Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Murphy Prepares For Year Two at Miami

By Trent Lawrence

Columbia City alumni Jared Murphy is preparing for his second season as a wide receiver for the University of Miami Ohio football team.  Murphy had some encouraging moments as a freshman as well as some disappointments.  Now Murphy is ready for a fresh start and primed to make an impact.

You are entering year two in your college football career, how do you feel about that?
It's crazy to think I'm already entering year two of college. My first year was filled with ups and downs and many experiences that have helped me mature and develop in the classroom, on the field, and as a person. Although I played in three games and recorded my first career start last season I received a redshirt for my first year because I only played in three games before suffering a season ending back injury. The injury was tough but I feel very blessed to be in this unique situation of heading into my second year with game experience, 6 career catches, and I am still considered a freshman with four years of eligibility left.

Coach Chuck Martin is believed to be an outstanding coach. Tell us about your new coach at Miami of Ohio.
When Coach Martin was hired in December everyone at Miami was excited for the fresh start. Coach Martin came in with a very impressive resume that the whole team was very excited about. Once we got to work with our new coach we all realized why he was so successful at his previous jobs. I think I speak for the whole team when I say this offseason was the toughest thing I have ever went through both physically and mentally. After Coach arrived you could instantly notice a difference in the team's attitude and confidence.

 What are you most looking forward to this year?
What I am looking forward to most about this upcoming year is just the experience of the whole season. I am excited about the 2014 season and school year because I feel like I have got past the first year growing pains and I am now comfortable with a Division 1 student-athlete lifestyle. I know the routine and how everything works so I feel like I will be able to get the full effect of just enjoying the season with my teammates, family, and friends.

Last year you suffered a back injury that cut your season short. Tell us about the recovery process as well as the medical redshirt. 
Yes, last year unfortunately I fractured three of my vertebra's in a helmet to helmet collision during a game. I played the whole second half of the game because I was unaware of the specifics of the injury or the severity. The following day I found out I had broken my back and I would be done for the season. I was pretty upset about the news because I was really starting to feel comfortable in the games. I had to wear a back brace all day for about a month and a half. Once the brace came off many of the muscles in my upper body were very weak and stiff. I then began to rehab and work to get a lot of those muscles in my upper body flexible and as mobile as they once were. I was blessed to be fully recovered in time to participate in winter conditioning and spring ball. Like I mentioned earlier I did receive a medical redshirt so although I played I will have four years of eligibility left.

What advice do you have for your younger former teammate back home and others looking to play at the next level?
The best advice I could give for younger, former teammates who are ambitious to play at the next level is love to compete. You need to find ways to get out in the Midwest and compete against elite high school kids from all over. This will allow you to have a better understanding of where you stand compared to elite talent out there and also will make you a better play and competitor on Friday nights. Also, I would tell younger kids to never get to high and never get to low because the process is a roller coaster. Through all the ups and downs you must maintain a consistent work ethic and attitude of you will out work everyone else. The last bit of advice I would give is to surround yourself with awesome people and enjoy every moment of the process with them, do not take any bit of it for granted.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Top 10 Fantasy Running Backs

By Travis Stahl

Back in the mid-90's fantasy football was really starting to gain in popularity.  Just as it was taking off though some leagues had to make adjustments to their scoring systems due to the Marshall Faulk factor.  The Rams' running back was putting up fantasy numbers that were so ridiculous it was borderline unfair.  If you had Faulk on your roster you were nearly guaranteed to run the table and win the league title every year.  Running backs no longer hold that kind of fantasy influence but they are still vastly important to your team.  If you don't have two backs that can put up competitive numbers (10 or more points every week) you aren't going to stand much of a chance.  This is our list of the top-ten fantasy running backs available in fantasy football.

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings - Duh.
2. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles - Shady gets as many receptions as any back in the league and the Eagles offense has too many weapons for defenses to load up on the run.
3. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs - KC probably won't be as good as they were last year but Charles is still going to get plenty of touches.
4. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears - Forte fits the mold of backs who are great receivers out of the backfield which doubles the opportunity for points.
5. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers - The Packers have shown a renewed interest in running the ball and Lacy is a workhorse.
6. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - People forget how good Martin was before he got hurt last season and he will get the ball a lot.
7. Montee Ball, Denver Broncos - Ball is going to be getting the majority of the touches in Denver now and facing defenses that will be focusing on the passing game.
8. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks - I think holding out of training camp is going to hurt Lynch's productivity this season.
9. Arian Foster, Houston Texans - The new offense and head coach might jump start Foster's legs after a couple of down years.
10. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins - We will find out if Morris was just a product of the system under Mike Shanahan.

