JOLIET – Over the past several years, Joliet Catholic produced a steady stream of All-State caliber running backs.
Josh Ferguson, Malin Jones and Ty Isaac all were special. Last season, Mike Ivlow, the fullback the previous fall, moved to wingback and was stunningly effective after dropping about 40 pounds, especially with the way he was able to pull away from defenders as he broke long runs.
This season, it’s Nick Borgra’s turn to take the leadership role. From his right wingback position, he quietly rushed for close to 1,000 yards last season, which ended in a 22-21 loss to Montini in the Class 5A quarterfinals.
Quietly, because Ivlow’s remarkable accomplishments stole the headlines.
“Nick Borgra had a great year last year,” coach Dan Sharp said during JCA’s appearance last week in the University of St. Francis 7-on-7 Passing Jamboree at Memorial Stadium. “He comes into this season with a ton of confidence.”
Most of JCA’s renowned offensive line graduated along with Ivlow and quarterback Nick Morrison.
Cade Earl will take over under center, and Michael Johnson and Harold Davis, both standouts on last year’s sophomore team, will compete for the wingback opposite Borgra. Davis starts on the basketball team.
Drew Voss is the likely starter at fullback, with seniors Jacob Elliott and Jake Gould among the candidates at tight end.
“Cade Earl is a stud and he knows the offense,” Borgra said “He’s been learning the plays the last two years.
“Michael [Johnson] and Harold [Davis] are competing. They want to contribute and win. We all have about the same speed. I improved my speed a lot since last year. We may not have a lot of breakaway runs like Mike [Ivlow] had last year, though. We’re more of a pound-and-grind team.”
Voss, Borgra added, “is one of the toughest kids I have ever met in my life.”
The key for the Hilltoppers’ offense will be keeping a thin offensive line healthy. Last year’s huge line, featuring three major college recruits, was devastated by injury. DeAndre Ford, a 330-pounder who missed almost his entire junior season with injury, has moved to Georgia.
The group up front this fall will include familiar names Tyler Witt and Chase Krumviede, along with ZeVeyon Furcron, who was elevated from the sophomore team when injuries struck. Brandon Kaminski and Ricky Fleming are others in the mix.
“Keeping the offensive line healthy is the key because we are thin there,” Sharp said. “We can’t afford to have injuries like we went through last year.”
Sharp noted that offensive linemen also will have to fill a hole or holes in the defensive line.
“We are in a position now that by the end of July we should have four offensive linemen who can share one spot in the defensive line,” second-year defensive coordinator Jake Jaworski said. “We’ll hopefully be two-platoon except for that one spot.”
The defensive side of the ball features a few key returning starters plus several new faces. Safety Brandon Bolek, middle linebacker Mike Gruben, weak side linebacker Brad Krisch and defensive lineman Ken Aguirre are the building blocks.
Joe Frescura, a situational pass rusher last season, outside linebacker Pete Riccolo and defensive backs Brandon Holy and Marty Krizka are among those who also will contribute.
“We are further ahead at this point than we were last year,” Jaworski said. “The different part is not everyone is returning. Now we’re starting fresh. It’s been good. We’ve gotten a lot of teaching in.”
“I think we can be a pretty good defense,” said Bolek, the free safety. “Gruben and I focus on getting to the ball. I have to be a ball hawk.”
Still, on the defensive side, avoiding injuries will matter.
“We have 45-47 guys on varsity, which is a new experience for us,” Sharp said, noting the relatively low numbers. “But the effort and attitude have been unbelievable. I love coaching these kids.
“Barring injury, we can be competitive against a tough schedule. We start with Providence, Wheaton North and Carmel, finish with Nazareth, Benet and Marist, and we have Marian Central there in the middle.”