38 | June 13, 2019 | the mokena messenger sports mokenamessenger.com Healthy Henning enjoys recruiting experience, track season STEVE MILLAR, Sports Editor It was a whirlwind spring for AJ Henning. Lincoln-Way East’s star wide receiver/running back, ranked as the top recruit in Illinois in the Class of 2020 by 247 Sports, travelled across the country on recruiting visits to some of the nation’s top football programs. He still managed to find the time to compete on the Griffins’ track and field team. Henning’s unofficial visits in the spring included stops at Illinois, Northwestern, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisville, Notre Dame and Michigan. He’s tried to soak in the whole experience and enjoy all the trips. “It’s a blessing,” Henning said. “Not a lot of players have that opportunity to do it, so it’s a very special thing.” There have been some surreal moments along the way, like meeting Alabama coach Nick Saban and posing for a picture with him. Henning was also excited to get to know Michigan coach and former Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh. “Getting to meet all these coaches, Nick Saban, Harbaugh, I’ve always dreamed of that,” Henning said. “It’s pretty cool to actually meet them in person, shake their hand and have a conversation with them. “There have been a lot of fun moments and I’m just trying to enjoy the whole process.” Henning, a consensus four-star recruit, has over 30 offers from major programs. Nearly the entire Big 10 - Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Nebraska, Rutgers and Wisconsin – has offered. Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Missouri and Tennessee have all come calling from the SEC, as have Boston College, Duke, Florida State, Miami and Syracuse from the ACC and Stanford of the Pac 12. Henning is ranked as the No. 78 player and No. 16 receiver in the nation by 247Sports. Rivals has him as the No. 3 all-purpose back, No. 84 overall and No. 2 in Illinois behind East St. Louis safety Antonio Johnson. Back on the track Henning finished third in the state in the 100-meter dash as a freshman but missed his entire sophomore track season after hip surgery. Injuries have kept him off the football field for portions of the last two seasons, as well, but Henning said he felt great this spring while picking up where he left off on the track. “It’s been awesome,” he said. “It’s been great to be with the team and be able to compete on the track again. It’s been a lot of fun.” “That was my thing all year, to get back down [to state] and show I’ve still got it in the 100.” Henning qualified for state and saved his best race for Charleston as he turned in a season-best time of 10.73 seconds in the finals to finish fourth in the state. “The whole goal was to make it back to the finals and have a good race,” Henning said. “The drive phase, then you hit your top end and try to maintain it the rest of the race.” Henning felt the track season helped him get primed for a huge senior year on the football field. “Being out there competing again really meant a lot to me,” he said. “It keeps me sharp and keeps me fast heading into the fall.” The decision looms Henning plans to return to several of his spring destinations for official visits over the summer. He made his first official visit to Georgia the first weekend of June and was scheduled to visit Notre Dame last weekend. A Michigan trip is coming up. Forty-three percent of 247Sports’ experts predict Henning to choose Notre Dame, 29 percent pick Michigan and the rest are undecided. Henning says he falls into that latter category as well, and he’s in no major rush to make a choice. “I’m taking it slow,” he said. “I plan to make a decision over the summer or in the fall.” Henning is an excellent student and will factor academics into his decision as well. “It’s just about finding the right fit all around,” he said. “Academics are important, fitting in with the players and the coaching staff is important. It’s finding the place that feels right for me.” Whatever school lands Henning will be fortunate, according to East coach Rob Zvonar. Last fall, Zvonar called Henning “a special talent with an incredibly bright future.” The immediate future will be highlighted by one more season at East, one Henning plans to make special. “I’m really excited for the fall,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a great team and I’m ready to get after it. I’m ready to go out there with my guys and chase after a state championship.” Lincoln-Way East wide receiver/running back AJ Henning, who will be a senior in the fall, is one of the nation’s top football recruits. 22ND CENTURY MEDIA FILE PHOTOS
