Ask any Division I college football coach and he'll tell you that talent doesn't grow on trees.
For some reason, however, talent does seem to grow on the football field at Riverside-Brookfield High School.
The Bulldogs are churning out their fair share of Div. I talent, including Tim Brasic, the starting quarterback for Illinois, as well as a receiving trio that chose to go to Northern Illinois.
Playing in RB coach Otto Zeman's five-wide offense certainly helped players at skill positions hone their craft, but racking up big numbers also helped those players stand out.
"I think it helps them because we've been fortunate the last few years to get a lot of press for what we're doing here," Zeman said. "I think that publicity has helped some of our players get noticed as far as recruiting."
Brasic learning tough lessons
Illinois is at the beginning of a new era of football.After yet another disappointing season a year ago, head coach Ron Turner was replaced with former Florida head coach Ron Zook. Charged with the task of rebuilding the Illini's sagging football fortunes, Zook chose to make Brasic his starting quarterback.
The early returns were good for Brasic, who threw for 4,639 yards and 58 touchdowns as a senior at RB in 2001. He threw for 233 yards and rushed for 110 more as Illinois won its opener against Rutgers. The junior passer followed that up with a 199-yard effort in a
40-19 win against San Jose State.
Brasic and the Illini have struggled ever since, however. Illinois has now lost six straight games with the low point being a 63-10 homecoming loss to Penn State.
"It's another game," said Brasic after completing 8-of-16 passes for 49 yards against the Nittany Lions before being pulled in favor of backup Chris Pazan.
"You have to put it behind you. A loss is a loss anyway you cut it. We just have to come back and get ready for [the next game]."
"We aren't hitting on all cylinders," Zook said after the loss to Penn State. "Whether it is confidence with Tim, I don't think it's confidence. Tim is a confident person. He just doesn't have enough experience to get himself out of the tailspin he got into today. He has before, but that was a pretty good football team."
Brasic should continue to get opportunities to help lift the Illini's sagging fortunes. Following the loss to Penn State the former Bulldog had completed 140 of 222 pass attempts (63 percent) and had as many touchdown throws (seven) as interceptions (seven).
Just as important as his passing has been Brasic's ability to run. He's currently Illinois' second-leading rusher with 242 yards and could be well on his way to setting single-season and career rushing records for an Illini quarterback.
"(Zeman) taught me a lot of mental things about football," said Brasic before the season. "Like don't get your head down because there's always another play. A lot of people, when things are going good, look like All-Americans. But then things go bad and they're in the tank. He taught me that you come back from that."
NIU another hot landing spot
A trio of former Bulldogs has made its way out west to DeKalb.
Shatone Powers is the RB receiver who set an IHSA record for receptions in a season with 117 his senior year in 2001. He and Brasic were senior teammates that year.
Powers, also a member of NIU's basketball team, was a hit from the start, catching a 7-yard touchdown pass against Ball State on Oct. 5, 2002, for his first-ever college reception. He has since emerged as part of the Huskies potent passing attack. Powers is the team's second-leading receiver this year with 30 catches for 393 yards. That total trails only Sam Hurd (39 catches for 596 yards).
"Shatone is just like Sam Hurd," NIU coach Joe Novak said. "Both have tremendous potential. Both can make the big play for us."
Brothers Brandon and Britt Davis have also been huge in the Huskies' passing game. Brandon, a sophomore tight end and 2003 RB grad, caught 30 passes for 504 yards and six touchdowns in his senior season with the Bulldogs. This year for NIU, two of his three receptions have been for touchdowns.
However, brother Britt could emerge as the biggest star of the trio. Considered the Huskies' "quarterback of the future" and nicknamed "Baby Vick" by his teammates, the younger Davis has been logging time at wide receiver this season.
Davis is currently NIU's third-leading receiver with 21 catches for 256 yards. He also has two touchdowns.
What was perhaps the highlight of this season for the Davis family came Oct. 22, when both brothers caught touchdown passes in a 34-3 win against Kent State. Brandon caught a 6-yard pass to open the scoring, while Britt snagged a 34-yarder early in the third quarter to score the last Huskies touchdown of the afternoon.
And of course, watching former RB players succeed has been fun for the Bulldog faithful.
"I think it's great for those schools and for their fans," Zeman said. "I also think it's kind of fun having players from RB out there and having people talk about them. It's just good for us."