Walking through the halls of Nazareth, you might miss defensive back Julian Love, who stands a modest 5-11, 180 pounds.
“When he’s in street clothes he just looks like a normal student,” Nazareth Academy coach Tim Racki said. “He doesn’t walk around with his chest puffed out. But when he puts on the football uniform he turns into a superhero. It’s like Clark Kent taking off the glasses and becoming superman.”
Racki is only halfway joking — Love is a true triple-threat and that’s why he’s the 2015 Sun-Times Player of the Year.
“It’s rare to have a player and talent that has an impact on the game, I’m talking a win or a loss type of impact, defensively, offensively and on special teams,” Racki said.
Love, a Notre Dame recruit, is averaging 34 yards on kick returns, has recorded 86 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and tallied three forced fumbles. Plus, the two-time defending East Suburban Catholic Conference MVP rushed for 1,017 yards and added 655 receiving yards, averaging 25 yards a catch.
“The first couple years at Nazareth I wasn’t even determined to pay college football,” Love said. “I didn’t know that it was a possibility at all. Then my junior year, I focused on having fun. And that’s kind of when everything turned around for me.”
Early season losses to Marian Central Catholic and Joliet Catholic forced the Roadrunners to lean on their seniors to establish a new identity.
“I wasn’t sure what our identity was but after (the losses) I could tell that we grew up,” Love said. “It’s a special team, I am so happy that we have a great opportunity to go after a state title again.”
“This team is laid back and loose, and just like Julian, likes to have fun,” Racki said. “It’s a ‘let’s have fun and play football mentality.’ That’s why I love this team, usually the team takes on the personality of the coach, but this year is the opposite.”
Even for the area’s best players, football isn’t easy. As a junior against the Hilltoppers, Love realized some emotions he had never felt before when his grandmother, Margaret, suddenly passed away.
“Before the game I was back on kick return and I didn’t know if I wanted to play,” Love said. “The whole game I was short of breath and it was hard, we clinched the conference with that win. I am grateful to Coach Racki and the rest of the staff because that was something that I didn’t think I could handle on my own.”
“Because of the type of kid he is I gave him the option not to play,” Racki said. “I look back at the whole football thing and football helps you become a better man, it’s not all about the sport. It was for him a defining moment, and he ended up having an incredible game.”
Love’s final game as a Roadrunner is Saturday at 10 a.m. against Lincoln Way-West in the Class 5A state championship game.
“I see our team as the Rocky Balboa type team, we will get hit and might get knocked down but will get up,” Love said. “We will for sure finish the fight. I love that. I have never experienced adversity like these past couple years and the losses this year. Our team will never give up, I am proud to be a captain.”
If you ask anyone in the Roadrunners program, that’s Love: a captain, a well-rounded normal high school senior, and not-so-undercover superhero.