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Patriots K Nick Folk unfazed by Buffalo’s weather conditions ahead of Wild Card matchup

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Patriots K Nick Folk unfazed by Buffalo’s weather conditions ahead of Wild Card matchup

Nick Folk produced another career season in 2021, and the 37-year-old Patriots kicker isn’t done yet.

Ahead of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game in Buffalo, Folk said he hopes to continue playing beyond this season.

“I’d love to keep playing,” Folk said Thursday. “I feel pretty good where I’m at right now. I’ve been kicking well with Jake (Bailey) and Joe (Cardona), so I’d love to keep playing. But I think the biggest focus is just on Buffalo. I haven’t really given it too much thought. I know I’d love to keep playing, but I’ve really been trying to focus on this game and then kind of go from there.”

The Patriots would be smart to keep Folk, who will become an unrestricted free agent after the season, around. The kicker, who joined the team in 2019, has been one of their most reliable players over the last two seasons. And on a special teams unit that has collectively struggled this season, Folk has been its biggest bright spot.

Folk hasn’t missed a field goal inside of 50 yards since Week 1 of the 2020 season, a streak of 55 consecutive makes in the regular season. The next one, which would come next season, would match the NFL record of 56 set by Ryan Succop. He’s missed just three field goals this season, though he’s missed five extra points.

Folk has been the Patriots’ unsung hero this season. And on Saturday night in Buffalo, he could be the difference maker amid rough weather conditions.

The forecast calls for temperatures in the single digits, a below-zero wind chill and a slight chance of precipitation. It’s certainly different from the rough conditions he dealt with a month ago in Orchard Park — when he drilled two field goals facing 50 mph wind gusts — but it will still be challenging. The ball doesn’t move as well in the extreme cold, Folk explained, because air molecules don’t move freely inside the ball.

But there isn’t much Folk hasn’t seen in his 14-year career, which also includes seven years in New York. For Folk, the preparation done pregame won’t be too challenging.

“We kind of get a pretty good feel for what’s going on,” Folk said. “We have our routine, our game plan going into the game or going into pregame to figure it out. I don’t think it’ll be too much of a difference. You’ll get a feel for it pretty quickly. It’s pretty different than last time. Last time was a lot of wind, this time it’s super cold, so a little bit different, but we’ll be ready to go.”

Folk has a good track record when it comes to kicking at Highmark Stadium, where the weather can be tricky to deal with, as shown this season. He’s 16-for-20 on field goals in his career in Buffalo, including making each of his last seven kicks there. He’s very familiar with the stadium, and seemingly unfazed by what he could face Saturday night.

“I think a lot of it is just the weather of the day, really,” Folk said. “We’ve played there, I’ve played there, there’s a prevailing wind which you kind of get, which was a little bit of what we had last time, kind of down the field. But there can be days where it’s swirling and days where it’s really calm. My first game ever up there was a Monday night game in ’07 and there was no wind at all. So, it just depends on the day. We’re getting into January football, so kind of expect it to be cold and windy.”

Folk said that when he first started kicking in high school, he remembers watching Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning playoff kicks as something of an introduction to his new role, and he dreamed of one day coming through in the clutch, too. He kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired to beat the Colts in the 2010 playoffs, but he’s only played in three playoff games since.

If called upon Saturday, he’s more than ready for his opportunity, no matter the situation.

“I think it’s any kicker’s dream to have a big kick in a big game, so any time you get a chance to go out there and make a kick, that’s a big one,” Folk said. “It doesn’t really matter the time of the game. End of the game, you kind of get to put a cherry on top. I’m just excited to get out there and play with these guys.”

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Ex-White House press secretary Jen Psaki hired by MSNBC

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Ex-White House press secretary Jen Psaki hired by MSNBC

By MARK KENNEDY

NEW YORK (AP) — Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki has officially landed at MSNBC, where she is expected to make appearances on the network’s cable and streaming programs as well as host a new original show.

The program, set to debut in the first quarter of 2023, will “bring together her unique perspective from behind the podium and her deep experience in the highest levels of government and presidential politics,” the network said in a statement Tuesday.

Psaki will also appear on NBC and during MSNBC’s primetime special election programming throughout the midterms and 2024 presidential election.

Psaki most recently served as White House spokesperson for the first 16 months of the Biden administration. She previously served as White House communications director under former President Barack Obama and as the spokeswoman for the Department of State.

“Her extensive experience in government and on the campaign trail and perspective as a White House and Washington insider is the type of analysis that sets MSNBC apart,” MSNBC President Rashida Jones said in a statement. “She’s a familiar face and trusted authority to MSNBC viewers, and we look forward to her insight during this consequential election season.”

