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Player of the Year and All-Area football honors

High School Sports Weekly
Thank you for subscribing to the High School Sports Weekly newsletter! Here’s the latest from our staff as we award this spring’s All-Area football team honors.

Good morning,
Vaughn Pemberton was an easy choice for Player of the Year. He was a dominant force on the area’s dominant team. 
The All-Area selections weren’t so easy. There were several talented juniors left off the team. It’s difficult to make judgements on players that I haven’t seen due to the short season and players that only played a handful of games. When things are close I tend to go with seniors. The theory is the juniors will benefit from that next season. 
And next season is right around the corner. If all goes well practices start on Aug. 9 and the first games will be held Aug. 27. 
— Michael O'Brien, high school sports editor
Top story
Loyola’s Vaughn Pemberton (21) scores a touchdown against Mount Carmel. | Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times
Loyola’s Vaughn Pemberton (21) scores a touchdown against Mount Carmel. | Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times
Vaughn Pemberton was a wrecking ball from the very beginning of his high school football career. The power and violence were always in his game.
That wasn’t enough. Being the big, strong running back landed him nothing but an offer from Northern Michigan, a Division 2 school.
“I was pissed about it,” Pemberton said. “I knew I had outplayed a lot of kids with Division I offers. I was just so mad.”
Pemberton works out with his Loyola teammate Josh Kreutz, the son of former Chicago Bear Olin Kreutz. It turns out a little bit of brutal honesty from someone he respected made an impact.
“Mr. Kreutz basically told me it was my fault that I didn’t have a D1 offer,” Pemberton said. “He said I had to work harder.”
The knock on Pemberton was his speed. So he fixed that. The 6-0, 210-pound senior terrorized the best defenses in the area this season. Pemberton climbed from the fourth string running back at Loyola his junior year to the Sun-Times Player of the Year as a senior.
Pemberton ran for 916 yards and scored 15 touchdowns in six games to help lead the Ramblers to an undefeated season and a wire-to-wire run as the top-ranked team in the Super 25.
“It almost made me feel like a bad coach to just keep giving him the ball and having him run over everybody,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “[Pemberton] looks like an NFL player out there with his size and his big muscular back and the great stiff arm. And he has the vision to bounce things outside that you don’t think he should be able to.”
Two coaching legends retire
With little fanfare, two remarkably similar and remarkably successful football coaching careers came to an end last weekend.
That’s exactly the way Wheaton Warrenville South’s Ron Muhitch and Naperville Central’s Mike Stine wanted it.
Their retirements had been long in the works, but the pandemic scrambled the details and stretched their tenures months beyond their planned end dates.
Muhitch spent 41 seasons at Wheaton Central and its successor, WW South. As an assistant to John Thorne, he was part of four state titles and two runner-up finishes. Then in his 19 seasons as head coach, Muhitch’s teams went 153-63 with state titles in 2006 (8A), 2009 (7A) and 2010 (7A) and a runner-up finish.
Stine coached for 37 years at Naperville Central, winning a state title and finishing second twice on Joe Bunge’s staff before going 104-55 in 15 seasons as head coach with an 8A title in 2013.
Naperville Central not only knew about Stine’s plans for months, it held interviews for his successor last December. A new coach has not been announced yet, out of respect for Stine’s desire for a low-key farewell.
“I didn’t want this season to be in any way about me,” he said.
Former local stars enter NCAA basketball transfer portal
Former Morgan Park star Adam Miller plans to leave Illinois via the NCAA transfer portal.  | Michael Conroy/AP Photo
Former Morgan Park star Adam Miller plans to leave Illinois via the NCAA transfer portal. | Michael Conroy/AP Photo
The movement among college basketball players is endless. Whether it’s first-year freshmen or graduating seniors granted an extra year of eligibility, a high percentage of players are on the move.
The list of former Illinois high school players in the NCAA transfer portal alone is close to three dozen.
The top two prep players from last year’s class in Illinois won’t be back at their schools as both DJ Steward of Young and Adam Miller of Morgan Park left Duke and Illinois, respectively.
Steward declared for the NBA Draft after putting up 13 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists as a freshman at Duke this past season. Currently, Steward is not projected in anyone’s NBA first-round mock draft.
Miller started for an Illinois team that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and is now in the transfer portal. The 6-3 guard who averaged 8.3 points a game as a freshman while shooting 34 percent from three announced he is making his decision this Saturday.
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