Brian Murphy could be excused if he just handed the ball off to Justin Jackson, stepped back and admired how Glenbard North's sensational junior running back carved up opposing defenses, as he did in Saturday's 29-23 victory over top-ranked Maine South in the quarterfinals of the Class 8A playoff.
Murphy, the Panthers' 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior quarterback, admits he is tempted from time to time to ooh and aah. But he has too many other things to do. Like Jackson, he rarely comes off the field. He loves being a two-year, two-way starter in one of the state's premier programs.
"He is a great leader," coach Ryan Wilkens said. "He led us to the semifinals last year. He does more than hand off to Jackson. He is very quick. He extends plays. His decision-making is very good. We can run the option with him. He is such a great competitor."
Not bad for a kid who has earned a full scholarship to Michigan as a 152-pound wrestler.
"Football is over for me after this year. I've got to make it a good ending," Murphy said. "I love football I don't have it to be playing in Division I. It takes a lot to play in Division I, especially in football. I watch them on TV and they are on a whole different level."
Murphy started playing football with the Carol Stream Panthers youth program. But his father, who wrestled in high school, asked his son if he would like to try out for the sport. "Will I get punched or kicked?" Brian asked.
"Wrestling puts a lot of pressure on yourself. You are the only one on the mat. It is embarrassing when you get pinned (he has been pinned twice in his career)," Murphy said. "You've got to perform. Your teammates look for you to do something big. But they can't help you. You have to do it by yourself.
"In football, you have to work as a group. You have to stay positive. Teamwork is very important. I've been playing with guys for eight years. In football, victory isn't just for yourself. It is a great time when you know people you care about you made happy.
"A pin is the biggest satisfaction you can get in wrestling. It is nice to know you accomplished that goal all by yourself. In football, winning a game is the biggest satisfaction, knowing that you did it together, playing with your teammates and your friends."
On the football field, Murphy was an all-conference selection this year. He has rushed for more than 500 yards and five touchdowns and passed for more than 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns. He was brought up to the varsity as a sophomore to play safety. On defense, he starts at strong safety, Jackson at cornerback.
Against Maine South, Murphy completed 8 of 12 passes for 133 yards and was credited with three sacks. His 11-yard run on a naked bootleg on third-and-10 with 1:30 to play sealed the victory. Jackson rushed 36 times for 212 yards and four touchdowns as Glenbard North handed Maine South only its fourth loss in the last three years.
"It wasn't the biggest win of my career," Wilkens said. "The biggest win was beating Mount Carmel to get to the state championship game in 2007. We didn't want to make too much of it. We went about it like another game. But it was a big win."
The Carol Stream school (11-1) will meet Loyola (11-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Wilmette. It is the Panthers' third trip to the state semifinals in the last four years. Since losing their season opener to Batavia 42-41, they have won 11 games in a row and the DuPage Valley championship.
How good is Jackson?
"I wouldn't trade him for anybody," said Wilkens about his star running back, who has rushed for 2,300 yards and 32 touchdowns. "The big thing is he never comes off the field. He plays every down on defense as a cornerback. And now that we've lost our punter with an injury, he is our punter, too."
Jackson, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder, also is an outstanding student. He has a 5.0 grade-point average on a 5.0 scale in honors classes. Wilkens said colleges are recruiting him as an athlete, a telltale sign that they project him as something other than a running back.
"He wants to be a tailback. But he is a phenomenal defensive back, too. I could see him playing either position in college," Wilkens said. "He seldom practices on offense. He does reaction drills on defense. What amazes me is he wants the ball in his hands and he makes big plays in the fourth quarter."
Murphy sees another side to Jackson. "It is easy to see he is a great athlete and a great football player. But not everybody sees what a great kid and leader he is. I wouldn't want any other running back on our team. I'm amazed at his vision on the field. He knows where everyone is, who is making the blocks. His football smarts make him a great player. Then throw in his athletic ability and you have an outstanding football player," he said.
How good is this team? Better than last year? Better than the state runner-up in 2007?
"I watched the 2007 team but I couldn't make a comparison," Murphy said. "But I think this year's team is more explosive on offense than last year. Both defenses are very good. We don't have any position strength on defense. We all just do our jobs, play with a lot of heart and go to the ball. We never stop on defense. We maybe aren't the most athletic kids but we work the hardest."
In the wake of beating Maine South, is there a danger of being complacent for the Loyola game?
"Maine South is in the past," Murphy said. "If we lost to Loyola, it would be very disappointing. But we won't be complacent. We want to be sure we are focused. We want to go to the state title game. That has been our goal since youth football. At that time, it seemed so far away. But once you are in high school you realize you can do it.
"We want to get over the semifinal hump (Glenbard North was second in 1991, 2000 and 2007). We want to be the first team to win the state title. We believe we can do it."