VILLA PARK – A year ago, Mohammad Ayesh was on the Willowbrook sophomore team during his first season of high school football.
Now less then 12 months later, the sophomore linebacker finds himself as a key cog on a varsity defense that has helped Willowbrook to its first 3-0 start in nearly 20 years.
On Friday night, Ayesh had an interception as the Warriors began West Suburban Gold Conference play with a 26-9 victory over Leyden.
“It’s a lot faster,” said Ayesh, when asked about the jump from last year to now. “But it is a lot of fun running around and playing fast and playing hard.”
Ayesh is not the only underclassman excelling on defense, fellow sophomore Sergio Ayala lines up right next to him at linebacker. As a unit, Willowbrook has allowed just 26 points through the first three weeks, 17 of which came against a strong Hinsdale Central offense in week two.
“We are just playing fast and playing with a lot of heart,” said Ayesh, who also contributed on special teams, making one tackle and also returning a kickoff, “and we are putting in a lot of effort. It’s great to be 3-0 and 1-0 in the conference but this is not our max potential, not even close. We have a lot of things to fix up, a lot of things to get better at.”
Junior Deandre Holliday also picked off a pass for the home team, while adding a 58-yard touchdown reception from Sam Tumilty. Holliday finished with five catches for a game-high 82 yards.
"We've got a pretty young defense, especially with two sophomore linebackers," Holliday said. "But we feel like we are solid as a defense, especially when we play as a unit. With our line getting to the quarterback and creating pressure, that allows our defensive backs and linebackers to pick off passes. This game, even though it wasn't our best, I feel like we did play pretty well on defense. We just have to keep it up."
Tumilty threw two additional touchdown passes, one a 77-yarder to C.J. Harris to kick off the scoring in the opening quarter and another a 19-yard strike to brother Scotty in the fourth quarter after the Eagles had closed to within 19-9. Scotty Tumilty had three catches for 42 yards and Everett Stubblefield hauled in three receptions for 37 yards.
Sam Tumilty also found the end zone on a two-yard run and accounted for 325 yards of total offense (238 passing and 87 rushing).
"It's good to have this start and win our first conference game," Sam Tumilty said. "But we've got to clean up some things and be ready for next game. We've got to keeping bringing that effort; a lot of that starts in our practices and then it carries over into the games."
The defending conference champions will look to keep their unbeaten streak intact when they head to Addison Trail next week.
"We don't take wins for granted but we definitely feel we can play better," Willowbrook coach Nick Hildreth said. "But it's always a battle with Leyden. They do a great job defensively and they do a good job taking things away from us. We struggled to get our rhythm and the tempo we like. Those long plays for touchdowns, you will always take those but we didn't move the ball well. We need to be more efficient."