Neuqua Valley’s Mikey Dudek dazzling friend and foe alike

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The Dudek abides for his blocks.

And then he takes off.

Neuqua Valley’s Mikey Dudek has become one of the most exciting football players in the state, and a lot of the thrills come from his knack for returning kickoffs.

He was at it once again last Friday at North Central College, returning the second-half kickoff 77 yards for a touchdown and pacing the Wildcats to a 40-25 win over Waubonsie Valley.

“He’s got great vision and can plant and cut on a dime,” Waubonsie Valley coach Paul Murphy said. “He has a special ability to find the seam and get himself in position to return kicks for touchdowns. From what I’ve seen, he’s the Player of the Year of our conference.”

In a 54-28 win over St. Charles East, Dudek victimized the Saints with more than 200 yards on kickoffs and four touchdown catches.

“He’s a heck of a player and I can see why he’s going to [the University of] Illinois,” Saints coach Mark Fields said. “We had opportunities to wrap him up, but give credit to the young man, we just couldn’t bring him down.”

The 5-11 senior hopes to continue returning kicks and catching passes in college.

“I’ve already talked to my coaches at U of I and they told me I’ll have some opportunities on kicks so I’m real excited about that,” Dudek said. “It’ll be another challenge because the older you get, the more difficult it becomes.”

Not all wide receivers are capable of being excellent return men like Dudek. While all generally have the necessary speed, not many possess the innate ability to sense defenders, follow blocks and make quick decisions before turning it on in the open field.

Dudek attributes his growth as a return man to special teams coordinator, J.R. Niklos, a former NFL player.

“He taught me about not running straight, which I had been doing my whole life,” Dudek said. “He always tells me to imagine what you’re going to do and I try to go that way. If something fails, I trust my teammates will make plays for me.”

Dudek is averaging 36 yards per kickoff this fall, closing in on 1,000 career kickoff yards, has four career kickoff touchdowns and a punt return touchdown to boot.

“When I see the end zone and don’t see anyone in my peripheral or in front of me, I run my hardest,” he said. “We finish everything we do. I run my hardest until I get into the end zone.”

Weight training has made Dudek much stronger. Combined with his sub-4.4 time in the 40 and 39-inch vertical, it’s understandable why he’s such a threat.

“I’m far more stronger and more confident with blocking now,” he said. “I’m just as big as the corners and some of the linebackers so when I catch the ball I also use my power.”

Facing winless West Chicago this Friday, Dudek likely won’t be needed after the first half. He’s just one reception and touchdown away from equaling last year’s output as a wide receiver.

Last fall, Dudek had 42 catches for 894 yards, including 13 touchdown receptions, despite never being 100 percent healthy. This season he’s already at 41 catches for 856 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“He’s a great player and one of those special kids that makes everyone else better,” Wildcats coach Bill Ellinghaus said. “He’s having a heck of a lot of fun this year.”

Last year it was Joey Rhattigan, better known as “Train,” that led the Wildcats deep into the Class 8A playoffs. Now it’s The Dudek’s turn.

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