Looking for the next top young quarterback out of the Steve Clarkson private coaching arsenal? It's going to be Kelly Hilinski, a 6-foot-4 eighth-grader who lives in Claremont and has visited Mater Dei, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, Westlake Village Oaks Christian and Upland while searching for a high school to attend this fall. "He's legit," said Clarkson, who has tutored Matt Leinart, Jimmy Clausen and Nick Montana, among others. Hilinski will probably play freshman ball, but his size and potential can't be dismissed, not to mention the drama over what high school he'll select.
Chantal Sutherland is a 32-year-old jockey with movie-star looks and a rising riding career. A native of Winnipeg and a fixture at Woodbine in Toronto, she made an appearance last December at Hollywood Park's late-year meeting, then stayed around into 2008 to become a factor at Santa Anita's winter meeting. She returned from a summer at Woodbine this year to race much of November and December at Hollywood Park and won her first graded title in Southern California aboard Mister Rod in the Grade III Generous during Turf Festival Weekend. She has 524 wins in her eight-year career and currently ranks 34th in North America's jockey winnings with $5.4 million.
Andrew Siciliano, host of DirectTV's NFL Sunday show the Red Zone, is ready for a play-by-play gig.
He wears oversized sunglasses, painted his toenails blue for one race, described crashing in another as "Days of Thunder-ish" and, having survived an earlier life-threatening illness, drives aggressively with little pressure. Scott Speed, a freewheeling Californian and former Formula One racer, enters his first full year in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series in 2009 for the Red Bull team. And regardless of how the quirky 25-year-old finishes, Speed probably will have something interesting to say.
Mixed martial arts
Thiago Alves, a 25-year-old Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight, can make a case for having the best 2008 of any MMA fighter, going 3-0 with a unanimous-decision victory over title contender Josh Koscheck and second-round TKOs of decorated former champion Matt Hughes and another tough contender, Karo Parisyan. The victories elevate the hard-striking, jiu-jitsu-skilled Alves (22-4) from prospect to top contender, and as soon as the Georges St.-Pierre-B.J. Penn fight is over Super Bowl weekend, expect Alves to land the next title shot.
As fast as Russell Westbrook developed at UCLA, going from lightly recruited prep prospect to No. 4 pick in the draft in two seasons, he may be doing it again in the NBA. The 2008 draft class has already seen surprises such as O.J. Mayo's rapid rise to stardom, but Westbrook is just starting to happen. After showing he wasn't intimidated -- he averaged 11 shots in his first 16 games while making 32% -- the 20-year-old Westbrook showed he wasn't overmatched, improving to 45% in the next 11 while becoming the starting point guard for Oklahoma City. He may not have been ready, as everyone in Westwood said last spring, but if he ever is, the rest of the NBA is in trouble.
Kansas City quarterback Tyler Thigpen, a seventh-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2007, was signed by the Chiefs at the start of this season when Minnesota tried to put him on the practice squad. Because of injuries and shaky performances by players ahead of him on the depth chart, Thigpen has gotten a lot more playing time than the Chiefs thought he might. He has been one of the few bright spots on a bad team, a quarterback with a good arm and, for the most part, solid decision-making skills. If the Chiefs are going to make a return to respectability, Thigpen is a likely cornerstone.
John Tavares, a 6-foot-1 center with Oshawa of the Ontario Hockey League, and Victor Hedman, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound defenseman with the Swedish team Modo, are the top-ranked prospects for June's entry draft. Tavares has had a huge buildup for several years, a la Sidney Crosby, but his vision and creativity suggest he has earned the raves. Hedman is considered a future franchise defenseman. Who knows -- the Kings could end up with one of them if they miss the playoffs again.
Jeremy Abbott, 23, of Colorado Springs has a shot at replacing two-time national champion Evan Lysacek and three-time national champion Johnny Weir as the leading U.S. men's figure skater heading into the 2010 Olympics. Abbott, fourth at last year's U.S. championships, won December's Grand Prix final and November's Cup of China. His score at the Grand Prix final was highest ever by a U.S. man.
Caroline Wozniacki, an 18-year-old from Denmark, was best known for being the Mad Dane when she was disqualified from the U.S. Open junior event for verbally abusing a linesperson. That was in 2006, and that was well before she came on strong in the second half in 2008, winning three titles and climbing to No. 12 in the world. Then there's 20-year-old Ernests Gulbis of Latvia. His sports pedigree is impressive: His grandfather was a starter on a European championship-winning basketball team. Gulbis reached the quarterfinals of the French Open in 2008 and is on the verge of cracking the top 50, hovering at 53.