Obviously there are other very good running backs available past this list.  Because running backs get injured and miss more time than any other position it is a gamble no matter who you draft so don't over think it.  Later on in the draft you can swing for the fences and take some backs that might otherwise get overlooked.  Ben Tate in Cleveland might be a nice surprise or Knowshon Moreno in Miami could put up some serviceable numbers.  If you do pick a running back with a history of injuries you can also draft that player's back-up later in the draft so you know you are covered for when he goes down.  Remember, fantasy football is all about numbers and you want the highest number you can get.  Don't fool yourself at the draft with running backs, there is no sure thing.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Nix Rides to National Title

By Travis Stahl
Growing up in a small town learning how to ride a bike is second nature.  Kids need bikes to ride to the pool or down to Morsches Park and eventually riding bikes with friends becomes a race everywhere you go.  That is why growing up on a bike every kid dreams of riding in BMX races swooping over jumps and pedaling through tight corners.  Very few kids every get the opportunity to live out that two-wheel fantasy though.  Columbia City's Maycee Nix is one of the few living that dream of a BMX racer and she is dominating the competition nearly every time she hits the track.

The 13-year old Nix has caught on so quickly and is riding so well she recently surprised the competition at nationals.  The Nationals were held in Waterford, Michigan at the Waterford Oaks BMX track.  With hundreds of other riders and fans in attendance Nix rode away with a first-place finish in her division.  The National title is just the latest accomplishment for Nix as her career on the track is just getting started.

Nix started racing last July and trains two or three days a week at the Hire Park track in Warsaw.  Training is more than about being on a track as Nix works on her skills constantly riding in parking lots every chance she gets.  The outdoor season Nix rides in started in April and will run through September.  So far this season she has seven first-place finishes.  Nix is still considered a novice until she reaches 10 career wins then she will move up to the intermediate level.  Ten wins after that would put Nix in the expert class.

Once the outdoor season wraps up Nix will move on to the indoor season.  Most of her racing during the indoor season will be at the Steel Wheels track in Portage but she will also travel to tracks in Michigan and Ohio to compete.  Nix says her favorite thing about riding BMX is lining up in the gate with a bunch of boys that are bigger then she is and then beating all of them to the finish line.

As quickly as Nix has caught on there are going to be a lot of boys watching her cross the finish line ahead of them.  And, as fast as the wins are piling up, Nix could be in the intermediate division by the end of the outdoor season.  Every kid wants to be a BMX racer but Nix, the daughter of Ryan and Jenee Nix, is one of the talented few who can take her talents on to the track and dominate other riders.

Friday, July 18, 2014

For the Love of Wiggins

By Travis Stahl

It's amazing how quickly our perceptions of people can change.  Prior to last Friday Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and his midget were regarded as the worst owners in basketball what with Donald Sterling out of the way.  Then poof!  LeBron James is coming home and all of a sudden Gilbert is huggable old Danny again.  Word broke late yesterday that Danny and his midget are now considering adding No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins to the trade mix in an attempt to get Kevin Love.  I have only one thing to say ... don't do it!

If you have even half a brain Dan Gilbert, don't put Wiggins on the table in this trade with Minnesota.  Yes, Love is one of the 15 best players in the NBA and would be a great addition for the Cavaliers.  And, picking up  Love now would vault Cleveland into sure-fire finals participant if they weren't already.  I think it would be a huge mistake to even consider trading Wiggins right now without seeing what the kid can do when games matter.  Wiggins is still considered a once-in-a-generation talent that had every team in the league tripping over itself to lose games on purpose just for the shot at drafting him.  Cleveland should not even be whispering his name in these trade discussions.

Love would be helpful, that is certain.  Cleveland only has Anderson Verajo and Tristan Thompson on the front line.  There is the possibility last year's No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett becomes an actual in shape human being this season but if he doesn't the Cavs will be pretty thin up front.  But that's OK.  This isn't a game for huge massive front line players anymore.  Love would give Cleveland a bigger body who can still run the floor and shoot three's when the team goes to a small-ball line-up.  But at what cost?

If Wiggins really is as special as we all think he is just consider the possibilities.  Wiggins, LeBron and Kyrie Irving out on the break and outright harassing opponents defensively on the perimeter.  Who could possibly handle that?  This would be one of the top three defensive teams in the league.  For everything that Love is a great defender is not one of them.  Just picture Wiggins soaring through the air on a fast break hauling in lob passes from LeBron and throwing them down with ease.  In the Eastern Conference as it stands now, the only team that can even come close to competing with Cleveland is a healthy Bulls team.  Nobody else is even close.

