Joliet Catholic Academy's (JCA) 8-5 record last season were the most losses for Head Coach Dan Sharp since his inaugural season at the helm in 1997-1998. And despite those 5 losses the Hilltoppers pushed eventual IHSA Class 5A State Champion Lombard Montini to the limit in their State Semi-Final Playoff Game before losing 40-37 late in one of the most exciting games of the year at ATI Field at Joliet Memorial Stadium.
As the 2013-2014 is set to begin one must be reminded that the Hilltoppers will look somewhat different this year as two of its potent backfield weapons have been lost to graduation; Ty Issac is off to the University of Southern California (USC) to showcase his talents for eager Trojan fans while Tyler Reitz will no doubt be an impact football player for the Siena Heights Saints in Adrian, Michigan.
While I will miss that explosive talent of Ty Issac, I will probably miss Tyler Reitz a tad more as I have watched his development since the days he played on an undefeated Steelers Team in Plainfield Junior Cats with my son. Not only is Tyler a classy kid but one who built upon his talents year after year. SHU is fortunate to have him because he will elevate it to yet another level while there.
But I guess I have been fortunate over the years as I have gotten to know and watch so many of the area players who exhibit all the same qualities. And another one of those players who I think will up his game this year is Michael Ivlow. I started watching him when he played for SPC conference rivals, the Minooka Indians. Of course the watching hasn't stopped just because he moved on over to JCA. And every season there he has steadily developed into a solid player who can block and run with the best of them. So as he steps into the spotlight this season, I believe he will be a key factor in the success of the Hilltoppers.
The torch has been passed and I am confident the JCA Hilltoppers & Michael Ivlow will continue their winning ways in 2013-2014.
Of course one player does not make a team but my putting a spotlight on Ivlow is intended for those unfamiliar with him to want to keep an eye on him this season. He is a good leader and any team that loses a bunch of talent out of their offensive backfield needs a confident, and even sometimes cocky, player back there to get those big Offensive Lineman to do a little extra for them.
After all Football Games are won in the trenches and this where I think the JCA Hilltoppers will be confounding their opposition this season. These guys are not only big but they are quick and will give Ivlow and Company the holes they need to chew yards and time off the clock. Both Guards, Sr. JB Butler (6'-2" 275#) and Sr. Jalen Hansel (6'-2" 306#) as well as Sr. Tackle Justin Hunter (6'-1" 310#) will be testing the patience of defenses all season long. And if that weren't enough to pull your hair out they also have two multi-talented Tight Ends in Sr. Jordan Jones (6'-3" 185#) and Zach Rezin (6'-2" 220#) who can both get out quick and generate some big yardage if the opposition aren't careful. As for a few key Senior Defensive players whom I think will shine this season; I would definitely keep a close eye on DE Xavier Hernandez (6'-1" 230#), LB Kevin Jensen (6"-0" 225#) and two-way player LB Zach Rezin.
Now I am not sure yet who the rest of the offensive and defensive units will be yet as Head Coach Dan Sharp holds the roster close to his vest until the season opener. But, I have no doubt that the JCA Hilltoppers have a solid nucleus. It should also be pointed out that all the players mentioned above have been tendered scholarship offers already and will only peak more interest in them as the season progresses. It is a great group and they will be well prepared to do battle.
Why? Because Head Coach Dan Sharp isn't the second most winning coach (170-36 16 years) in JCA History after Gordon Gillespie (222-54-6 27 years) for just nothing. He understands talent as well as any coach I have ever seen and his players would run through a brick wall for him if that's what it took to win a game. And believe me folks - that is a heck of a lot harder than you think to accomplish because I can name a few area coaches where that just isn't the case.
But let's be very fair and clear here too. That is not to say any of those coaches are bad, or even bad people. It is just extremely hard to get 50 -80 younger minds to buy into the totality of a football program. I mean look everybody wants to be a starter right? So the hardest thing for a coach to do is to keep those players who aren't starting to accept there roles while maintaining their game sharpness for when their moment comes on the field. It's an extreme tough act - period.
Winning High School Football Programs, though, seem to know how to battle through the adversities and Joliet Catholic Academy is just one of many such programs in the Southwest and West Suburbs. Success is built over many years and decades until the right formula is developed. So many of our suburban schools have young programs when you think of it and are still looking for that right formula that leads to a winning tradition good enough to compete for a State Title.
Joliet Catholic, meanwhile, already has that tradition and even though Head Coach Dan Sharp is some 42 wins away from tying Coach Gillespie's win's mark, Sharp has already won more State Titles (6-5). And that folks is why I look at this program as being a contender every year and why the JCA Hilltoppers & Michael Ivlow will continue their winning ways this season.
And that's why I'll be at ATI Field at Joliet Memorial Stadium on August 30th as the Hilltoppers host Providence Catholic at 7:30pm.
This will be a big early season test for both teams - so don't miss it!
East Suburban Catholic Conference
Week 1 Schedule
Friday, Aug. 30
Arlington Heights St. Viator vs. Chicago Foreman at Hanson Stadium
Chicago Hyde Park at Chicago Heights Marian Catholic
Crystal Lake Prairie Ridge at Niles Notre Dame
Lisle Benet Academy at Downers Grove South
New Lenox Lincoln-Way East at Mundelein Carmel
New Lenox Providence Catholic at Joliet Catholic Academy
Saturday, Aug. 31
Chicago Marist vs. Chicago Brother Rice at Chicago Soldier Field
Chicago St. Patrick vs. Chicago Mount Carmel at Chicago Soldier Field
LaGrange Park Nazareth Academy at Maywood Proviso East
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Tags: ATI Field at Joliet Memorial Stadium, Dan Sharp, East Suburban Catholic Conference, East Suburban Catholic Conference Week One Schedule, Football, Gordon Gillespie, High School Football, High School Sports, IHSA Football, Jalen Hansel, JB Butler, JCA, JCA Head Coach Dan Sharp, JCA Hilltoppers, JCA Hilltoppers & Michael Ivlow Will Continue Their Winning Ways, Joliet Catholic Academy, Joliet Illinois, Justin Hunter, Kevin Jensen, Lombard Montini, Michael Ivlow, Providence Catholic, Siena Heights Saints and Tyler Reitz, Ty Issac, Tyler Reitz, USC and Ty Issac, Xavier Hernandez, Zach Rezin