By Mark Gregory
Nick Leongas – Maine South
Offensive Player of the Year
After missing most of the last two seasons to injury, Maine South quarterback Nick Leongas was told by some close to him that football may not be the best sport for him going forward.
After all, he missed his entire sophomore campaign with a torn meniscus in his knee – which he reinjured that winter in basketball – and last season was lost after week two when a hit in the game against Loyola broke his jaw in two places.
“The [injuries] really took a hit on me emotionally to watch all my friends go out last year and play without me. A lot of people were telling me to stop playing football and keep my body safe, but this team meant way too much to me,” Leongas said. “We wanted [a state championship] since we were little kids, since we watched the teams then win it.”
Not only did Leongas come back, he led the Hawks to the Class 8A state title with a win over Loyola last weekend at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium.
“This is the greatest feeling in the world. I can’t think of another feeling that surpasses this,” he said after the win.
On the season, the senior completed 166-of-267 passes for 2,871 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also carried the ball 163 times for an additional 1,116 yards and 11 scores.
His numbers and leadership earned Leongas the Voyager Media 2016 Offensive Player of the Year.
“The best thing he does is uses his head,” Maine South coach Dave Inserra said of his quarterback. “He makes unbelievable decisions within the play and is unbelievable at just keeping guys calm on the field. He is not a big rah rah guy – he can at times, but usually he has a cool, calm demeanor and that is what you need in your quarterback and he played that to a tee all year long and just kept this team moving.”
While Leongas understands what he meant to the team, he also understands what his offensive line meant to him – keeping him healthy all season.
“Our offensive linemen stepped up big time,” Leongas said. “Kevin [Jarvis] was a big part of all of our wins, but guys like Danny O’Malley, Jack Farragher, James Hynes and Sean McNulty, who hasn’t played offensive line since freshman year. They came up huge and they deserve the MVP of everything.”
JJ Frey Plainfield North
Defensive Player of the Year
On the defensive side of the ball, the 2016 Voyager Media Defensive Player of the Year also goes to a member of a state finalist, but this one comes from the 7A game.
While no Plainfield North defender posted gaudy numbers this season because the team played so well as a unit, it was senior linebacker JJ Frey that earns his place atop the all-area list.
On the season, Frey posted 109 tackles to go with 12 tackles for loss, two sacks, two pass breakups and one interception for a unit that allowed only 10 points per game.
In the state finals against East St. Louis – a team everyone said would be too fast for North – Frey led the way with seven solo stops, helping the defense allow only 20 points. The scoreboard read 26-13, but six of the Flyers’ points were on an interception return.
“Watching film, I knew I could read a gap and just go for it,” Frey said. “It was a state title game and I just had to go.”
Overall, Frey gives credit for his play to the defensive line, which he says allowed him to play the way he needed to.
“Ari (Ekowa) was all state and Tim Donnahue had [a lot of] sacks as a junior and a lot of times teams had to scheme for them,” Frey said. “I had a lot of opportunities to make a lot of plays and I was able to.”
North coach Tim Kane had Frey making plays for the Tigers for three years.
“He has been a three year starter for us and we maybe could have moved him up as a freshman, he is that type of player,” Kane said. “He is a mature kid and he works so hard and is such a serious kid about football. He loves the game and plays so hard every down and just leads by example. He studies the opponent and knows what to do. He is a smart kid, but is a tough, hard-nosed kid and he loves to hit. Because he wears No. 54 and not No. 2, people don’t realize how fast he is. He can plug a lead play inside, but he can also get outside and make a play or cover a kid out of the backfield. Our defense this year was not selfish and was not about the me stat. They were worried about the team stats – a win or a shutout or how many yards we gave up.”
Other members of the All-Area team are:
Kevin Block Plainfield North
Defensive back tallied 25 tackles on the season along with five interceptions and 10 pass break ups.
Ben Cooney Benet
Defensive back posted 44 tackles, 32 solo, eight interceptions, one sack and 10 pass break ups.
Ari Ekowa Plainfield North
All state defensive lineman tallied 49 tackles on the season, including nine sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, forced one fumble and had a pair of pass break-ups. He also played on the offensive line for the Class 7A state runners up.
Omari Ferguson Joliet West
Junior wide receiver was named to the first team all-Southwest Prairie Conference team after posting 48 catches for 612 yards and six touchdowns.
Matthew Galanopoulos Niles West
Wide receiver caught 60 passes for 822 yards, while gaining an additional 603 yards on 85 carries.
Julius Garrett Joliet West
Senior defensive end and linebacker for the Tigers posted 58 tackles, including 17 solo to go along with six sacks. He was named to the all-SPC first team.
