When Brady Gorman takes his stance along Nazareth’s defensive line, it would be easy to wonder if No. 13 in blue and white is playing out of position.
Don’t underestimate him.
Gorman, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound senior defensive end, perhaps doesn’t look the part. But he’s a big reason why the Nazareth defense has not allowed more than one score in six of the team’s 13 games heading into Saturday’s Class 5A final against Peoria in Champaign.
“You look at him, he looks like a slot receiver or maybe a safety or a corner. But when he takes off his pads, he is all muscle, he’s ripped,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “He’s got the heart of a lion, and the tenacity of a pit bull on the field.”
Gorman, and the Nazareth defense, have a whale of a challenge with Peoria. The Lions just put up 76 points on Morris last Saturday. Peoria (12-1), behind running back Malachi Washington and a massive offensive line, has topped 60 points six times this season. No mind to Nazareth (9-4), though, which overcame a 2-4 start to the season to rip off seven straight wins to get here.
“We just kept progressing throughout the season,” Gorman said. “We obviously had a tough schedule. That really helped us in the playoffs. We all kept our heads up, kept working and got better.”
Gorman played line in middle school, but he took a bit of a circuitous route back there at the varsity level. He played strong safety at the start of his junior year, but didn’t get much playing time the first game. Racki said they tried him at linebacker.
Eventually, Gorman’s line coach recommended the move there.
“He saw the way I played in practice and hustled and played the game,” Gorman said. “I was kind of confused at first but I was on the field. Can’t complain.”
There is no arguing with Gorman’s production, more than holding his own against much bigger linemen. He had the game-clinching sack last year in a 24-21 win over Notre Dame which sparked Nazareth’s comeback from an 0-3 start to the quarterfinals. This season Gorman has 69 tackles, third on Nazareth, with eight tackles for loss and five sacks.
“I always try to be the more aggressive guy, especially with my speed,” Gorman said. “If I come out more aggressive I find myself winning most of the battles.”
Gorman is easily overlooked on the Nazareth defensive line. At the opposite end, sophomore Gabe Kaminski, who has 64 tackles and 13 sacks is one of Illinois’ top recruits in the Class of 2024 with offers from Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
Racki said Kaminski deserves all those honors, an incredible talent, but the Nazareth coach can’t help but see a little of himself in Gorman.
“That is how I was. I was undersized as a player. Size in football is important, don’t get me wrong, but the equalizer is your heart and tenacity,” Racki said. “You get knocked down, but you’re not going anywhere. Brady always seems to come up with that big play. He just wants to play football.”
Nazareth’s defense, the genius of defensive coordinator Jeff Tumpane, has been the Roadrunners’ constant all year. It shut out Kankakee 2-0 in Week 1, and allowed just one score each game in the last three make-or-break weeks of the regular season. Last week, it held the fort at Sycamore until Nazareth could score in the fourth quarter for a 10-7 win.
“It’s no secret our defense has been the one stabilizing force for us the entire season, the most consistent phase of our team,” Racki said. “The offense and special teams, the defense has brought those phases up to their level. They have set the bar.”
It will require a yeoman effort to slow down Peoria and bring home Nazareth’s fourth state title since 2014.
Peoria running back Washington, a 5-foot-10, 206-pound senior, has rushed for 3,073 yards and 47 touchdowns on the season. Junior quarterback Tino Gist has thrown for 2,241 yards and nine touchdowns. Peoria has four offensive linemen who top 300 pounds, including 6-foot-3, 389-pound freshman Jaquarius Green.
“When you watch them on film, you can understand why they score that many points,” Racki said. “They have incredible speed they are huge up front, their running back is explosive and their quarterback knows where to put the ball. Those are the types of teams that are scary. It’s going to be a challenge, but so was Sycamore. Our defense leans into that. Listen, you’re not going to shut down Peoria. If you do, great. We need to slow them down.”
Gorman, likewise, is taking the challenge in stride.
“Obviously they have a good offense, but we are looking at it as every other week,” Gorman said. “We just have to keep doing our thing.”