mokenamessenger.com sports the mokena messenger | June 13, 2019 | 39 fastbreak Volleyball LW Central’s Yurkanin headed to MIT JULIE MCMANN/22ND CENTURY MEDIA 1st and 3 THREE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT LW EAST FOOTBALL STAR AJ HENNING 1. Four-star recruit Henning (above) has over 30 scholarship offers from top college football programs. 247Sports ranks him as the top recruit in Illinois in 2020, while Rivals places him second. 2. Four-star person Henning is a strong student and has a personality that is also attractive to college coaches. That was shown in a video which gained popularity last weekend, showing Henning visiting a local fan on his eighth birthday. 3. Fourth in state After missing his sophomore track season, Henning returned this year and finished fourth in the state in the 100-meter dash. RANDY WHALEN, Freelance Reporter Getting accepted into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge is a pretty big deal. So recent Lincoln-Way Central graduate Jack Yurkanin is a pretty big deal. Yurkanin, a four-year varsity volleyball player for the Knights, will be the third New Lenox resident to recently play for the volleyball team at MIT when he joins the Engineers next season. The others are 2015 Lincoln-Way West graduate Jake Gasparich and 2016 Central graduate Mike Kulinski. “You can’t say that’s a coincidence,” Yurkanin said of the other two also being from New Lenox. “They are brilliant, amazing athletes and it will be fun to say that we all played there. When I was younger I was at a camp where Jake Gasparich was the coach and Mike Kulinski was my setter at Central when I was on the varsity as a freshman. So it will be nice to play with him again.” When it comes to brilliant, amazing athletes, Yurkanin certainly joins the list. He graduated from Central with a GPA of 5.512. His reasoning for going to MIT, however, is simple. “When I was looking for colleges I saw that they were at the top of the list,” he said. “So I reached out to them and they invited me out there.” Yurkanin has applied for an early action program at MIT and hopes to leave to go there in August. In the meantime, he will play club volleyball this summer for Ultimate 18u Gold. But he certainly left his mark Lincoln-Way Central’s Jack Yurkanin is headed to MIT to play volleyball. 22ND CENTURY MEDIA FILE PHOTO on the Knights the past four years. Playing middle hitter as a freshman, before moving to the right side as a sophomore and an outside hitter the past two years, Yurkanin helped the Knights win a pair of regional titles in that time, including one this spring. In fact this spring, Yurkanin had his best season. He established a new single-season school record for aces with 74. He added 307 kills, 36 blocks, had a 2.45 serve receive percentage to go along with 165 digs. “Serving is one of the only things that you have control over,” Yurkanin said of his new singleseason school record for aces. “I just knew to always be as aggressive as I could.” Marist recently won the boys volleyball state championship. During the RedHawks’ run to the championship they never went to three sets in the postseason and only went past 25 points once to win a set in that run. That was in a 25-18, 26-24 victory against Central on May 24 in the semifinals of the Marist Sectional. There, Yurkanin served an ace to tie the second set at 24-24 but then had a service error trying for another one and the RedHawks prevailed. “That gym was so loud,” Yurkanin said of the sectional. “But the team depended on me so I was going to go back and rip it.” Central coach Mary Brown knows that being aggressive was the only way Yurkanin knew how to be. “Jack is an amazing player,” Brown said. “He’s been a fouryear starter on varsity here at Lincoln-Way Central. He’s extremely intelligent and we are excited for him to go to MIT and make a difference. We wish him the best of luck.” While many started playing volleyball at a very young age, Yurkanin did not, at least not competitively. “My cousins were really involved in the sport,” Yurkanin said. “It was my aunt, Cathy Yurkanin, who got me to go to an Ultimate camp when I was 12 and I really started there. I’ve never left from playing club there. I played some other sports like basketball, baseball, and even soccer when I was younger, but volleyball is the only sport that I played in high school. “I really enjoy hitting the ball in volleyball. I like how the team works together and has that ability to be creative on the court. But it’s not about yourself. It’s a huge team sport. I really enjoy the people around me.” Plus, you might see him playing sand volleyball this summer. “Yes, I love sand volleyball,” Yurkanin said. “There’s a wide range of things you can do and opportunities when you play that. Plus, it doesn’t hurt as much when you dive for the ball.” Yurkanin is ready to dive if he has to at MIT. “I’m not sure what position I will play there yet,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of talent around there and I will play where ever they want me to.” No matter what happens at MIT, Yurkanin will never forget his time at Central. “I think it’s amazing the opportunities that the [Lincoln-Way] schools here give us,” he said. “The community and the people within it will always help you.” LISTEN UP “Since I’ve always been involved with something, I’ve adapted to having to balance responsibilities within my life.” Jess Polka – Mokena native and Benedictine volleyball recruit, on thriving athletically and academically Tune In Boys basketball, Friday, June 14 and Saturday, June 15 Ray Milnes Summer Shootout at Stagg HS • Lincoln-Way East, LW Central, LW West and Providence are all competing in the summer showdown. Index 37 - Athlete of the Week 35 - Team 22 Boys Volleyball FASTBREAK is compiled by Sports Editor Steve Millar, email@example.com.