The first time he touched the ball this season, Mike Ivlow ran 80 yards for a touchdown against Providence.
“We knew we had something special right there,” Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp said.
The last time he touched the ball, Ivlow finished off a 244-yard game against Montini, which Sharp calls one of the state’s best defenses.
In between, the senior wingback built one of the best rushing seasons in Joliet Catholic history. He finished with 2,603 yards in 270 attempts, 9.6 per carry, a school-record 216.9 per game and 32 touchdowns.
Ty Isaac rushed for 2,629 yards in 2011 and James Randle for 2,624 in 1996, both in 14-game seasons. The Hilltoppers finished 10-2 this season after falling to Montini 22-21 in the quarterfinals.
The 5-foot-10, 192-pound Ivlow, the Offensive Player of the Year on the Herald-News All-Area Football Team, weighed about 230 as a junior, his first season at Joliet Catholic after transferring from Minooka. He was the fullback then, with Isaac and Tyler Reitz the wingbacks.
Francis Ruettiger, the Hilltoppers’ strength coach and longtime Ivlow family friend, gets credit for the transformation.
“Rudy, I love the guy to death,” Ivlow said. “He is the one who put me on a diet. After we lost to Montini (in the 2012 semifinals) he told me, ‘This is your team now. You have to take it over.’ He helps all the kids with their problems. He is an extraordinary person with a special heart.”
Ivlow put in the time at Rudy’s Gym. He ran countless 100-yard sprints in full pads. He improved his diet and increased his strength, stamina and speed.
The intent was not to achieve personal glory, however. That’s not what the son of Kristin Bryant and Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow is about.
“Mike is an ideal teammate,” Sharp said. “He was always there to pick up a guy having a bad day, and he always was helping other guys improve. He was so positive with the young guys in our line (when it was devastated by injuries). His leadership is tremendous.”
Ivlow is committed to St. Francis but said he is still open.
“I’m letting it go and see what happens,” he said. “If a I-AA school comes calling, I’d probably take that.”
Regardless of where he continues his career, Ivlow said, “JCA football will hold a place in my heart forever. I met some of my best friends here. I couldn’t change one thing about my experience.”
Likewise, his feelings for Minooka.
“I love playing indoor soccer with my Minooka buddies at the Bo Jackson Dome,” he said. “Minooka always will have a place in my heart, too. (Former Indians quarterback) Shane Briscoe is my best friend there.”
Ivlow’s grandfather, Dave Ivlow, was a longtime Plainfield coach. Dad, of course, is coaching Bolingbrook and Mike’s uncle is former Andrew coach Jim Zimmer. Ivlow said he would like to be a special education teacher and high school coach some day, and eventually a college coordinator.
“I’d also love to be a motivational speaker or sports broadcaster,” he said.
His accomplishments this season indicate he can achieve virtually anything he desires.