Brandon Venson still has fire in his belly and desire in his heart.
The 2007 Glenbard West graduate was among the Chicago Bears' final cuts in the 2012 preseason, a tight end out of Illinois State after playing wide receiver for the Hilltoppers.
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Dreams die hard.
"I did it, and I know I could do it still," said Venson, 6-foot-4, 235 pounds.
While continually training over the past three years with J.R. Niklos, director of sports performance at Acceleration Naperville -- also Neuqua Valley's receivers coach and special teams coordinator and a former pro here and in Europe -- and younger brother, Mike Niklos, Venson emailed his qualifications and the requisite game film to organizations in various levels of professional football including all 32 NFL teams.
His work paid off Monday when the Rochester (N.Y.) Raiders of the American Indoor League signed Venson. He'll be leaving in January for upstate New York.
"It's a new experience, but it's a great opportunity and I'm looking forward to it. I'm pretty excited, I can't wait," said Venson, who obviously hopes to parlay this opening into another shot at the NFL.
A Daily Herald All-Area pick in both football and basketball at Glenbard West, Venson hasn't played organized football since he was among the Bears' 22 final cuts last year. He's steadfast in his training, however. When not working at a department store in Bloomingdale's Stratford Square shopping mall he's lifting, conditioning, working on footwork to hone his route-running. Venson's agent, Eugene Parker of Maximum Sports Management outside of Fort Wayne, Ind., offers encouragement.
"He just tells me stay at it, keep working hard and when (an opportunity) comes, make the most of it," Venson said.
Venson walked on at Northern Illinois, but after a redshirt season quickly transferred to College of DuPage, where in 2008 he was named the Chaparrals' most valuable player offensively and overall. He then moved to Illinois State, where the Redbirds moved him to tight end to capitalize on both his size and athleticism. He'll be back at receiver with Rochester.
"He's excited. That's what's important to me," said his mother, Tammie Byrd, whose younger son, Bryant, is finishing up at Missouri Southern; daughter Breanna is a freshman basketball player at College of DuPage.
"He stuck with it and he never gave up," Tammie said.
At 25 Brandon Venson is still in his football prime but knows that won't last forever. He loves basketball, too, but there will be more chances to play basketball as the years go by than there will be to play football.
"There's just something about football," he said.
In a few months he'll be back at it.
"I'm just getting film and staying in the game and keeping playing," Venson said. "The great thing is I'm playing the game and not sitting around."
Several area senior student-athletes have been designated as semifinalists in the 2014 National Achievement Scholarship Program. They have a chance at 800 Achievement Scholarship awards worth about $2.5 million, offered next spring.
Locally, athletes in the running include: Fenton swimmer Dana Coons, York basketball player and track athlete Samantha Harrell, Naperville North cross country and track athlete Zach Adcock and several Neuqua Valley students -- track and cross country runner Roland Dewgard, swimmer and water polo player Sydney Gathe and track athlete Morgan Smith.
These students now must work with their counselors to submit a detailed scholarship application, but about 80 percent reach finalist status. They'll find out in January.
Tickets for the 53rd annual Proviso West Holiday Tournament, the big boys basketball blowout, go on sale Nov. 12-Dec. 13. For the die-hard on your Christmas list, season-ticket booklets for all 61 games of the tournament are available for $75 and guarantee the same seat for the whole tournament. Tickets will be on sale online at pwhoops.com.
Proviso West's second year featuring an expanded field of 32 teams includes Benet, Downers Grove South, Hinsdale Central and Wheaton Academy.
Readin', writin' and no red cards
The Chicago Fire recently released its All-State All-Academic boys soccer team. Many local players made at least one level on the list.
The Fire's first team includes Lake Park defender Gus Contreras, Benet defender Patrick Lawler and Wheaton Warrenville South midfielder Jack Coutre.
Glenbard North midfielder C.J. Koeller is on the second team along with a duo from Benet, defender Michael Krumdick and forward Ed Manzke. Also second-team All-Academic are Naperville Central midfielder Jay Tegge and two Hinsdale Central players, midfielder T.J. Schmidt and forward Christian Meyer.
Alphabetically, Addison Trail defender Angelo Amato heads the Fire's special mention group. This also includes WW South defender Michael Trockman, Hinsdale Central defender Max Krohn and two more Benet Redwings, midfielders Sam Knapke and Michael Rinder.
The Fire's All-State All-Academic Honorable Mention honorees include Lake Park midfielder Joe Keane and Naperville Central defender Justin Geisler.
The Fire's All-Academic candidates, seniors only, needed to maintain at least a B average and have participated in at least two other school or community activities or sports. The 25 first-team members will be recognized at the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association Soccer Honors Banquet Nov. 21 in Elmhurst. A similar team will be compiled for girls in the spring.
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