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Kremer: JCA Football Armed to Pass Big Tests Ahead

Joliet Catholic Academy quarterback Craig Slowik brings an added dimension to the Hilltopper offense. His passing likely will prevent opponents from stacking the line to stop the run in the coming days and weeks. And that could make a big difference.

Perhaps you’ve been thinking it. I’m going to say it: Craig Slowik is one of the most under-appreciated players in area high school football ranks.

And, let me stop you before you say, “Craig Who?”

Slowik is the senior quarterback at Joliet Catholic Academy. No, he doesn’t throw the ball all over the lot. No, the world as we know it has not ended. JCA still runs the football.

Early and often.

Slowik’s job is much more than that of a caretaker on an offensive unit that is averaging 34.1 points a game despite the fact it has run eight plays this season with all of its regulars on the field. Ty Isaac, the running back headed to USC, scored one touchdown and had another called back because of a holding penalty before exiting with a shoulder injury in the Hilltoppers’ season-opening 40-34 loss to Providence.

Since then, a number of others have gone down with injuries, including running back Tyler Reitz and tight end/linebacker Zach Rezin. Isaac more recently has played through the pain of a groin injury.

He scored on a 5-yard run to cap JCA’s 34-21 overtime victory over Carmel. He finished with 229 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a performance believed to have impressed USC running back coach Kennedy Polamalu, who was in attendance at Joliet’s Memorial Stadium.

“I know he wishes he could take him right now,” JCA coach Dan Sharp said afterward.

Nobody said much about Slowik, at least not those outside of the JCA camp. All he did was complete 7-of-11 passes for 146 yards. Included was a 58-yarder to Rezin that set up a field goal by the Hilltoppers’ Brian Bravo.

Slowik also turned the corner on a bootleg and ran 25 yards for a touchdown. So fooled was the Carmel defensive unit, word is some of the Corsairs still are running the other way in pursuit of Isaac, who played the part of a decoy on the play.

Slowik throws a good ball. Take it from former JCA standout Rick Thayer. He was walking the sidelines and talking out loud. Slowik is built like a young man who was meant to play quarterback. He stands 6-5 and weighs 190 pounds.

He can see the field. And, if JCA ever gets healthy, he can see the Hilltoppers’ offense lighting up opponents for weeks to come with a somewhat balanced approach rarely seen in these parts. Again, this is JCA we’re talking about. The run game comes first. Always has, always will.

But Slowik gives JCA the ability to pick apart opponents stacking the line to stop the Hilltopper running game. He has at his disposal to work with a number of weapons in a talented receiving corps, chief among them all-area baseball shortstop and senior football end Chris Tschida.

Tschida has the range to go in the hole and track a ball down, say nothing of the hands to make a grab in traffic. He stung Carmel with four catches for 44 yards, once pulling the ball into his chest while off balance with only one hand.

What if JCA gets Reitz back, Isaac running at 100 percent, throws Slowik at Niles Notre Dame Friday night and at Benet Academy on Oct. 19 and then girds for a postseason run with all the pieces in place? Who’s going to stop these Hill climbers? My guess is it will take someone capable of winning a shootout.

Let’s not go there now.

“Reitz should be back in a couple weeks,” Slowik said. “And, then, with Ty (Isaac), he’s week-by-week slowly getting better. If we get back to 100 percent, this offense can be dangerous, especially against some of the teams we play in the playoffs.”

Slowik has a chance to push JCA over the top. He is not going to set records for passing attempts. He is going to be effective in play-action passing situations.

“We’re trying to keep them off balance with Ty (Isaac) running the ball a lot, just using play-action, almost going 50-50 run-pass,” Slowik said, then caught himself in mid-sentence going too far. “I mean, it’s not like that exactly, but with that mentality and idea of keeping them off balance.”

Slowik is a more mature, more confident player this season, the result of a baptism under fire that came during his junior year at the helm. He quickly delivers the ball, but only after running through his post-snap progression checklists. The speed of the game has slowed down on his internal clock.

“It’s tremendous from last year, to see how much I’ve gotten better,” he said. “It’s fun getting out there and throwing the ball more than I did last year. I’m just trying to make my plays—on third-and-8, get a first down, just do whatever I can do to help this offense win games.”

His footwork has improved, too. To be clear, he is not going to run away from too many linebackers. He is going to make plays for JCA in the passing game.

The time is now to take notice.

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