At MSNBC, on-air personalities are mostly sympathetic to Biden and the Democrats. During Psaki’s White House tenure, Democrats saw her as a champion of their causes, while conservatives found her combative and standoffish.

MSNBC has also hired Symone Sanders, former chief spokeswoman for Vice President Kamala Harris. NBC News has taken pains to draw distinctions between its journalists and MSNBC, which has beefed up its opinion programming.

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Ukraine: 200 bodies found in basement in Mariupol’s ruins

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Ukraine: 200 bodies found in basement in Mariupol’s ruins

By ELENA BECATOROS, OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and RICARDO MAZALAN

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Workers digging through the rubble of an apartment building in Mariupol found 200 bodies in the basement, Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday, as more horrors come to light in the ruined city that has seen some of the worst suffering of the 3-month-old war.

The bodies were decomposing and the stench hung over the neighborhood, said Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor. He did not when they were discovered, but the sheer number of victims makes it one of the deadliest known attacks of the war.

Heavy fighting, meanwhile, continued in the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that Moscow’s forces are intent on seizing. Russian troops intensified their efforts to encircle and capture Sievierodonetsk and neighboring cities.

Mariupol was relentlessly pounded during a nearly three-month siege that ended last week after some 2,500 Ukrainian fighters abandoned a steel plant where they had made their stand. Russian forces already held the rest of the city, where an estimated 100,000 people remain out a prewar population of 450,000, many of them trapped during the siege with little food, water, heat or electricity.

At least 21,000 people were killed in the siege, according to Ukrainian authorities, who have accused Russia of trying to cover up the horrors by bringing in mobile cremation equipment and by burying the dead in mass graves.

During the assault on Mariupol, Russian airstrikes hit a maternity hospital and a theater where civilians were taking shelter. An Associated Press investigation found that close to 600 people died in the theater attack, double the figure estimated by Ukrainian authorities.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused the Russians of waging “total war” and seeking to inflict as much death and destruction as possible on his country.

“Indeed, there has not been such a war on the European continent for 77 years,” Zelensky said, referring to end of World War II.

Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the Donbas for eight years and hold large swaths of territory. Sievierodonetsk and neighboring cities are the only part of the Donbas’ Luhansk region still under Ukrainian government control.

Russian forces have achieved “some localized successes” despite strong Ukrainian resistance along dug-in positions, British military authorities said.

Moscow’s troops also took over the town of Svitlodarsk and raised the Russian flag there, Ukrainian media reported. Svitlodarsk is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southeast of the strategically important city of Kramatorsk.

Two top Russian officials appeared to acknowledge that Moscow’s advance has been slower than expected, though they vowed the offensive would achieve its goals.

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council. said the Russian government “is not chasing deadlines.” And Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of a Russia-led security alliance of former Soviet states that Moscow is deliberately slowing down its offensive to allow residents of encircled cities to evacuate — though forces have repeatedly hit civilian targets.

As Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, recovers from weeks of weeks of relentless bombardment, residents formed long lines to receive rations of flour, pasta, sugar and others staples this week. Moscow’s forces withdrew from around Kharkiv earlier this month, pulling back toward the Russian border.

Galina Kolembed, the aid distribution center coordinator, said that more and more people are returning to the city. Kolembed said the center is providing food to over 1,000 people every day, a number that keeps growing.

“Many of them have small kids, and they spend their money on the kids, so they need some support with food,” she said.

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Becatoros reported from Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Danica Kirka in London and other AP staffers around the world contributed.

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Former South St. Paul basketball coach dies by suicide, two days before sentencing on federal fraud case

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Undated courtesy photo, circa January 2022, of Matthew McCollister, head boys basketball coach at South St. Paul High School. (Courtesy of South St. Paul Public Schools)

Former South St. Paul boys basketball coach Matthew McCollister died by suicide on Monday, two days before he was to be sentenced for fraud in federal court.

McCollister, 40, leaves behind his wife and three young children.

He pleaded guilty in January for his role in a scheme to defraud car insurance companies with false medical claims while working as a personal injury attorney.

Matthew McCollister (Courtesy of South St. Paul Public Schools)

Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy said officers were called around 3 p.m. Monday for a possible suicide in the 3600 block of Wesley Court and found McCollister dead in his home.

McCollister was charged in December in U.S. District Court with felony conspiracy to commit health care fraud from 2016 to 2017. He was charged by felony information, a process by which a defendant agrees to waive a grand jury indictment and instead plead guilty.

