Ty Isaac's statistics for 2011 were mind-boggling: 2,114 yards rushing, 11.9 yards per carry, 45 touchdowns, 515 yards and six touchdowns on 26 carries in the Class 5A championship game, Player of the Year.
What can the Joliet Catholic senior do for an encore?
"He is the best I've seen," said longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, who ranks Isaac as the best running back and the No. 8 player in the class of 2013.
"He looks like Eric Dickerson. He is the best running back to come out of the Chicago area since Rashard Mendenhall."
"He is the best player I have coached, one of the greatest ever to play in Illinois," said Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp.
"He has size, speed, tremendous footwork and the ability to break sharply, like Marcus Allen and O.J. Simpson. He has an extra gear that you don't expect with someone his size. He was made to be a running back, like Secretariat was made to be a thoroughbred."
After playing second fiddle to Josh Ferguson as a freshman and running in the same backfield with Malin Jones as a sophomore and junior, the 6-foot-2, 217-pounder is prepared to carry on a tradition of great running backs at Joliet Catholic and eager to accept the challenge.
"Finally, this is my team," Isaac said. "I feel I have been around here forever. It is the last opportunity we have to win a state championship. I have put in a lot of work for four years. I am stronger and faster (4.5) than last year at the same time. Now I will find out if it pays off.
"I'm just as versatile but I'm more equipped to carry the load. Mentally and physically, I'm ready to go. I was a glide-type of runner last year. But I was never set up to run in any way. How do I run? I never categorized my style, smooth or glide, as long as it is effective. It doesn't matter what they call it. I'm more confident going into this year. I have never been this excited about a season before."
Isaac insists he isn't concerned about repeating as Player of Year. "It isn't necessarily my goal. If you want to be Player of the Year, you don't have to think about it. My goal is to do what I can to help my team win. As far as Player of the Year, it comes down to who thinks is the best," he said.
This year, the leading candidates almost certainly are Isaac, Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey, Crete-Monee wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell and Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti.
Joliet Catholic, which will open against Providence in a nationally televised game on ESPNU on Aug. 24 in New Lenox, returns plenty of offensive punch with Isaac, quarterback Craig Slowik and wingback Tyler Reitz, who has been moved from fullback to Jones' spot. Tackle J.B. Butler will anchor the line.
Isaac has worked tirelessly during the spring and summer to prepare for his final season...one to two-hour workouts six days a week, no vacation, lifting weights three or four days a week, running, cardio-vascular work, footwork drills, body control, balance.
He didn't dwell too long on last year's 70-45 loss to Montini in the Class 5A championship game. Oh, he admits it took a month to get it out of his mind completely. But he had other things on his mind, like recruiting and making sure the Montini experience doesn't happen again.
"There is nothing I can do about it so I was determined to get ready for next season so it doesn't happen again," he said. "My goal is to do better than last year. I had pretty big numbers last year but I can look at games where I left some things on the table. I can go get them this year. For example, in a few games, I can go back and say I missed out on 50 to 60 more yards or I didn't make a cut or I wasn't focused enough. It will be great to
have better numbers as long as we're winning."
His trip down the recruiting trail ended on May 15 when he chose Southern California over Michigan following his second visit to the Los Angeles campus. He was impressed by USC's history of great running backs and Heisman Trophy winners. But it wasn't the only reason for his decision.
"At spring practice, I saw the way they played with each other, how loose they were. It reminded me of myself. I wanted to play with guys like that," Isaac said. "I got a whole vibe of how they do things.
"Before I went there, I thought it was a flashy place and I wasn't sure how I'd like it. But I felt at home right away, the way they had everything set up, the tradition, how they want to carry it on. It reminded me of Joliet Catholic.
"Sure, the Heisman Trophies are the biggest thing behind the national championships. That is impressive but it isn't necessarily what you are looking for in a college program. I respect what they did. It was awesome that they were the best players at that time. But I couldn't relate to them. I want to put my own trophy there. As long as we win games, personal accolades will take care of themselves."