Jacobs’ Antonio Brown turns big senior season into scholarship to D-II Bemidji State

Jacobs' Antonio Brown stiff arms Prairie Ridge's Logan Harlow as he runs for a touchdown during a Fox Valley Conference football game between Jacobs and Prairie Ridge Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, at Jacobs High School in Algonquin.

Antonio Brown patiently waited for his chance to carry the football behind Jacobs’ loaded backfield as a sophomore and junior.

The Golden Eagles relied heavily on running backs Ben Ludlum and Nasir Canty, both of whom were highly productive runners behind Jacobs’ tough offensive line.

“I was pretty excited (for the senior season),” Brown said. “I was just waiting my turn.”

Once given the opportunity to shine, Brown, who started at linebacker last season, ran with it. The 6-foot, 190-pound senior carried 169 times for 1,710 yards and 21 touchdowns as Jacobs shared the Fox Valley Conference title with Huntley and Prairie Ridge.

Brown, who college coaches had not seen on video before this season, parlayed that into a scholarship from NCAA Division II Bemidji (Minn.) State, to which he committed on Dec. 4.

Wednesday was the first day of the NCAA early signing period for football players. The early period runs through Friday. The regular signing period is on Feb. 1, which is when Brown will sign his national letter of intent.

Crystal Lake South lineman Nate Compere (D-I Lindenwood), Johnsburg lineman Jacob Welch (D-I Northern Illinois) and Huntley lineman Luke Griskey (D-I San Jose State) are the three local players who officially signed NLIs on Wednesday.

Marengo quarterback Josh Holst will be a preferred walk-on at Northern Illinois and Huntley lineman Eric Bower (Butler) and Johnsburg running back Jake Metz (Drake) will play in the Pioneer Football League, an FCS conference that does not award athletic scholarships.

“We weren’t sure where (Brown) would fit (in college) not having last year as a running back,” Jacobs coach Brian Zimmerman said. “We knew he was going to be good, we didn’t know he was going to be that good. We had an idea.

“After that first game, he displayed some unbelievable balance when he was running. Once we got some tapes out there, some Division II schools I thought were missing the boat on him. (Bemidji) got a steal to be quite honest with you. He’s a heck of a player. He’s a great kid, too, very each to coach. To see him get that opportunity was a little bit of a relief for him too.”

Ludlum led the area in 2021 wih 1,732 yards rushing and Canty was fourth with 1,366. Brown provided a glimpse of what was coming late last season when fullback Michael Almeida was injured.

Until that point, Zimmerman felt Almeida had put the time into the program and deserved the spot, so Brown started at linebacker. Brown carried for 116 yards and a touchdown in the Eagles’ 48-20 win over Hersey in the first round of the 2021 Class 7A playoffs. He had 66 yards in the second-round 17-7 victory over Normal.

Brown was quick to compliment his offensive line of Will Seibert, Kyle Koziel, Matt Shannon, Tony Fetting and Rocco Sauer.

“(This season) was pretty good. I enjoyed it a lot,” Brown said. “I know having that front line blocking for me was pretty good and we all enjoyed ourselves out there. I just loved it.

“At the end of my sophomore year, I realized I had some talent to go on and play. It was a grind. Coming into my senior year, as big as I am, I feel like I could have gotten a scholarship and I’ve accomplished things that I wanted to do.”

Brown visited Bemidji recently and told his parents Anthony and Yolanda on the way home it was the place for him.

“He’s a quiet leader in practices and drills he would kind of take control,” Zimmerman said. He’s a man of few words. You ask him if he’s OK, he’ll say he’s all right. He’s one of the toughest kids I know.”

Zimmerman said when the Eagles were shut out 27-0 by Brother Rice in the first round of this season’s Class 7A playoffs, Brown gutted it out on one good ankle and one the coach thought was about 50%.

“It shows you his toughness,” Zimmerman said. “I think he’ll go in right away and have an impact, kind of the way Ben (at Augustana) and Nas (at Carthage). I think Antonio can have an immediate impact on that team, he’s too good of an athlete.”

Huntley’s Luke Griskey blocks during the first day of football practice Monday, 8, 2022, in the Huntley High School  field house after stormy weather move practice inside.

Griskey (6-4, 265) played in only half of Huntley’s games this season after suffering torn ligaments in his left ankle in the second game. He initially was headed to Air Force, but reconsidered the lengthy commitment post graduation.

“I kind of laid it out. I wanted to fly jets, but I laid out the timeline and would have come out at 27,” Griskey said. “I took a visit to San Jose. It was my first time to California and I fell in love. Being 45 minutes out of san Francisco is awesome. The coaches I especially love, they’re awesome.”

Spartans coach Brent Brennan made one of the first offers to Griskey in March. When Griskey decommitted to the Air Force, he texted the San Jose State staff right away.

“When I decommitted, I went out there twice,” Griskey said. “I’ve been talking to them a lot since I decommitted. I like the O-line coach, coach (Josh) Oglesby, he keeps it real. Coach Brennan, I love where he stands on his morals and everything and how he likes to have a team of leaders. I fell in love with everything there.”