Features | Friday Night Drive

Record Newspapers football notes: ‘Fearless’ Yorkville sophomore Isaiah Brown making difference in return game

Isaiah Brown possesses a personality trait that would seem to be a job requirement for someone catching a sky-high pop with 11 angry opponents charging at you.

No fear.

It’s an attitude that Yorkville coach Dan McGuire has already noticed, and loves in Brown, his sophomore punt returner and receiver. McGuire was quick to highlight Brown’s contributions in the return game after the Foxes’ 40-20 win over Plainfield East last week.

“He’s just a fearless kid,” McGuire said. “We have had kids that have been able to return punts in the past, it’s kind of a ‘hey, you’re a running back, go catch punts.’ This is one of the first times since I’ve been here coaching that we almost have a true punt returner.”

That is a player easily overlooked, but no less valuable for a team trying to maintain positive field position. Brown in four games has seven punt returns for 79 yards, an 11.3 yard average. Brown’s returns, and Yorkville’s tremendous defense, have helped set up the Foxes with prime field position on a number of occasions.

“He has sure hands, and he’s confident,” McGuire said. “His returning ability has helped keep the field balanced. A lot of times as a team you’re just happy to get the ball back. When he can return it 10-15 yards, and not let it bounce for 15 yards, that’s a pretty significant change in field position. We’ve talked about it for the last 2-3 years, but having a kid back there like Isaiah that’s fearless helps. It’s not easy to stand back there with 11 guys coming at you while looking at the sky.”

Brown’s value to the Foxes, though, has gone beyond his return skills. Brown has a team-high 11 catches for 121 yards, and has showcased good body control and hands on deep balls. Brown is one of a handful of young Yorkville skill-position players getting a chance to contribute. Junior Dominick Coronado has seven catches and two touchdowns, junior Josh Gettemy has seven catches, and ran for over 100 yards last week with Gio Zeman hurt and sophomore Dyllan Malone has five catches.

“Isaiah has gone up and got some jump balls. If I was to sum it up, I’d say he’s a competitor,” McGuire said. “Those punt returns, you need to be a competitor, ball in the air you need to be a competitor. He just loves the game of football.”

Foxes’ rotating QBs

Yorkville, like a number of teams, has opted to rotate quarterbacks instead of just settling on one starter and rolling with him.

But the Foxes do it a bit differently.

Instead of switching off junior Michael Dopart and senior Kyle Stevens series by series, it’s not unusual that both quarterbacks will sub in and out within one drive. That’s by design, too.

“The way we approach it is purely by personnel groupings,” McGuire said. “A lot of people do the series thing. I don’t want kids to think that I’m taking them out because they did something wrong, and I don’t want them to be looking over their shoulder. I want kids out there playing confidently.”

On the season, Dopart has completed 59.7% of his passes for 482 yards with six touchdowns, and Stevens has completed 61% of his passes for 147 yards and three TDs. The two have combined for just one interception for an offense that has shuttled quite a few players in and out with a wide range of personnel groupings.

It will get its biggest test Friday against fellow unbeaten Plainfield North, which has given up just 35 points in four games.

“Going into the year I felt like we had two strong quarterbacks, but I also didn’t want to create a situation of animosity toward each other,” McGuire said. “We go with the formation that gives us the best chance to get a first down. Hopefully being consistent with our kids builds trust and unselfishness.”

Oswego East offense’s recipe for success

Oswego East through four games has featured two key ingredients to any successful offense – a productive running game and efficient passing game.

The Wolves on the season are averaging 200.5 rushing yards per game. Senior quarterback Tre Jones, while throwing for a modest 304 yards and three touchdowns so far, has completed 60.8% of his passes for a 122.4 quarterback rating (over 100 is considered excellent).

Even more impressive, Oswego East has been able to maintain a level of consistency with its top two running backs, Oshobi Odior and Tyler Bibbs, sidelined the last three weeks. Oswego East coach Tyson LeBlanc expects at least one to be back this week.

“We have been able to run the ball really well,” LeBlanc said. “When you get to this time of year, you need to be able to run the ball. We’re doing that essentially with our third and fourth running backs. It’s a credit to our offensive line. They’re still a relatively young group.”

