Mike Ivlow was a starter for Joliet Catholic last season, but a fullback rarely turns heads, especially with USC-bound tailback Ty Isaac and Tyler Reitz getting most of the carries when healthy.
So, Ivlow's blocking was the red carpet on which his teammates trod.
But Ivlow is a senior now, the big man in the backfield, though he's not as big as he once was, having lost 30 pounds as he prepares to take over at running back.
"He lost a little weight, got very strong, got very fast, really dedicated himself in the offseason," coach Dan Sharp said. "You could tell how important this is to him."
Following a strict diet and exercise regimen from strength coach Francis "Rudy" Ruettiger, Ivlow went from almost 230 pounds in November to 197 in April, when he won his age and weight class after squatting 550 pounds, benched 250 and dead-lifted 500 at the Amateur American Powerlifting Federation national championships. He also cut his 40-yard dash time from 4.89 seconds to 4.67.
The transformation likely will not make Ivlow a star recruit — nearby St. Francis is among his top choices — but he's comfortable with his fullback-style outlook.
"We're not all the Division I-type of players here. We're Division II, Division III, Division I-AA running backs on this team," Ivlow said. "We're just all no-names, and we work hard."
He grew up a ballboy and a die-hard fan of Bolingbrook football, where his father, John Ivlow, is the head coach. He played varsity his sophomore year at Minooka, where his mother lives, before seeking a change of pace and transferring to Joliet Catholic.
John Ivlow, who played in the NFL, forbade his sons to play organized football until high school.
"It's the most dangerous sport out there, and at those lower levels you're not sure what you're getting when you sign up," he said. "(Mike) played soccer all of his life growing up. That gave him all the skills he needed."
Joliet Catholic returns six starters on offense and four on defense, most of whom are linemen. A year after an injury-riddled squad plodded its way to a Class 5A state semifinal, Ivlow has his eyes on another postseason run.
This time, he'll be the one with the ball.
Joliet Catholic at a glance
Last season: 8-5, 4-3, 4th in East Suburban Catholic Conference; lost 40-37 to Montini in the Class 5A semifinal.
Playoff history: 36 appearances; 13 state titles.
He's back: J.B. Butler, Sr., 6-4, 260, OL/DL; Jalen Hansel, Sr., 6-3, 270, OL; Mike Ivlow, Sr., 5-9, 201, RB; Ben Hart, Sr., 5-10, 200, FB.
He's gone: Ty Isaac, RB (USC); Tyler Reitz, RB (Siena Heights); Craig Slowik, QB (Buffalo); Matt Madrigal, LB (Millikin); Clayton Smith, LB.
He's new: Nick Morrison, Sr., QB; Nick Pastore, Sr., QB.
Big names: Senior linemen Butler and Hansel might draw some Division I looks.
Big game: 7:30 p.m., Oct. 25 at Benet. The Hilltoppers will try to avenge last season's loss against QB Jack Beneventi in a game that could have league and playoff implications.
Big questions: Will Mike Ivlow and company fill the shoes of Isaac and Reitz? How will new Morrison fare under center?
Breakdown: The Hilltoppers will contend in a tough conference while keeping their signature multi-back attack. Expect the unexpected with a dual-threat quarterback and new faces in the backfield.
Fast fact: Joliet Catholic last had a losing season in 1959.