McCollister resigned from the team and his student support assistant job at South St. Paul High School on Jan. 12, the day the Pioneer Press first reported the accusations and just hours before he was scheduled to plead guilty at the federal courthouse in St. Paul. That hearing was postponed after his attorney fell ill.

McCollister entered his plea on Jan. 19. Sentencing guidelines called for 10 to 16 months in prison. McCollister remained free on his own recognizance pending his sentencing, which was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright.

“We ask that you give his family time and space to grieve,” his attorney, Ryan Pacyga, said in a statement Tuesday. “There will not be a sentencing hearing tomorrow. I have no further comments.”

McCollister had been South St. Paul High School’s head basketball coach since November 2019, and was credited with leading a turnaround of a once-struggling program. Prior to joining South St. Paul, McCollister had been a head coach at Breck, St. Croix Preparatory Academy and Brooklyn Center.

FRAUD SCHEME

McCollister was admitted to practice law in Minnesota in 2009. Starting around 2015, McCollister began his own law practice that focused primarily on pursuing personal injury claims on behalf of people who had been in car accidents.

About a year later, a chiropractor introduced McCollister to a confidential informant who was working with the Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau and posing as a “runner,” according to federal prosecutors. A runner is someone who gets paid to recruit people who supposedly were injured in car crashes and then receive chiropractic treatment paid for by auto insurance companies.

McCollister met with the runner at the Red Cow restaurant in St. Paul on March 1, 2016, and asked the individual to find people who supposedly were injured, prosecutors said. McCollister’s idea was to then have them go to chiropractors for care and that he would represent them in bringing claims against auto insurance companies for the purported injuries, according to the plea agreement. McCollister offered to pay the runner $300 or more for each person recruited.

Prosecutors allege McCollister then directed one of the two undercover patients to be “treated” by chiropractor Huy Nguyen, who is currently serving a prison sentence for his role in the conspiracy.

In December 2015, law enforcement executed a search warrant at Nguyen’s chiropractic clinic, Healthcare Chiropractic, in Brooklyn Park, where McCollister maintained an informal office and spent considerable time, according to U.S. Attorney David MacLaughlin.

“Huy Nguyen’s notoriousness could not have escaped Mr. McCollister’s attention,” MacLaughlin wrote in an April 26 memorandum that argued for a 16-month sentence for McCollister.

McCollister’s “brazen use of a known crooked chiropractor” continued throughout 2016 and into 2017, the memo read. On March 16, 2016, the undercover runner had lunch with McCollister, Nguyen and another now-convicted conspirator/MRI specialist named Quincy Chettupally at Fogo de Chao in downtown Minneapolis. The lunch was video recorded without McCollister’s knowledge and the conspirators openly discussed the scheme, according to prosecutors.

A grand jury in December 2016 indicted Nguyen in the conspiracy to which McCollister would later plead guilty. In August 2017, the grand jury added Chettupally to the conspiracy count.

Despite the indictments, McCollister sent two letters to Liberty Mutual Insurance, demanding a $25,000 bodily injury settlement for two separate bogus claims, prosecutors say.

DISBARRED

McCollister was the second Minnesota attorney charged and convicted through what was dubbed “Operation Back Cracker,” an effort by the state Commerce Fraud Bureau, the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office to combat personal injury protection fraud cases.

In November 2020, Minnetonka attorney William Sutor was sentenced to 16 months in prison after being convicted of the same offense as McCollister.

Pacyga, McCollister’s attorney, planned to argue for a five-month prison sentence followed by home confinement or community supervision.

McCollister “promptly accepted responsibility” by forgoing an indictment, Pacyga noted in his April 25 sentencing memorandum. “McCollister has lost not one, but two careers,” he added.

McCollister in February was disbarred by the Minnesota Supreme Court for professional misconduct unrelated to the federal charge. He had admitted to intentionally misappropriating more than $16,300 in client funds from his trust account between July 2020 and December 2020.

“Besides the father and husband that he has been and continues to be, he continues to work on himself with therapy and stays sober, even in the face of a federal criminal sentencing and the loss of both his law and coaching careers,” Pacyga wrote in his memo.

When McCollister left the team, South St. Paul was 14-0 and among the top-ranked teams in Class 3A. Assistant coach Darren Edwards took over as head coach and the team went on to win 14 straight games before falling to DeLaSalle 69-67 in the Section 3 final. It was South St. Paul’s second straight loss in the section final.

Prior to resigning, McCollister was a full-time student support assistant at the high school. In that role, he worked with student-support specialists who focus on student behavior.

To get help for thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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