JOLIET – In recent years, professional and collegiate football coaches have made it a point to mention the importance of special teams.
In fact, they represent one-third of the game. Everything else being equal, if you lose the special-teams battle, you have a difficult time coming away victorious.
At Joliet Catholic’s National Letter of Intent signing day ceremony Wednesday afternoon at the school, kicker/punter Brian Bravo was among four Hilltoppers who were honored. He signed with Purdue.
Also signing were linebacker Mike Gruben with University of St Francis and free safety Brandon Bolek and running back Nick Borgra with Saint Xavier.
All Bravo did his senior season was make 10 of 11 field goals, including a 53-yarder on the final play of the first half in the season opener against Providence. He made 41 of 43 extra points and put 39 of 59 kickoffs into the end zone.
As a punter, he averaged 37.2 yards on 31 boots and was adept at pinning opponents deep in their territory.
In short, he was everything a coach could want.
“Brian is the best kicker ever at this school and one of the best I have seen anywhere,” JCA coach Dan Sharp said. “When you have a kicker and punter who can pin teams in like he did – and you know that anytime you cross the 50-yard line you can score three points – you have a weapon.”
Bravo said he also had offers from Western Michigan and Drake. However, he wanted to go to the largest school possible, and a Big Ten school is as big as it gets.
“Purdue first got interested in me when I went to their kicking camp over the summer,” Bravo said. “I kept talking with them, they kept their interest up and kept in contact; and when they offered, that’s where I wanted to go.”
Bravo said Purdue has a place-kicker and a punter who will be seniors in the fall. He said he will get a good shot at being the kickoff man as a freshman and will be the likely placekicker and perhaps punter as a sophomore. The Boilermakers are bringing in another freshman punter, so that could become a competition.
“I’ll work on my strength, technique and composure between now and the season,” Bravo said. “My senior year here was one of my best, and I feel good about that.”
“That’s the thing about Brian – he gets better and better,” Sharp said.
Gruben, the East Suburban Catholic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, said he originally considered playing away from home but that attending St. Francis “is easier, cheaper, and it’s where I want to be. It’s a great program, and I think I will fit in there.”
Saints coach Joe Curry was on hand to welcome Gruben aboard. Gruben said he feels he is at the right place physically to be ready to play on the next level immediately.
“Mike is the first ESCC Defensive Player of the Year from our school,” Sharp said. “He is a wrecking ball on the field and reads plays well. He is on the short list of the best linebackers ever at Joliet Catholic.”
Saint Xavier coach Mike Feminis, whose team went 10-3 last fall and reached the NAIA national semifinals, attended the ceremony to welcome his two recruits.
Borgra is looking forward to playing the running back and slot positions in the Cougars’ spread offense, and to rejoining his former JCA teammate, Mike Ivlow, a running back who fared well as a freshman at Saint Xavier.
“I love playing with that kid,” Borgra said. “He works hard and motivates us hard. It’s going to be exciting to play in college with the top players from the Chicago area. I’m excited to work hard and learn the offense.”
Sharp referred to Borgra as a Walter Payton type. “He is a total football player,” he said. “He can run, catch and block, and he does it all well. He’s a leader by example.”
Bolek, Sharp said, is one of the best safeties JCA has had. Unfortunately, he missed the tail end of the regular season and the playoffs with a ruptured spleen, which since has healed.
“Even with the injury, his leadership never ceased,” Sharp said. “He was at every practice, and that shows a lot about his character.”
Bolek is looking forward to bringing that same mentality to Saint Xavier.
“Everybody is friends. It’s like a family there,” he said. “Now it’s up to us to go up there and show them what we’ve got.”