McKinney, Williams Lead Nazareth Academy

It isn't often that two outstanding athletes play for the same high school team, and it is even more uncommon when that school has only 770 students. But Nazareth Academy in LaGrange Park boasts LaSteven McKinney and Mike Williams, and both are listed among the best football players in the Chicago area.

Nazareth Academy is sponsored by the Sisters Of St. Joseph. As a private school, it draws players from several school districts according to football coach and athletic director Tim Racki.

"We draw players from the surrounding suburbs. We don't have kids who take too far a jaunt. We just get kids from the suburbs of LaGrange Park."

The 5A school has seen growth in its football program in recent times.

"When I got here four years ago, we had only won two games in two years. The last two years we're third in the conference, and we're the second smallest team. So it's turning around."

One big reason for that is 5'-10", 170 pound running back/athlete LaSteven McKinney. Racki is thrilled to coach the young man.

"LaSteven McKinney has been on the varsity since he was a sophomore. He garnered an All-State award from the Illinois High School Coaches Association this past year. He's been All-Conference the past two years. Obviously, everybody knows his skill as a running back slash receiver. He's a big-time threat, and as a returner."

Racki uses McKinney as both a punt and kick returner.

"I would say he's equally dangerous both as a punt returner and kickoff returner. He's very skilled at fielding punts. If I had to pick, I'd say he's maybe better at kickoffs because there's not as much hangtime and setting up blocking schemes. It gives him a little more leeway in picking his holes. His return yardage is equally impressive for both."

McKinney made a great impression with his overall athleticism at the Army All-American Combine in San Antonio in January.

"He was electronically timed for the Army bowl at 4.55. That translates to a 4.4 something hand-timed. He loved it down there. He tested great. He had over a 40" vertical jump. It was his chance to see all the competition across the country, and he felt comfortable. He feels very confident going to the next level that when he's done here, he'll be able to succeed."

LaSteven is as exceptional as a person as he is as a football player.

"His parents have done a tremendous job," Racki states. "He's a very modest player, and unselfish. He doesn't really care about the carries, he just wants to help the team win. He's a very humble kid, which makes his teammates want to see him do well. He's a real pleasure to coach too."

McKinney's slight build may preclude him from being an every down running back at the college level. But some college coaches feel he might make a good slot back in a spread offense where he can both run and catch passes. Others believe he might make a good defensive back.

"We didn't use him as much as a defensive back as much last year as his sophomore year. But he's just as good at a defensive back as a running back/receiver. Guys are looking at him as a slot, but a lot of guys are torn because he's so versatile. The guys in the Big 10 are split right now between wanting him for defense or offense."

There have been plenty of coaches making contact with Nazareth Academy recently, including Illinois.

"Just about every Big 10 school has been in touch. Notre Dame's been through. Miami called me. So he's getting a lot of attention across the country. Eastern Michigan just offered him a full scholarship on Friday."

Racki sings the praises of linebacker Mike Williams as well.

"Mike Williams has actually been with us longer than LaSteven. I brought him up to the varsity the last three games his freshman year. He's a game changer defensively. We base our defense around him because of his versatility.

"He plays linebacker first and foremost. We also have put him with his hand down as a rush defensive end in passing situations. We've put him at a nose spot as well because his explosion and his speed to the ball is just incredible.

"He's 5'-11", 220 pounds. Just solid. His strength is incredible as well. His best quality is not only his tackling. He's got incredible explosion in his hips for tackles, and his speed from sideline to sideline is impressive. He runs a legitimate 4.6 40."

Some college coaches are concerned about Mike's lack of height. Racki believes Williams should be given a chance to succeed and points to Mike Singletary and other shorter NFL linebackers as proof of his contention.

"That's the one thing. He is just a pure football player. His stock has gone up. When we were at a Tom Lemming function, Iowa got a chance to eye up Mike. They were really impressed with how he was put together."

McKinney and Williams will not be alone through the recruiting process. Coach Racki will be there to help and support them every step of the way.

"I've been helping them with their recruiting for some time now. I'm in touch with the families constantly. What I'm doing with the mom and dad is trying to alleviate the pressure off the kids so they can enjoy their high school experience. Kind of guide them through their visits, what they need to ask and all that stuff."

Racki has some other players to go with his two stars. He thinks they have a chance to have an excellent year on the field.

"We have a lot of skill coming back. What we're banking on is some linemen who are going to be juniors. That's where the game is won, up front. We're really gonna be counting on some kids that aren't tested to help us with the skill. We're going to have a pretty solid team."

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