A reporter interrupted Brandon Mayes after a recent practice session. Aurora Christian's 5-foot-11, 182-pound senior tailbackwideoutfree safety was taking an ice bath...15 to 20 minutes, three gallons of ice, 40 degrees, cool.
"I play both ways and take a lot of beating," Mayes said. "So I take an ice bath after every practice and after every game, either at home in a whirlpool or at school in garbage cans. I do it to stay fresh and on top of my game."
It is hard to top Mayes' game. Coach Don Beebe said he is "arguably the best football player I have coached when you take everything into consideration...leadership, skill, off-season work ethic, two-way player, leading tackler, one of our top guys on offense."
Mayes is one of the leaders on a team that Beebe calls "the best team we have had, talent-wise," better than last year's 13-1 Class 3A champion.
"We've never had this many Division I players, three who are committed and two others who will be. We've never had that before. For a small school, that's a great feat."
Mayes, who is committed to Northern Illinois as a cornerback, has rushed for 760 yards and six touchdowns and caught 27 passes for 452 yards and four touchdowns. On defense, he has made 102 tackles, including 45 solo, 15 tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions. "He plays like a linebacker," Beebe said.
The other Division I recruits are wide receiver Chad Beebe, the coach's son, and tailback Joel Bouganon, who also are committed to Northern Illinois. Almost certain to sign Division I scholarships are 6-foot-4, 260-pound tackleend Josh Kok, who was selected as the Suburban Christian Blue's Lineman of the Year over Michigan-bound Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis, and 6-foot-3, 193-pound wide receiver Cory Windle.
They and their teammates will face a tough test at 2 p.m. Saturday when Aurora Christian (11-1) plays at Sterling Newman (12-0) in a Class 3A semifinal. Sterling Newman is a perennial small-school power. Coach Mike Papoccia, in his 33rd year, won state titles in 1990, 1994, 2004 and 2010 and finished second in 1993 and 1998,
"We play tough competition (Montini, Immaculate Conception, St. Francis, Marmion) so that isn't a factor. But they have as good a defense as we will face," Beebe said. "We have to get their offense off the field. They pound the ball down your throat. We can't turn the ball over. We must start fast and play smart football early and get on a roll."
One statistic concerns Beebe. Last week, in a 49-14 victory over Winnebago, his defense allowed 24 first downs and 320 yards rushing. In the last two games, the defense (which starts six juniors and one sophomore) has given up 600 yards. "And this is the best defense we have had," he said.
"But this team has moxie. They expect to win. That is a big key, a mindset. You have to stay hungry and humble and not get complacent. Everybody talks us up like we're really good but you have to remember that you are never as good as people say you are or as bad as they say you are."
Beebe can say only good things about Mayes. "He is the consummate leader. He is the one kid every coach wishes he had who has a warrior mentality. He hates to lose and loves to compete. He will lead his team to the last down. When he was a freshman, we knew he would be special," the coach said.
Mayes started playing football in the Aurora Superstars' midget division when he was 8 years old. He also participated in basketball, baseball and track. One by one, however, he dropped the other sports to concentrate on football.
"I didn't feel as much passion in the other sports as I felt in football," he said. "I'm one of those guys who likes to compete all the time. I just love the atmosphere of football, the Friday night lights. Homecoming is awesome. You don't find that in any other sport.
"It is a big stress relief for me when I'm playing football. I'm in my own little zone. I love playing both ways. I love to be on the field. Ilove playing defense. God has given me this platform to play football and I want to use it to honor Him."
When Richard McNutt was recruiting Mayes as a cornerback for Northern Illinois, he didn't have to be reminded that cornerback is one of the toughest positions (the others are quarterback and left offensive tackle) for college and NFL coaches to fill.
"I like covering bigger guys," Mayes said. "Sometimes you find yourself out there all alone. It's your own piece of real estate, a big challenge. If it was my choice, I'd play cornerback."
Aurora Christian's 2012 team has been on a mission since last November. On the Monday after winning the state title, Mayes and other underclassmen reported to the weight room ready to lift.
"It was a testament to how hard we work together," Mayes said. "We never think about losing. We believe firmly in our team. We know Sterling Newman is a great team but we never go into a game thinking we will lose.
"It would be devastating to lose. When you work hard for something and it doesn't pan out, it is devastating. This team has two common goals that our other teams have had--to honor God and have a winning attitude.
"We don't measure ourselves on defense on how many points we give up but if everyone did their job and played to their full potential. Last year's seniors instilled a good work ethic in us. It goes from the sophomores to the juniors to the seniors. It keeps the program going. That's what great programs do."