For as much as the Rockford region loves sports, our sports programs haven't been particularly successful at producing professional athletes.

This year marks the first time in history that the NIC-10 has active athletes playing in the NFL - Boylan's Dean Lowry; the NBA - Auburn's Fred VanVleet; and the major leagues - Boylan's Jake Smolinski.

In a way, you can add Guilford's Brad Benjamin to the list. Benjamin has played in both the Master's and U.S. Open in golf and was on the Canadian golf tour in 2016.


So this is heady times for Rockford when it comes to having rooting interests professionally.

Is this a peak or just the beginning? At least in baseball, it appears as if the area is in a bit of a lull when it comes to producing another Smolinski.

This past weekend, we had East baseball coach Chris Luttig on the show to talk about his E-Rabs and baseball in general. Luttig is a Hononegah graduate who pitched for the University of Evansville. There he turned enough heads to be drafted in the 17th round of the major league baseball draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Luttig pitched two years of minor league baseball before giving up the dream.

Baseball scouts were paying a decent amount of attention to Rockford-area players in Luttig's day. From 1990 to 2008, there were 14 players from the NIC-10 drafted.

Rod Myers, East, 1990, 12th round out of Wisconsin.
Joch Martin, Harlem, 1991, 60th round out of Harlem.
Craig Mattson, Belvidere, 1991, 1992, 1993, in the 25th, 35th and 14th rounds out of Belvidere and Kishwaukee and Triton colleges.
Terrence Johnson, Guilford, 1993, 78th round out of Guilford.
Nolan Lofgren, East,1993, 62nd round out of East.
Craig Hopson, Boylan, 1997, 26th round out of Boylan.
Matt Vorwald, Freeport, 1998, 2001, 30th and 7th rounds out of Freeport and the University of Illinois.
Nick Shields, Harlem, 2002, 28th round out of Wright State.
Drew Dickinson, Freeport, 2002, 28th round out of Illinois.
Matt Weber, Boylan, 2003, 16th round out of Boylan.
Brett Scarpetta, Hononegah, 2004, 2005, 18th and 38th rounds out of Hononegah and Madison Area Technical College.
Chris Salberg, Guilford, 2006, 22nd round out of Florida Atlantic.
Jake Smolinski, Boylan, 2007, 2nd round out of Boylan.
Cody Scarpetta, Guilford, 2007, 11th round out of Guilford.

Three of these players - Myers, Smolinski and Cody Scarpetta made the majors. Cody was on a roster but never appeared, while Rod and Jake have carved out solid major league careers. A fourth, Jason Pearson of Freeport, signed as a free agent and worked his way to the big leagues, appearing in four games over two seasons.

Since 2007 though, the NIC-10 has had just three players drafted. Johnny Lieske of Harlem in the 35th round in 2010, Zach Stoner of Boylan in the 12th round in 2012 and Hononegah's Jake Lanning was taken in the 24th round in 2015 out of Holy Cross.

Lanning is the only one still active. After spending last year with the Atlanta Braves' affiliate in Danville of the Appalachian League, Lanning is in the Independent Frontier League with the Traverse City Beach Bums trying to work his way back up as a pitcher.

When I asked Luttig if there are any players who would excite scouts this year, he named one player from East but couldn't come up with any others from the NIC-10.

He cited several issues. Fewer scouts travel to high school games, waiting to see players in travel tournaments or showcases. Smolinski was drafted more for how he performed in the summer than for what he did at Boylan. That's expensive though. He also blamed some of the problem with parents chasing trophies.

"Parents want their kids on teams that win tournaments, so they put them on teams who have a couple good pitchers and a couple of good hitters," Luttig said on the show. Luttig also has been a private baseball coach for the past 10 seasons. "We're not teaching the fundamentals like we used to."

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