McGloin, with neither staking claim to the position. Newsome went 5-for-12 passing with 50 yards and no scores in the spring game, but out did McGloin’s two interceptions. Expect Newsome to be named the starter following August camp because of the tremendous upside and athleticism he brings to the field. If he fails to out play McGloin however, it may be a short career for Newsome, who has freshman five star quarterbacks Paul Jones and Robert Bolden waiting in the wake.

All writing and views subject to © Drew P. Kochanny, All Rights Reserved. Photo's credited to rights owner.