Kurt Belisle and Mark Henderson embody what the 1993 Tribune All-State Defensive Team is all about.
Belisle is the 6-foot-3-inch, 225-pound middle man of Bishop McNamara's rugged defense and a familiar name to college scouts and recruiters. Before he made a single tackle this season, Belisle was already being projected as one of the five best players in Illinois.
He lived up to his reputation, averaging 15 tackles a game while doubling as a blocking fullback. As further evidence of his prowess, Belisle is being recruited by Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan and Illinois.
But just who is Mark Henderson? He's a 6-0, 190-pound linebacker from tiny Pittsfield who etched his name into the record books with 137 solo tackles this season, second-highest in Illinois High School Association history to the 169 by Edwardsville's Joe Leitner in 1967.
And yet, the linebacking was so good in Illinois this season that Henderson was relegated to second-team All-State status. The same for Oak Park's Chris Gall, who was a first-team choice last year. Two other outstanding linebackers, Evanston's Cecil Martin and Shepard's Jim Dallio ended up on the second team.
That's because Belisle was surrounded on the first team by Famous Hulbert of Proviso West, Conrad Gacki of Naperville North and Tom Marks of De La Salle.
The 6-2, 218-pound Hulbert had 110 tackles and was described as "the most feared defensive player in the West Suburban Conference" by Proviso West coach John Wilson. Famous has already arranged recruiting visits to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Illinois, Northwestern and USC.
Gacki was the heart of one of Chicagoland's top defenses at Naperville North with 78 tackles, 15 for losses, and one interception. He doubled as the star running back for the 1992 Class 6A champion Huskies, rushing for 673 yards and 16 touchdowns-averaging 7.6 yards a carry.
Marks is a two-time all-Catholic League choice after helping De La Salle's defense evolve into the state's best. His presence on seemingly every play helped the Meteor defense prevent Bolingbrook All-Staters Greg Williams and Corey Day from scoring a touchdown in De La Salle's 12-6 Class 5A semifinal loss.
Even two of the All-State defensive linemen are linebackers as much as anything. Naperville North's Sean Shearer was a dominant linebacker last year and played a combination defensive end/linebacker this year after growing to 6-4, 215. His 4.58-second speed over 40 yards helped him catch running backs from behind and record five sacks and 13 quarterback hurries.
Morris' Mike Darlington also converted from linebacker to defensive end, and the 6-5, 220-pound athlete had 83 tackles and a school-record 14 sacks. Doubling as the Redskin quarterback, Darlington completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,447 yards and 14 touchdowns. Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Colorado are in hot pursuit.
Along the defensive front are Mt. Carmel's Ola Ali and Bolingbrook's Kenny Augustus, who keyed Bolingbrook's unheralded defense with 15 sacks and 18 tackles for losses.
The All-State secondary features three multitalented athletes. Thornridge's Eric Thigpen played safety, wide receiver, running back, quarterback and kick returner in leading the Falcons to the playoffs. He also quarterbacked the Falcons to an upset of highly ranked Shepard in the playoff opener.
Chris Allen did it all for St. Charles. He made 88 solo tackles and intercepted eight passes. He also tipped five passes and returned three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns.
Downers Grove's Mike McGrath is one of the team's leading tacklers and a dangerous threat returning kicks and punts.