Look, Ma! I’m on TV.
The first guy to smile for the cameras when Joliet Catholic Academy opens the high school football season next Friday night on ESPNU against rival Providence Catholic is sure to get a message from Hilltopper coach Dan Sharp.
“He won’t be on TV any longer,” Sharp said.
Then, he broke into a hearty laugh, the indication clear: He was kidding around.
Sharp has grown accustomed to the glare of the ever-growing media spotlight during his years coaching at JCA. The same is true of his players, most notably senior running back Ty Isaac.
Isaac is the gifted USC recruit who can run away from defenders but not the Chicago sports paparazzi. He is ranked No. 70 on the ESPN 150 list of the nation’s top prep prospects. Who’s counting? Well, everybody and anybody.
“It’s the way it is now,” Sharp said. “Back when I was playing, we were lucky if a radio station—WJOL—would do a game. Now, with the way high school sports is, we see so many games that are being televised—nationally televised.
“It’s the way it is now with the cable—ESPN—and the growth of the sport. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s good because it gives the kids a little bit of exposure. Our school is able to get some exposure—as well as Providence. So, it’s good in that sense.
“But it’s also something you’ve got to deal with. I really feel our kids—once that ball is snapped—they’re playing football. I don’t think they’re aware if it’s on TV or not. They’re just out there playing football. And that’s the way it should be.
“I don’t think it’s going to affect the game at all. It just sometimes becomes a distraction in the preparation.”
JCA and Providence were selected to be a part of the third annual ESPN High School Football Kickoff because of their collective pedigree. The two have combined to win 22 state football championships.
JCA ranks No. 1 in Illinois with 13 state titles, most recently winning in Class 6A in 2007. Providence isn’t far behind with nine state championships, all coming in a span from 1987 to 2004. The two are included in a cast of 26 teams from 15 states that will play on ESPN’s family of networks from Aug. 24-26.
JCA and Providence will kick off the three-day high school football extravaganza at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 24, live and in color on ESPNU from New Lenox, playing no less on the Celtics’ new synthetic turf field and most likely in front of thousands of Proud Americans.
Proud Americans? You’ve read that little sign welcoming you to New Lenox, no? Perhaps the message should be edited to read, "Proud Football Fanatics."
“It’s really cool, it’s always been a dream of mine to be on ESPN,” JCA senior linebacker and co-captain Matt Madrigal said. “And there it is—the first game. Yeah, it’s awesome.
“But we’re going to have to get our jitters out real quick—the first-game jitters, they’ve got to go. The first game is big, real big. It can set a tone for the rest of the year in the way we play.”
In the days, weeks and months leading up to this point, JCA offensive line coach Dave Douglas often has been needled by a bunch of his closest friends.
“They’ve asked all kinds of things, like, ‘Are you going to get a new outfit to wear for the game?’ ” Douglas said. “ ‘Are you going to get your hair cut, be all prettied up and clean looking?’ It’s just all kinds of things that people are realizing now that you’re going to be on TV. It’s like, ‘What are you going to do to be ready for it?’ It’s been kind of funny to listen to people talk about it.”
Isaac was the talk of JCA football until news of ESPN’s TV plan broke. He rushed for 515 yards and scored six touchdowns in his last TV appearance, the Class 5A state title game last November. Ridiculous? Montini outscored JCA 70-45 in a real-life version of EA Sports Football. Oh, yes, when Ty cuts into the open field, it’s in the game.
He will run for an encore behind a JCA offensive line anchored by senior center Lino Bibian and senior right guard Brody Fay. Bibian (5-9, 260) is a co-captain and potential two-way player for the Hill. His legs are a great source of JCA power, too.
“He’s come in extremely strong and in good shape,” Sharp said. “What he did at the Rudy’s lifting meet in squatting 780 pounds sure says a lot about his dedication in the weight room. And you like the center with that strong lower body.”
The only thing that comes close to matching Bibian’s lower-body strength is the list of intangibles he brings to the JCA table, chief among them his enormous heart and his big, booming voice.
He isn’t afraid to call out his comrades on the ‘O’ line if he feels they’re slacking on the job. He knows the curtain call is near: Lights, camera, action!
He doesn’t want to get panned on TV.
“Yeah, it’s exciting,” he said. “But everybody’s concentrating on the game. We can’t let the other things distract us right now.”