JOLIET – The year was 1987, the place Hancock Stadium on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal. Two minutes and nine seconds remained in the fourth quarter of a 13-7 football slugfest.
Jonathan Voss, Joliet Catholic’s senior quarterback, completed a 24-yard touchdown pass to senior running back Tyrone Isaac to force a 13-13 tie that became a 14-13 victory over Peoria Richwoods in the Class 5A state championship game when Kelvin Greenwood split the uprights with his PAT
The throw. The catch. The memories.
“I can remember that like it was yesterday – the ball coming off Jonathan’s fingertips,” Isaac said. “I can remember how it was fourth down, and just a lot of things were going through my mind back then.
“It was awesome watching it in, cradling it in, and I actually think back to those feelings quite a bit. It was an awesome play in an awesome game and it is something that I know I will never, ever forget.”
Twenty-five years later, still wearing Hilltopper brown, Isaac and Voss recalled the sixth state football title in Joliet Catholic history. Twenty-five minutes later, their sons – running backs Ty Isaac, a senior, and Drew Voss, a sophomore – took the field at Memorial Stadium in the 5A semifinals against Montini.
Ty Isaac, the son of Tyrone and Karen of Shorewood, wearing his dad’s No. 32. Drew Voss, the son of Jonathan and Sheri of Plainfield, wearing his dad’s No. 5. Tyrone and Jonathan being interviewed before the game by WJOL radio and the media before the game. It was almost like traveling back in time.
“I think the thing that I remember the most is the camaraderie that went on in the locker room and in the practices,” Voss said. “Those are the main things I always remember. But if there are any certain plays that come back to mind, that’s one (the game-winning touchdown pass) that I’ll never forget.”
The 14-13 victory was symbolic of the pre-spread era. Joliet Catholic was held to only 55 yards rushing on 34 carries, including Isaac’s nine carries for 18 yards, and the result was a 13-0 halftime deficit.
But with a Hilltopper defense that put the clamps on Peoria Richwoods as well, allowing a mere 128 yards and 28 yards rushing, Joliet Catholic rallied behind the arm and legs of Voss (13-of-22, 173 yards). And it was Voss scoring on a 1-yard run with 1:11 left in the third quarter to kick-start the comeback.
“It’s very cool to see No. 32 and No. 5 running around on the field again for Joliet Catholic,” Voss said, beaming. “You see Tyrone when you see ‘Junior’ wearing the 32 and that 5, you know it’s a Voss. Too bad we didn’t have kids closer together because they could have been in the backfield at the same time.
“That would have been really net, but it’s still very exciting. Drew will have his time over the next couple of years and Ty has been amazing. It makes me proud of what we accomplished, seeing them out there.”
Not all roads lead to Joliet Catholic, but 13 state titles in football and a college preparatory education second to none continues to be the catalyst that flips the switch of the high school’s iconic Victory Light.
Their stories are Hillmen stories.
“For me, it started in grade school,” Voss said. “It was Wednesday afternoon, going to the first playoff game, my dad (Bob) pulling me out of school even though he was a teacher and a coach at Lockport.
“It was seeing Pat Pesavento playing quarterback for the first time. I went to St. Dennis in Lockport, he had gone to St. Dennis and I thought, ‘I can do what Pat Pesavento does. I could be a Hilltopper.’”
Three sons of Bob and Christine Voss would attend Joliet Catholic. Jared Voss is the school’s baseball coach and has guided the Hilltoppers to five Final Four appearances, including the 3A state title in 2009.
Tyrone Isaac, who finished his college football career at the University of St. Francis after starting out at Northern Illinois, would see his namesake develop into one of the nation’s top recruits as a USC signee.
“My situation is different from Jonathan’s background,” Isaac said. “I know there are a lot of families who went there because their dad went there, their older brothers went there, that sort of thing.
“I was the first one from my family to come through Joliet Catholic, and after graduating here, I didn’t know exactly how special it truly was until I left. And it was something I wanted my family to have.”
What Isaac and Voss experienced in 1987 was a special time, a special run. The Hillmen opened the playoffs with a 40-19 win over Bolingbrook, then beat Stagg 34-6 and shut out T.F. South 23-0 before punching their ticket to ISU with a 34-15 decision over host Belvidere. It was both real and surreal.
“A lot of good memories,” Voss confirmed. “My father-in-law, Don Ladas, was the announcer for WJOL. I remember the Belvidere game, it was freezing cold and they were put on the roof of the school for the broadcast. When we did our interviews, they had to throw the microphone over the side of the school.
“Little things like that, as strange as it might seem, are the things that you end up remembering most.”
Those are the things that Isaac never needed to remind his son about, particularly after the 40-37 semifinal loss to defending state champ Montini. His son stood at midfield and faced the questions that are asked of a team’s All-American, with his answers revealing the lessons learned at 1200 N. Larkin Ave.
The Hilltoppers’ season came to an official close with Monday night’s annual awards banquet. But like every Joliet Catholic season, the memories that will remain are of a father and a mother greeting their son, after another victory or the occasional defeat, the feeling of family underscoring the moment.
They come in as boys. They leave as men.
“It absolutely builds character,” Tyrone Isaac said. “When I look back, I think of the little things that make up the big things, and they end up being the important things I remember about Joliet Catholic.”