By Mark Maxwell
The Neuqua Valley backfield is in good hands. Wildcat running back Nolan Dean has been named the Allstate Athlete of the Week.
Dean, a junior at Neuqua Valley, carried the ball for 251 yards and three touchdowns against Metea Valley last week — and that was in the first half alone. Much more than your typical shifty running back, Dean also doubles as a hard-nosed defender, the only player to start on both sides of the ball for the Wildcats. His versatility and burst of speed carried his team to a 65-28 drubbing of Metea Valley, earning him a rest during the second half of the game. Even after the highlight-reel performance, Dean was shocked to win the award.
“I didn't even know anything about the Allstate award. It's great to know that I won it,” Dean said. “It's very surprising. It's just all around a good feeling that I won it. It was pretty much my O-line. They did their job, and they had a good day. It showed with the yards and everything. On a good game, I can run it. But my O-line, they navigate it, and they really played physical this week. They really went straight to the defender instead of taking shots.”
Wildcats coach Bill Ellinghaus credits Dean’s work ethic as the primary catalyst for his offensive production. As any coach would, Ellinghaus loves the positive influence Dean’s maximum effort has had on the rest of the team.
“His God-given ability to run the football is awesome. He sees the field very well,” Ellinghaus said. “He makes great cuts. He's fast. He does all those things well. But his work ethic, he is very good at practice. He's also starting on defense for us. Right now, he's our only two-way guy. The fact that he's able to run for 251 yards and play defense I think really speaks volumes to how athletic he really is.”
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The 5-1 Wildcats suffered their only loss early in the season to Naperville Central (5-1). All week long, the Wildcats prepared for a rivalry matchup against Waubonsie Valley (5-1). Last year’s matchup was not only the determining game for the conference championship, it also saw nearly 10,000 fans in attendance. The tickets were all sold out at North Central College where this year’s game was played. In such a heated rivalry, it wouldn’t matter if one team was 9-0 and the other was 0-9, it would still be a battle.
“You can throw the records right out the window,” Ellinghaus said. “This has been going on for 16 years, since we opened up. It's always been a rival game. It's not a hatred rival game. It's a good rival game. The kids like each other. They hang out together sometimes on the weekends and stuff like that. They work hard to get bragging rights. That's what it's really about with these guys. It just so happens this year, it could be for our conference championship as well. It's been fun. It's been a good rivalry. Our school really rallies behind us for this game with a nice pep assembly and everybody really backs us. It's been really neat.”