Mike Ivlow was behind many of his Joliet Catholic Academy football teammates when he reported in early August for the beginning of preseason drills.
He missed the JCA summer camp. He didn’t know the JCA playbook and couldn’t speak the JCA football language. He was the new kid on the bock, a Minooka transfer looking to find his way following the split-up of his parents.
He hit the field running—and never stopped.
Ivlow rushed for 898 yards and scored 16 touchdowns during his junior season. He ranked second on the team in scoring (96 points) and third in rushing. He helped JCA (8-5) reach the Class 5A football semifinals.
And he emerged not only as JCA’s most improved player but also one of its most valuable players, too.
Ivlow was used primarily as a fullback in JCA’s patented double-wing attack. He also gained some experience playing halfback after Ty Isaac and Tyler Reitz went down with injuries. The injuries thrust Ivlow to the forefront.
He was at his best when JCA needed him most.
Ivlow rushed for 103 yards on 12 carries and scored one touchdown in the Hilltoppers’ 42-21 playoff victory over Tinley Park. He tacked on 73 yards on 16 carries in a 21-20 overtime quarterfinal win over Lincoln-Way West.
Ivlow’s 1-yard plunge gave JCA a 20-14 lead in OT. Brian Bravo kicked the extra point. And JCA’s defense came up with a stop on the Warriors’ two-point conversion attempt.
Ivlow is recognized today for his contributions to a JCA football season that ended with a 40-37 semifinal loss to Montini as the two powerhouses fought back-and-forth at Memorial Stadium in Joliet. He is Joliet Patch’s Athlete of the Month for November.
Ivlow’s football pedigree goes back much further. He grew up in a football family and has been running around on the sidelines since he was a little boy.
His father, John, is the police liaison officer and football coach at Bolingbrook High School. John played high school ball in Plainfield, went on to Colorado State and later the NFL. He was a special teams hawk during stints with the Bears, 49ers and Broncos. He won a Super Bowl ring with the 49ers.
Mike’s grandfather, Dave, used to coach football at Plainfield High School. His aunts and uncles have worked as high school coaches in Chicago’s collar counties and on occasion shared stories with him at the dinner table.
“It was really exciting,” Mike said of his upbringing. “My aunt was the Stagg powerlifting coach. My uncle is the ex-Andrew coach. He stepped down to raise his kids. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas break, we’d all talk about football, go over plays and talk about teams.
“It let me in on all the insight about the other teams—who they’re playing against, like Bolingbrook signed Hinsdale Central to play Week 1 next year. So, it’s a lot of interesting stuff that I let my friends know about.”
The most interesting of all the stuff? Yes, his dad’s Super Bowl ring.
“He doesn’t like to wear jewelry around,” Mike Ivlow said. “He says the only people who should be wearing jewelry are pirates and girls. He doesn’t wear it. But, whenever some friends are over and they want to see it, I pull it out. It’s a really unique item. He would never give that away for anything.
“He doesn’t brag about it, but he keeps it safe away. It’s really nice to see.”
JCA coach Dan Sharp said Mike Ivlow’s meteoric rise with the Hilltoppers was largely due to his work ethic and his football background.
“There is no doubt he is a coach’s son—the way he prepares, his knowledge of the game, his approach to the game,” Sharp said. “He’s been around it all his life. But he’s a great athlete.
“I understand he was a very good soccer player when he was younger and still enjoys playing soccer. He’s one of those little gym rats that just enjoys participating and competing. But football, I think, it’s in his blood.
“You go from his grandfather to his father and now, Michael, he lives and breathes it. I know he had a really enjoyable year here and had a fantastic year as the stats showed.”
Ivlow, 5-feet-11 and 215 pounds, did much of his damage running between the tackles. He isn’t the tallest back. He isn’t the fastest back. He is courageous. And he is tough to bring down.
“A great year, especially since he didn’t transfer until August,” Sharp said. “So, when we started practice that second Wednesday in August, that was his introduction into our system, learning the terminology itself and the plays.
“For him to have that kind of success that fast for not even being in the program, I think says a lot about his work ethic and his knowledge of the game. But, watching him run, I’m not surprised he had such a great year. He ran very well.
“He’s a great inside runner—instinctive runner. And he improved as the year went on and continued to improve every day at practice, every week. I think that showed at the end of the year.
“We had some circumstances where we lost two running backs, and he had to carry the load, particularly when we played Notre Dame and Benet. It was a situation where we relied heavily on him as well as (Craig) Slowik, our quarterback. They delivered big-time, which gave them great confidence for the playoffs.”