LeBlanc said his two returning starters, 6-foot-3, 280-pound Orlando Kye Woodhouse and 6-4, 280 Tim Savchuk, have played well. Returning starting center Marco Bellanca has not played yet this season because of injury, but 5-foot-8, 185-pound William Chen has held his own despite being almost 100 pounds lighter than Bellanca. Aiden Moriarty, at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, has also contributed to the blocking at H-back.

“What Will lacks in size he makes up for in being a tough kid. He’s a wrestler,” LeBlanc said. “He has good feet, runs well. Marco has been practicing. Not sure if he’ll be back this week or next week but it’s a situation that Will has played well, to supplant him at center, I don’t know.”

LeBlanc feels good about his team, as it gets healthy going into divisional play. But he’s wary of a 1-3 West Aurora team on Oswego East’s Homecoming week.

“They’re a dangerous team,” he said. “I cautioned our guys to not overlook them. You get nervous about these weeks. Guys look at records, look ahead.”

Oswego’s Taiden Thomas (89) hits Neuqua Valley's Mark Mennecke (13) in the backfield for a loss during a football game at Oswego High School on Friday, Aug 26, 2022.

Oswego takes care of business ahead of ‘grind’

Oswego, after an 0-2 start, did what it needed to do in the Southwest Prairie Conference crossover games. After a Week 3 win over Romeoville the Panthers pulled their record even with a 56-7 win against Joliet Central last Thursday. Oswego was also able to rest some kids the last two weeks, with the majority of its starters playing just the first half both weeks.

“Starting 0-2, that’s all you can do, just take it one week at a time. Looking at those crossovers, you hope to get two wins and then get ready for the grind,” Oswego coach Brian Cooney said. “I though overall execution was good, assignment responsibility and some of the complex and complicated things we’re trying to convey to the kids.”

First up in SPC West divisional play is Minooka, which itself has bounced back from a Week 1 loss to Bolingbrook with three consecutive wins over SPC East opponents.

“It’s Minooka. Historically they’re big, they never skip leg day, never have,” Cooney said. “They always have a kid who can stretch the field on your vertically. They do a good job of going sideline to sideline and can get to a power formation to muscle you down. Defensively a little bit of a different scheme but much like us not a lot of smoke and mirrors. We will have to play well on both sides of the ball to come out on top. I think the guys are ready for the challenge.”

Plano looking to keep defenses honest

It’s no secret that Waleed Johnson is the centerpiece of the Plano offense. The speedy junior has already rushed for 680 yards and eight touchdowns through four games. If teams didn’t know about Johnson before this season, they do now.

But if Plano is to have sustained success offensively, though, it will need to be more than the Waleed Johnson show. Defenses like La Salle-Peru’s last Friday are going to devote extra resources to keep Johnson from getting in open space.

“We have to be able to throw the ball; otherwise we’re going to get nine guys up there in the box,” Plano coach Rick Ponx said. “Waleed can’t break every tackle. We have to spread defenses out and show them that we can throw the ball and we have to be able go deep.”

Junior Armando Martinez, who has taken over for injured senior Samuel Sifuentes at quarterback, completed 7 of 15 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown to Nick Serio last Friday. Five of those balls went to Thomas Harding, who eventually left the game with an injury. Plano in the fourth quarter lined up Johnson outside, and he caught a 17-yard pass. The Reapers could spread Johnson out more often when Carnell Walls, returns from a shoulder injury this week or next.

“We’ve talked about how we can use Waleed out of the backfield,” Ponx said. “Losing Carnell hurt because he was our next-best back and then we spread Waleed out like we did against Manteno.”

Ponx said the Reapers will need to hit some big plays and score this Friday at Richmond-Burton, thus forcing the Rockets to throw some. The Rockets threw the ball 16 times in a 33-26 win against Normal West last Saturday, but they had attempted only 14 passes over their first three games.

Richmond-Burton, ranked No. 4 in Class 4A, has won 36 of its last 37 games, but Plano can draw some measure of confidence from playing the Rockets to a 21-14 loss last season.

“We have to be able to throw the ball and get some big plays,” Ponx said. “If we can’t hit some big plays and score and force them to throw a little bit it’ll be a long night.”