Talk about a one-sided rivalry.
St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, Ill. has been playing Joliet Catholic Academy in football for over 30 years, and not once in all those years has St. Viator come out victorious. When the two East Suburban Catholic Conference foes clash again Friday night in Joliet, conventional wisdom and history would both say Joliet Catholic (6-0)-- one of the nation's premier high school programs, currently ranked No. 4 among USA Today's national Super 25-- should prevail again.
But as Lee Corso might phrase it-- not so fast, my friend.
The St. Viator Lions (6-0), led by Vanderbilt-bound quarterback Jared Funk, are also undefeated. Under the multiple offense of Coach Chris Kirkpatrick, the Lions are putting up astounding offensive numbers. A year after their best season under Kirkpatrick, St. Viator feels this could be its best shot ever at knocking off mighty JCA.
In Friday night's scuffle between unbeatens, something has to give.
"If we could win, it would be the biggest game in the school's history," said Kirkpatrick, downplaying his team's chances. "We're right where we like to be. We have nothing to lose, and that's a great situation to be in. We can just come in with no pressure and just go out and play."
Much of St. Viator's hope rests on the arm and legs of Funk, who has sparked the team's offensive fireworks and put up stellar numbers himself. Before he hangs up his cleats and heads for Nashville, Funk hopes to get Viator back into the IHSA state playoffs one last time. In addition to making history, a win over the Hilltoppers from Joliet would virtually assure a conference title and a playoff berth.
Through six games, the Lions are outscoring the opposition by an average score of 38-14; only last week's game against Nazareth Academy was close (35-27). Funk, meanwhile, is averaging nearly 214 yards of total offense per game (163 passing, 51 rushing) and is completing his passes at a phenomenal 72 percent rate. A third-year starter, Funk is in a position to rewrite several of the school records set by Brett Basanez, currently the starter at Northwestern.
Thus far, says Kirkpatrick, he could hardly have asked for anything more performance-wise from Funk. He was delighted to provide a scouting report on Funk for curious Vanderbilt fans.
Funk's arm is major-league, assured Kirkpatrick, and Vandy fans should have no doubts about the senior quarterback's ability to stretch the field with the long ball.
"I don't think there's a throw that Jared can't make," said the coach. "He has good touch. He throws the slants about as hard and fast as anyone I've seen.
"But the other thing he has-- which is something that every quarterback I've seen who's any good has-- is his sense of confidence. I wouldn't call it cockiness, but confidence. He is not afraid to try to put the ball anywhere. Nothing fazes him."
If that sounds a lot like current Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler, there's a reason: the Commodore coaches' ideal prototype for a signal-caller is Cutler. Funk, who like Cutler is from the Midwest, is cut from very much the same cloth.
And Kirkpatrick's multiple-set offense bears at least some resemblance to Ted Cain's offense at Vanderbilt. "We run a lot of option out of the shotgun," Kirkpatrick says. "We'll line up in a one-back with four receivers, then we'll line up in a regular pro, full-I. Some of our stuff is traditional I stuff, and some of it is like what Utah ran and Florida is running now. We'll even go with three backs in the backfield sometimes."
Coach Kirkpatrick said the thing that has separated St. Viator's offense from the pack this year is Funk's ability to read defenses and make decisions at the line of scrimmage-- a commodity that comes into play even more at the college level.
"He's a three-year starter for us, and he's very smart," Kirkpatrick says. "We go into the huddle and give him what we call a 'check-with-me' play. We'll give him a base play, and he'll decide which way to run it based on the defensive front. He understands the game, and he's a really smart kid. We've really put a lot of the offense on him."
After making an unofficial visit to Vanderbilt in August, Funk was ready to jump on an early offer from the Commodores. (Had he waited longer, it's almost a sure thing that more offers would have come pouring in.) Besides Bobby Johnson's football program, it was the academic side that served as a powerful attraction for the versatile Funk, Kirkpatrick said.
"He's a very good student, and he realized that academically they [Vanderbilt] would be a very good fit for him. Football-wise they play in what I think is the best conference in the nation, and he knew he would have a chance to play against some pretty good teams."
On Friday night, Funk gets a chance to see how he stacks up against the No. 4-ranked high school team in the nation.
Jared Funk's passing statistics through 6 games:
Jared Funk's rushing statistics through 6 games:
To see junior film of Jared Funk, access his profile by clicking here.