Ty Gavin Notre Dame
Sophomore running back led the East Suburban Catholic Conference in scoring. He tallied 901 yards rushing on 166 carries and 13 scores, adding nine catches for 77 yards and score. He also completed one pass on the season, which went for a touchdown.
Thomas Hackett Notre Dame
Senior middle linebacker posted 115 tackles on defense and 12 tackles for loss. Hackett forced five fumbles and recovered three, while breaking up four passes. He was a team captain and team MVP.
Arthur Hart Joliet West
Junior safety tallied 90 tackles. 40 solo, had three interceptions and one sack. He was named to the SPC all-conference first team.
Isaiah Hill Minooka
North Dakota State-bound wide receiver posted 1,850 all-purpose yards on the season, catching 46 passes for 965 yards and 16 scores. He also played defensive back for the Indians.
Luke Hinkamp Maine South
Wide receiver caught 25 passes for 649 yards and 10 scores on the season.
Matt Holbrook Maine South
Wide receiver caught 47 passes for 783 yards and seven touchdowns. He also played defensive back for the Class 8A champion Hawks.
Tyler Hoosman Plainfield North
Tiger back carried the ball 230 times on the season for 1,692 yards and 26 TD. He also posted 201 receiving yards and four scores.
Kevin Jarvis Maine South
Left guard headed to Michigan State. He had 37 pancake blocks and allowed no sacks on the season for the state finalists. He was a two-time CSL South Linemen of the Year and well as two-time All-Conference. Coach Dave Inserra calls him the “best linemen I have coached.”
Jarvis made an impact on defense the last part of the season.
Fotis Kokosioulis Maine South
The talented running back carried the ball 188 times for 1,464 yards, with 21 touchdowns. He also posted 36 catches for 588 yards and four scores.
On special teams, he had eight kick returns for 187 yards.
Alec McEachern Benet
Redwing posted 94 tackles, 34 solo,, on the season. He tallied 14 tackles for loss, including four interceptions along with four interceptions, forced two fumbles and recovered one.
On offense, he carried the ball 65 times for 206 yards with one touchdown.
He added 12 catches for 138 yards and five scores.
Tavares Moore Lockport
Junior running back missed some time during the season, but still ran for 1,284 yards on 220 carries for the Porters. He posted 13 catches out of the backfield for 174 yards with 11 total touchdowns.
Jojo McNair Joliet Central
Played a Jabrill Peppers role for the Steelmen this season. He led team in rushing (44 carries for 407 yards and four touchdowns) and receiving (47 catches, 407 yards, 3TD).
As a defensive back, he tallied 22 tackles and two interceptions, taking one back for a touchdown. Of 15 kickoff returns, McNair tallied 339 yards (22.6 average), including a 100-yards touchdown.
Sean McNulty Maine South
Maybe the single biggest weapon for the Class 8A champions, McNulty is a nationally ranked kicker making 14-of-18 field goals. He pinned Loyola inside the 20 four times punting in the state title game and averaged more than 35 yards per punt on the season with a long of 70 yards.
Brady Miller Plainfield North
Junior quarterback paced the Tigers and led the team to the Class 7A state finals. On the season he completed 151-of-259 passes for 1,998 yards and 21 touchdowns.
He also rushed 39 times for 279 yards and a pair of scores.
Jordan Nettles Romeoville
The Northern Illinois University-bound running back rushed for 1,402 yards and 16 scores on the season, breaking all of the Romeoville records for season and career rushing.
Johnny Pabst Niles West
Quarterback passed for 2,582 yards passing on the season, throwing for 22 touchdowns. On the ground, he carried the ball 127 carries times for 844 yards and eight more scores.
Connor Peplow Plainfield North
Wide receiver tallied a team-best 57 catches for 878 yards and eight touchdowns, including seven grabs for 96 yards and a score in the state title game.
Devin Petersen Benet
Linebacker posted 124 tackles, including 33 solo, 14 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks for the Class 7A semifinalist Redwings.
Jake Portz Plainfield South
Inside linebacker was the Southwest Prairie Conference Defensive Player of the Year with 95.5 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and two sacks.
“He is the unquestioned leader of our team, and quite frankly is the best leader I’ve come across in 15 years of coaching,” said South coach Bill Bicker. “He makes plays from sideline to sideline and also plays fullback for us on offense.”
Mike Pusateri Maine South
Tallied 147 total tackles including 11 tackles for loss to go along with three sacks and one interception.
Will Stoll Plainfield North
Linebacker racked up 100 tackles on the season, including five sacks and nine tackles for loss.
Tyron Taylor Bolingbrook
Raider defensive back tallied 85 tackles, including 10 for loss. He added a pair of interceptions, broke up eight passes forced five fumbles, recovered three and blocked a pair of kicks.