Anyone wondering about the level of commitment at Joliet Catholic this fall is advised to look at Michael Ivlow — and Kevin Jensen’s car.
Jensen is a senior linebacker for the Hilltoppers who recently hosted a party for his teammates. The purpose: to paint Jensen’s car — now known as ‘‘The Hillmobile’’ — brown in accordance with the school’s colors.
It was just another team-building exercise for the Hilltoppers, who are No. 22 in the Sun-Times preseason Super 25.
‘‘Even coach [Dan] Sharp said that this is one of the best team chemistry [atmospheres] he’s been a part of,’’ Ivlow said. ‘‘We go bowling together. We’re eating [together] every day.’’
Ivlow, though, may be going more for the salads these days. After playing fullback at about 225 pounds last season, the 5-9 senior has dropped around 30 pounds in order to better fit his new tailback role.
‘‘Michael was getting recruited as a fullback,’’ senior offensive lineman JB Butler said. ‘‘For the team, he dropped weight and ends up playing running back because that’s what we needed him to play.’’
Ivlow isn’t the only Hilltopper making a sacrifice, Butler noted.
‘‘Zach Rezin is playing tight end and linebacker, so he had to add speed over the summer,’’ Butler said. ‘‘Jensen’s playing middle linebacker, and Ben Hart went from linebacker to fullback.
‘‘So you see it’s all for the team. No one cares where you have to play.’’
Ivlow, who ran for 898 yards (6.3 per carry) and 16 touchdowns last year, may not be a classic tailback in the mold of some recent Hilltoppers such as Josh Ferguson (now at Illinois), Malin Jones (Northwestern) and Ty Isaac (USC).
But he’s part of a group of players who Butler says have pulled together well.
‘‘We have so much talent,’’ Butler said. ‘‘Division I, I-AA, Division II — all of us playing together, working toward one goal. No one really cares about college right now. Everyone’s focused on high school season, which is the way it should be.’’
Ivlow isn’t the only impact player on offense. Butler (6-2, 275) and Jalen Hansel (6-1, 295), both senior guards, are heading into their third season as starters.
‘‘We’ve got a lot of big, athletic kids, which is good,’’ said Butler, a two-star prospect who has five offers from Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) schools. ‘‘We’re not just a bunch of big kids. That’s what [assistant] coach [Dave] Douglas likes.
‘‘He got a treat this year. Usually he has small kids who can run, big kids who can’t. This year he has both, so he’s really happy.’’
Those big linemen should help the Hilltoppers live up to their run-first tradition.
‘‘The game plan is to pound the ball as much as we can,’’ Ivlow said.
Also part of the agenda is to clamp down on the other side of the ball. Joliet Catholic lost 70-45 to Montini in the Class 5A final in 2011 — the highest-scoring title game in Illinois history. And the Hilltoppers allowed 26 points a game last season en route to an 8-5 finish that ended with a 40-37 loss to eventual champ Montini in the 5A semifinals.
‘‘Last year we didn’t have the best year on defense,’’ Butler said. ‘‘Everyone says, ‘Oh, JCA, great offense, horrible defense.’ Back a couple years ago, that was never the case. [Our] defense was the best. That’s what we’re trying to get back to — that old style.’’