Mayes is Aurora Christian's all-around star


Mayes is Aurora Christian's all-around star

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."

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Not all losses are created equal.

When Lincoln-Way East suffered a 35-30 defeat in Week 3 to Homewood-Flossmoor, the Griffins took positives away from the loss. They had held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, battled back from adversity in the second half and had a chance to win the game in the final minute. Even that loss in retrospect appeared acceptable – if there ever was an acceptable loss – as the Vikings are currently 8-0 and in their other seven wins have outscored their opponents by an average of 38 points.

By Week 3 the Griffins were still acclimating to the unique situation of playing at game speed with a host of Lincoln-Way North students who had transferred in the offseason. They had a defense made up almost entirely of first-year starters, and the offense was still rotating quarterbacks Jake Arthur and Max Shafer to figure out how to maximize their talent. By many standards the Griffins went toe-to-toe for 48 minutes with a team also considered to be a favorite for a state title.

The same couldn’t be said for the Griffins’ effort last Friday night in Bradley.

An esteemed program with a 2005 state title and 16 consecutive playoff appearances to their resume, it isn’t often the Griffins are embarrassed on Friday night. But those were the words head coach Rob Zvonar used in his postgame speech to the team following their 38-21 loss to the undefeated Boilermakers.

“We chose to play the game,” Zvonar began. “Which means you play it to the greatest of your ability and you honor each other, God, everybody by your play. And we didn’t do that tonight.”

There were plenty of reasons the Griffins suffered their second loss of the season. That is came in such blowout fashion was the bigger surprise. The Boilermakers found the end zone on their first two possessions, rallying behind a raucous home crowd hoping to see their team go 8-0 for the first time in school history.

The Griffins defense, which had allowed 27 points the previous three weeks combined, were on their heels as the Boilermakers used misdirection and a few trick plays to set up the short touchdown runs.

The Griffins offense moved down the field on their fourth possession, moving inside the Boilermakers red zone looking to get on the board. But Iowa commit Camron Harrell stepped in front of a Griffins screen pass on 4th down and returned it 89 yards for a score. On the final play of the first quarter, with the Griffins moving again, Damien Williams read a route and picked off Jake Arthur, returning it 53 yards for a score to give the Boilermakers a shocking 28-0 lead after 12 minutes.

After a spirited halftime speech from Zvonar, the Griffins came out firing in the second half, scoring on a touchdown run from Nigel Muhammad and a Jeremy Nelson 27-yard reception from Arthur. But the Boilermakers weathered the storm each time Lincoln-Way East attempted a comeback. The Griffins only got as close as 14 points late in the fourth quarter.

“I think we came into this game not ready,” said Muhammad, who finished with 164 yards on 24 carries. “But we’re all a team and we all accept this loss together.”

Added senior Jack Carroll, who finished with a team-high nine tackles: “We have this sick feeling in our stomach right now but the best thing is (next) Friday we can come back and get it out of our stomach. If we lose again in the playoffs then we’ll have that sick feeling in our stomach for the rest of our lives.”

That’s now the reality for the Griffins, and a silver lining if there ever could be one for such a blowout loss. With the playoffs a mere week away – the Griffins defeated Lockport on Friday to finish the regular season 7-2 – the feeling each of them felt getting on the bus back to Frankfort will linger with them and act as a reminder of how quickly things can slip away.

“We’re trying to put this behind us,” said Max Shafer. “We’re going to try to get hot and make a run in the playoffs.”

In a loaded 8A class, the Griffins’ two regular-season losses have already knocked them down in the seeding process. While any loss before Week 9 means little in the long run – the Griffins locked up a playoff berth weeks ago – it also means a more difficult road to Champaign. But that’s the reality for Zvonar’s group, and whether it’s a defense playing faster or an offense avoiding costly mistakes, the Griffins are running out of time to right the ship.

But Zvonar believes such a loss as the team suffered last Friday night can act as the catalyst to doing just that. The Griffins have established themselves as one of the state’s premier programs, and that means not riding the highs too high, and not breaking apart when the lows come. Last Friday night was as low as Zvonar had seen any of his 16 teams, but the silver lining occurred in that his squad now knows what it has to do to avoid it when it’s win or go home.

“What we also think is that the program is built on a solid foundation, so when you take a little hit like that you battle back and you go back to what you believe in and what you know can be successful. And that’s fundamentals and keeping things simple, and the kids have bounced back and they’re not acceptable to them what occurred to them, so very proud of their effort and the way they’re working.

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