A year ago, JoJo McNair, DeAngelo Johnson and Ryan King made history along with their Joliet Central teammates by winning their school’s first two games since the Joliet Township schools split back into two football programs.
While that was an exciting way to close out their three-year varsity careers as Steelmen, the trio is on the verge of making more history in their first season playing college football.
McNair, Johnson and King are freshmen on the Wartburg College football team in Waverly, Iowa, which already has enjoyed a successful season and is looking for more.
At noon Saturday in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the 15th-ranked Knights (12-0) will face the third-ranked University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (11-0) in an NCAA Division III quarterfinal game.
While UW-Oshkosh played for the national title a year ago, Wartburg is hoping to set a new standard on Saturday. The Knights have never advanced to the semifinals and their 12 wins ties the program record, which was set in 2014 when they last reached the quarterfinals.
Not surprisingly, over 170 players who will take part in the game are from either Iowa or Wisconsin. But there also are nearly 30 players on the teams’ rosters from Illinois, including four others from the area, with three of those being graduates of Plainfield South.
South grads Mitch Ganassin and Tyler Jensen are on the UW-Oshkosh squad, as is Minooka graduate Matt Brozovich, and all three of those players are also freshmen. Another South graduate on Wartburg’s roster is freshman Nick Deppe.
Despite the fact that all of the local players are just freshmen, four of them have seen at least some action this season, including one who earned all-conference honors.
McNair has a team-high six interceptions for an average of 22.3 yards. He ranks third on his team with 76 tackles and leads with 51 solo stops. In addition, he has returned 22 kickoffs for an average of 24.7 yards to help him rank third on the Knights in all-purpose yards with 677.
For his efforts, McNair was a first-team defensive selection as a defensive back for the All-Iowa Conference and was an honorable mention pick as a return specialist. No other freshman was picked as either first- or second-team all-conference.
He also was a winner of the league’s defensive players of the week award after a huge game against Washington University where he had 14 tackles and an 80-yard pick six. Also for Wartburg, linebacker Johnson has been in three games and has two tackles.
For UW-Oshkosh, linebacker Jensen has played in all 11 games and been in on 12 tackles, while defensive back Ganassin has been in eight games and has eight tackles.
Wartburg won its playoff opener, 35-34, in overtime against Franklin before rolling to a 49-7 victory over Trine last week. Meanwhile, UW-Oshkosh rolled past Lakeland, 63-0, before capturing a 42-21 victory over North Central to set up the quarterfinal matchup.