As soon as one school year ends, another begins for high school football players around the state of Illinois.
Strength and conditioning programs and summer camps are on the back-to-class schedule that fills much their June, July and August calendars. Most of these players sweat in the relative obscurity of the sizzling summer heat.
Not Joliet Catholic Academy’s Ty Isaac.
He remains in the white-hot spotlight reserved for only the most highly publicized of national recruits. Isaac, 6 feet 2 and 220 pounds, is the JCA running back who announced he will attend the University of Southern California to a drum beat on May 15.
Like another famous Trojan of yesteryear, he wears the No. 32 on his white practice jersey and brings a Hollywood air to the Hilltoppers’ camp. But save the soap opera drama for O.J. fleeing from his pursuers.
Isaac runs with an effortless gait that draws all eyes his way at almost all times. He recently was named to The Rivals 100 football rankings list of the top individual players in America. In early July, he will be interviewed for a TV segment on Pat Summeral’s Sports Stars of Tomorrow.
What you learn quickly after meeting with Isaac is he is running circles around much of the hoopla swirling about him, running at his own pace in a bid to meet his own goals and fulfill his own dreams and aspirations. He has somehow managed to stay grounded to this point.
Forget the numbers.
He rushed for a school-record 2,629 yards and scored 51 touchdowns as a junior. He piled up 515 yards and six TDs in the Class 5A state title game last November, a game the Hilltoppers lost to Montini 70-45. Many remember Ty’s torching of the Bronco defense as an EA Sports “It’s in the Game” type performance.
Isaac? He’ll trade every one of those yards for a return trip to Champaign and a JCA championship ring.
His dad—Tyrone—won a ring playing for The Hill in the late-’80s. Mike Alstott and J.R. Zwierzynski won rings setting JCA rushing records Isaac has smashed. Alstott went on to become an All-Big Ten selection at Purdue and later a Pro Bowler with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
What’s in store for Isaac?
“He’s probably one of the most talented players that Joliet Catholic has had, and we’ve had some pretty good ones,” JCA coach Dan Sharp said. “He ranks up there as one of the best. His performance last year in the playoffs, particularly in the championship game, sets him at another level with Illinois running backs.
“So, talent-wise, we know what he’s got. But, as a person, he’s a guy that has a great sense of humor. He loves the game. He works every time he’s out here. He’s very much a team guy, constantly credits his teammates, and is just a real personable individual.”
Sharp has come respect those traits in Isaac as much as he enjoys watching him cut off a block and run to daylight. Sharp sees Isaac winning a bigger game by sticking to his own beliefs and core values, one that will serve him well later in life.
“In today’s society, everything is so individualized,” Sharp said. “There’s so much attention on these guys. There are so many different medias out there now with internet the way it is. So, there is constantly stuff being written about guys.
“It’s easy to get jaded. It’s easy to get self-serving. Ty has been able to maintain his humility and really care about his teammates and understand that it is a team game. A lot of that comes from the fact he’s here—that’s the way Joliet Catholic does things.
“But it also goes back to his parents, particularly his father who was a great player and also an outstanding leader, and we see that in young Ty as well.”
The two Isaacs are the only father-son backs to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a single season in Joliet Catholic’s long and storied football history. Tyrone went on to play collegiate ball a the University of St. Francis and helped the Saints pour the foundation for becoming a NAIA power.
There are no big heads in NAIA football.
Now, USC? That’s an epic Trojan War Horse story of gigantically different proportions. Isaac will tackle that challenge soon enough. For now, you sense he has learned to live in the moment. And you conclude he has checked his ego in the locker room along with his street clothes.
Big head? Not Ty.
“With the people I hang out with, they’ll tell me, ‘You ain’t nothing special, not to me anyway,’ ” Isaac said. “Family. Friends. Coaches. Teammates. Of course, they do it the right way. And, I mean, at the end of the day, there are a lot of kids that are really good in high school that get lost in college.
“So, if you get caught up within yourself right now, it’s going to be a long road.”
Isaac isn’t looking to take any shortcuts. Rather, he is preparing himself to go the distance. Accordingly, you will find him enrolled in JCA’s summer football classes.