Gilbert needs to consider the market for Love before he starts throwing around the possibility of involving Wiggins.  The only other team that had any interest in acquiring Love is Golden State and even they have been hesitant to pull off the deal.  Remember, this is the last year of Love's contract and there is no guarantee he resigns with whatever team acquires him.  The longer the Cavs wait on this deal the cheaper they can get Love too.  The most Minnesota was going to receive in a trade for Love would have come right before the draft and there was nobody ponying up first-round picks in offers to the Timberwolves.  The asking price only goes down from here.

If Cleveland was smart they would wait until closer to the trade deadline in February and see just how things stand.  At that point this Cavs team could already have its sights on a title and be blowing everyone else out of the water.  If so, there is no point in going after Love.  Or, if things just don't seem like a good fit for Wiggins and the rest of the team then you can make the move.  I think it would be horrible remiss of Gilbert and his midget to trade Wiggins without really seeing how he gels with LeBron and Kyrie.  Why mess with a good thing?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer League Stars are Shining

By Travis Stahl

Everyone knows what a dork I am when it comes to sports.  Fantasy hockey?  I'm in.  NFL Draft combine?  I couldn't get more excited.  One of the more obscure things I like to keep track of is the NBA Summer League games.  It is our first look at the recently drafted rookies as well as the second-year players who are still looking to make some improvements.  The Las Vegas summer league started last week and some players are looking very good already.

Andrew Wiggins - Cleveland's No. 1 draft pick has looked streaky which was to be expected.  Wiggins had an amazing behind-the-back 360 degree dunk in warm-ups that was beyond anything most people have seen.  There have been times though that Wiggins has gotten his defender off balance only to step back and put up a jumper instead of continuing towards the basket.  The tools are all there though and I don't buy the rumors of a potential trade to Minnesota.

Doug McDermott -
The Bulls traded away their other two first round picks to get McBuckets to add some scoring punch.  So far McDermott is probably the front-runner for the Las Vegas MVP as he is routinely putting up more than 20 points.  What has been most impressive is the way McDermott runs his defender through picks in a constant effort to find open shots.

Jabari Parker - Parker has mostly looked lost thus far in the summer league.  The No. 2 pick in the draft to Milwaukee has struggled to find an offensive rhythm and is getting eaten alive on defense.  It's not that Parker won't get a lot better, but it might take a little longer than expected for the Bucks.

Nerlens Noel -
Philadelphia's No. 1 pick last year is looking like a steal.  Defensively Noel is swatting anything that gets remotely close to the basket.  The surprise has been what Noel is bringing offensively.  The center has developed a beautiful drop step as well as an up-and-under move that is getting him easy looks after his defender goes for the fake.  The 76ers might be a much better team next year if Noel keeps this up.

Dante Exum - Utah's first pick in the draft as looked good and bad at times this summer.  Exum has flashed what he is capable of by dominating for stretches of some games.  But then he goes in to a funk where he allows other players to routinely put up bad shots without bringing everyone back together.  When Exum decides to take over though nobody in the summer league has done anything to stop him.

If you get really bored waiting for football to start check out the summer league action.  It is a free flowing game that resembles open gym.  It's not a structured offensive system so some players can really shine.  The summer league is also a chance for players who may have fallen through the cracks to come in and make a roster.  Glen Rice Jr. is in the process of lighting up the summer league for Washington and he was a second-round pick.  This is the first step in the career of a lot of NBA players and we can learn a lot by seeing how these young players carry themselves in the summer league.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

NBA Free Agency Winners and Losers

By Travis Stahl

Well we all knew when the first domino fell (LeBron James) the rest would topple soon and they did.  NBA free agency was like a tornado sweeping down and consuming everything in its path.  Some cities were left devastated and others were reborn.  The system of free agency as it stands now, along with summer league action going full speed right now, keeps the NBA relevant during the summer months.  We will look at summer league later this week but for now we need to discuss the teams and players that made it big in free agency as well as the ones who struck out.


Cleveland Cavaliers - I don't need to explain this one right?

Chicago Bulls - The Bulls didn't get Carmelo Anthony and that's OK.  What they did get is Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic to shore up the front line behind Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.  Gasol is still one of the best passing big men in basketball but Mirotic is the real gem here.  The 6'10 forward was the MVP of the Spanish League and has three-point range.  We all know how good Cleveland is but if Derrick Rose is healthy this Chicago group is every bit as talented.

