IN THE SPOTLIGHT
One of Anthony Rodriguez’s youth football coaches was Mr. Petree. Rodriguez, of Niles, played for the Park Ridge Falcons at the time.
“Coach Petree always told me, ‘It takes guts to succeed in this sport,’ ” Rodriguez — aka prep football’s version of A-Rod — recalled last weekend, after the senior middle linebacker helped Loyola Academy defeat Bishop Amat (California) 13-6 in Northfield on Sept. 1.
“In games,” he added, “I’d sometimes look over at him on the sideline and see him grab his stomach. That was his way of reminding me, ‘Time to get tough, time to use your guts.’ ”
Rodriguez displayed his substantial intestinal fortitude in Bishop Amat’s final possession, hustling all over New Trier’s home field as a disruptive force.
First down: Rodriguez sprinted toward LA’s sideline to limit Lancers junior quarterback Blake Archuleta to a three-yard gain.
Second down: Rodriguez lunged forward, about 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, to nearly intercept a pass.
Fourth down: Rodriguez chased Archuleta in the Bishop Amat backfield, forcing an incomplete pass.
At a time when most of the players on the field were either fatigued or banged up, Rodriguez — an outside linebacker for LA’s Class 8A state runner-up squad last fall — appeared as fresh and as ferocious as a starter on a game’s first possession.
“His defense … he’s a rock,” Ramblers senior running back Hamid Bullie (13 carries, 37 yards) said. “Anthony can flat-out play. He’s big and strong, a beast who plays with a lot of heart. His heart will take him a long way, will take us a long way.
“I consider him one of the best linebackers in the state.”
Rodriguez met his coaches’ decision to shift him from outside linebacker to inside linebacker with skepticism. But he eventually bought in, and it didn’t hurt that he had added 23 pounds of muscle to the 6-foot frame he flew around with last fall and used to record 67 tackles (13 for loss), five sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
“There’s a lot more to worry about when you’re playing inside,” Rodriguez admitted. “And you have to use different techniques, shuffle your feet more, know how to shed blockers. But I’m fine with this position, and I know I’ll feel more comfortable with each week. I trust my teammates. Trust — you have to have that no matter where you play.”
Nearly a week after Phillips stunned visiting Loyola Academy with a goal-line stand to preserve a 20-14 victory, LA came through with similar resolve late in the third quarter on the first day of September. Bishop Amat, trailing 13-3, had a first-and-goal from the LA four-yard line, thanks to junior running back Kenneth Collins’ 52-yard run.
The Lancers (0-2) gained one yard, then two yards, then nothing.
On fourth-and goal from the one-yard line, Archuleta kept the snap and met a massive wall of maroon-and-gold gridders.
One Rambler wrapped his hands around the quarterback’s left leg as if it were the end of a tug-of-war rope.
The mitts belonged to Rodriquez, who lived on the West Side of Chicago before moving to Niles.
“Heart,” he said of the pivotal turnover on downs. “We had a lot of that going for us, along with pride.”
Ramblers football coach John Holecek, who played Rodriguez’s current position at the University of Illinois and for eight seasons in the NFL, found himself fielding another round of questions about a goal-line stand at the end of Week 2.
“Two excellent games, two goal-line stands,” he said. “It’s nice to be [the winning coach] after a game with a goal-line stand. For our defense to do that, to hold [Bishop Amat] to six points with the injuries we have — that’s impressive.”
LA (1-1) held the boys from La Puente, California, to two field goals (28 and 24 yards). Ramblers junior defensive back Jake Gonzalez welcomed the Lancers to Illinois with a pair of stops that resulted in negative yardage at the outset: minus-three after a Archuleta-Duru Kobinname connection on the first play from scrimmage, followed by a one-yard loss (with help from Rodriguez) after a completion to senior wideout Noah Guzman. Late in the fourth quarter, Ramblers senior defensive lineman Martin Geary sacked Archuleta four yards behind the line of scrimmage and tackled the scrambling QB two plays later for another loss.
But that goal-line stand was the crucial sequence of the night, the resounding statement.
And the gut-check.
LA’s will was tested four times.
A-Rod and Co. went 4-for-4.
Notable: Ramblers senior quarterback Quinn Boyle completed 21 of 28 passes for 188 yards and paced the victors in rushing with 77 yards on 22 carries in the 13-6 defeat of visiting Bishop Amat last weekend. LA sophomore running back Tyler Flores (8 rushes, 33 yards) opened the scoring with a four-yard touchdown run at 3:00 of the first quarter, and Boyle’s six-yard keeper put LA up 13-3 at 4:57 of the third quarter. … Junior wide receiver Rory Boos paced LA in catches (7) and receiving yards (106). Senior wideout Dillon Grant was next, with all five of his receptions (for 51 yards) coming in the second half. … Loyola Academy hosts Mount Carmel (2-0) on Sept. 9 (1:30 p.m.). LA’s Ramblers topped the Caravan 35-28 last fall at Gately Stadium — also on Sept. 9. … Bishop Amat, 7-4 last fall, did more than just battle LA in a football game last weekend in Northfield. The contingent from California also attended the Notre Dame football game in South Bend on Sept. 2; watched the Braves-Cubs game at Wrigley Field on Sept. 3; and spent time on a boat on Lake Michigan. Now that’s a field trip.