St. Rita is off to a perfect start in the 2009 season despite playing in the rugged Catholic League. Jahwon Akui is a main reason why St. Rita is highly ranked and undefeated. He's averaged over 100 yards a game this season and has emerged as one of the state's top running backs. That success has brought colleges to scout him.
"Illinois, Iowa, Arizona, MSU, Vanderbilt, Purdue, Indiana, and a couple of small schools have all been in contact and sent me stuff," Akui explains. "I'll probably try to visit a couple of schools in the Big 10 for a couple of games this year. Growing up, I always was a Tennessee, Alabama, or Texas fan."
The Chicago Catholic League Blue is probably the toughest conference in the state of Illinois. With traditional powers Mt. Carmel, Brother Rice and Providence among its member schools, St. Rita's path to a conference title and high state playoff seed is one filled with landmines.
"We kind of expected to go 5-0. Our goal is to win the CCL (Chicago Catholic League) and win state. We try to get better and better game by game, week by week.
"We run a pro-style offense. Sometimes in passing downs we go into shotgun formation. It's 60-40 or 70-30 run to pass ratio depending on the down.
"We lost some seniors, but we had a lot of juniors who saw game time last year even if they didn't start. We didn't lose a player defensively, but offensively only three starters returned from last year. We're really solid on the offensive line and at some of the skill positions."
The St. Rita product feels that playing in such a difficult conference gives them an edge mentally and physically for the state tournament.
"On Saturday, we watch film after our film. Coach gives us a game plan sheet on Monday. We try to get mentally focused and have good days of practice so we feel good on that Friday. We just do whatever we can to prepare ourselves the best that we can because we know it'll be a nail biter every week. Every team can beat any team in the CCL Blue.
"Even if you lose one or two, you're used to being pushed and aren't just being teams by 50 points. You know if you're good in the clutch, and you know what you do best if the games are tight. You know who will crack under pressure and who won't."
The 5'-7", 170 pounder has been a constant on the St. Rita varsity team since last in his freshman year.
"My freshman year, I was brought up to varsity during the playoffs. I scored my first touchdown on a 14 yard run on my first carry. Last year as a sophomore, I really didn't play, but after a 22-0 loss to Loyola, our first of the season, I got the start at running back. Ever since then, I've had at least 100 yards per game."
Success in the running game doesn't happen without effective blocking from the offensive line.
"I think the offensive line is really good. We have three juniors and two seniors. So far this season they've been creating holes, and it's pretty easy to run when your linemen are getting up on the linebackers. They're doing really well right now."
Akui credits his vision and strength for the success he's had on the varsity level.
"I want to get faster and stronger, but I feel really good about how I'm running the ball this year. I'm capable of hitting the holes and getting into the open field. I'm able to make the first couple guys miss and not be taken down by the first guy.
"Even when I was held to 108 yards against Brother Rice, it took 3 or 4 guys to bring me down because I make the first guy miss. I wear down the defenders."
Akui's toughness and strength comes from another sport he's participated in since he was a kid.
"I started wrestling when I was little, maybe 6 or 7. I was always an okay wrestler then, but when I turned 9 or 10 I started becoming really good. And then when I was 11 or 12, I started competing in national tournaments.
"By the time I was about 14, I started competing in the national championship. Last summer, I won the Cadet Free-Style Greco-Roman championships in Fargo, North Dakota. I do get letters from college about wrestling, but I'll be playing football in college.
"I do wrestling from the winter through the summer though this year was the first year I didn't wrestle the whole summer. I wanted to get ready for football because this is a big year for me. I wanted to get prepared and bigger because I lose weight for wrestling."
Fans like the idea of having a big bruising back in college, but sometimes a smaller back is just as good and just as talented. Akui feels like his size isn't a hindrance on the football field.
"I feel like for my position you don't have to be super big. You have to be physically tough. I feel like I can make people miss. Wrestling teaches you that size doesn't really matter, and that's how I look at things."