Miami Heat - Yeah ... I know.  Somehow the Heat came out of this deal looking pretty decent.  They don't have LeBron but they did convince Chris Bosh to come back and keep playing with Dewayne Wade.  Throw in Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger, Luol Deng and rookie Shabazz Napier and this team could still win 45 games and be a five or six seed in the Eastern Conference.

Carmelo Anthony - Obviously he isn't going to be competing for titles in New York because the Knicks have done nothing else in free agency this off-season.  But it's hard to call a guy who got an extra $50 million for resigning with his current team a loser.

Chandler Parsons - Right out of the gate in free agency the Dallas Mavericks offered Parsons a pretty hefty deal.  While Houston played footsie with every free agent on the market Dallas kept whispering sweet nothings in Parsons ear.  The Rockets never did match the offer for Parsons thinking they would find something better.  Instead Parsons is heading to Dallas on that big new contract.

San Antonio Spurs - Remember them, the NBA champs?  San Antonio didn't add one significant player to its team from last season.  So how are they winners you might ask?  Because they were able to convince Boris Diaw and Patty Mills to resign with the team for less money than they were being offered from other clubs.  That means every member of last year's Spurs team will be back to defend the title.


Houston Rockets - The Rockets knew they had to get better at point guard and power forward so they rolled the dice with letting Parsons walk.  All along the Rockets thought they could get Melo or at the very least Bosh.  When LeBron went to Cleveland it was almost a done deal that Bosh was going to be a Rocket right up until the last minute when he opted in at Miami.  That left Houston with no LeBron, no Melo, no Bosh and no Parsons.  Whoops.  The Rockets did add Trevor Ariza who gives the team a perimeter defender and I commend the Rockets for swinging for the fences.  But this team might take a step back.

Los Angeles Lakers - The Lakers had grand plans of retooling the team around Kobe Bryant and rookie Julius Randle.  But nobody wanted to come out to LA and play second fiddle to Kobe and then Gasol fled the scene.  The Lakers are still flush with cash but nobody to spend it on.  Somehow this team has found a way to waste the last couple of years of production that Kobe has left.

Carlos Boozer - The odd man out in Chicago.  In order to have enough cap space to bring in Gasol and Mirotic the Bulls will use the amnesty clause to waive Boozer and his bloated contract.  Somebody will sign poor Carlos but it will be at a greatly reduced rate and roll.

There are still a few players out there looking for a deal but now it's just a matter of filling in around what you already have.  And if you don't have it now you aren't going to get it.  The teams that struck out during free agency missed out on some golden opportunities to take the next step.  Unless the Rockets or Lakers pull of some trades it's hard to see either team moving forward to anything more than they were last season.

Monday, July 14, 2014

4H Kids Have Talent

By Travis Stahl

Hard work, effort and success.  Those are the things we want from our athletes.  The success you receive comes from working long hours at your craft with the maximum amount of effort spent to get better.  We don't often equate the 4H fair with athletics because we don't think of the kids that participate as playing in sports.  But there are some pretty athletic events taking place at the 4H fair with a lot of kids putting in some hard work and effort.

The grandstand events are the most obvious forms of athletic activity taking place at the fair.  The demolition derby has long been a staple of the fair and always draws huge crowds.  I've seen some of the drivers from the derby as they exit their car after the even.  They are exhausted.  It takes a lot of effort to drive a car like that, constantly turning and then being slammed into by other cars.  The people who take part in the quad races, truck pulls and pig wrestling also put a lot of effort in to what they do all for the entertainment of the fans at the fair.

There is one event at the fair that is pretty athletic that often times gets overlooked.  Have you ever tried to ride a horse?  I have and it is not easy.  Those kids train their horses and care for them year round.  They they bring them down to the fair and perform some pretty precise skills in riding competitions.  It's amazing to see how good some of our local kids are on horseback.  And, they make it look so effortless because they have practiced so much it is second nature at this point.

The other kids that work with animals are putting in a lot of work too.  It may not be as athletic as horseback riding.  But it does still require long hours of work and training animals that sometimes want no part of the activity.  Oh, and they have to shovel poop. 

If you want to have your faith in humanity restored go down and visit the fair.  The animal count is a little down this year and it seemed like attendance was down some too.  It shouldn't be.  Whitley County has one of the greatest 4H fairs in the state and its free.  To see what some of these young people are learning from their hard work makes you proud to be a part of this community.  Plus, if you go to the fair you get to eat maple ice cream.