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Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe laid it right out there.
"No doubt Brandon Mayes is our MVP," Beebe wrote in an email.
"Brandon is the biggest impact player on both sides of the ball throughout this season, more than any other player I have ever coached. Hands down!!!"
Note the three exclamation marks.
If that's how strongly a former NFL receiver feels about this Northern Illinois-bound senior running back and strong safety who scored on a 16-yard run set up by his own 70-yard kickoff return and followed with a 75-yard interception return for touchdown in a second consecutive Class 3A state championship victory in which he made 11 tackles, that's good enough for us.
Brandon Mayes is the captain of the 2012 Tri-Cities All-Area Football Team.
"Just hands down he was our consummate leader, one of the best captains we've ever had, and we've had some great captains," Beebe said later over the phone.
"He never let our team down. You could see it in the state championship game. He went up and down the sidelines telling people, 'Let's go!' He's every coach's dream. He's what every coach wants as a captain and leader of a football team, no doubt."
First, the statistics. The 5-foot-11, 182-pound senior, who shared the offensive backfield with Joel Bouagnon and often decided between them who would take the next handoff, ran the ball 87 times for 863 yards (9.9 yards per carry) for 7 touchdowns. He caught 30 passes for 451 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Defense, though, is his favorite side of the ball. After starting in the secondary as a sophomore and junior Mayes played a little more like a linebacker this season. He made 123 tackles with team highs of 17.5 tackles for loss and 7 passes defended. His 3 interceptions equaled the number of picks by three other teammates.
Beebe called the 3A title win over Unity Mayes' best game, but he had other huge games.
He ran for 144 yards with an 80-yard touchdown run against St. Edward. He made 8 tackles, 3.5 for loss, against Walther Lutheran. Against St. Francis it was 13 tackles, 2.5 for loss, with a forced fumble. He led the Eagles with 12 tackles against four-time 5A state champion Montini while also catching 10 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown.
After basically a team-wide breather in the playoff-opening win over Raby, Mayes ran for 102 yards in Aurora Christian's second-round 3A playoff game against Immaculate Conception. He ran for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns in the quarterfinals against Winnebago and made 10 tackles with 3 pass knockdowns in the 3A semifinal against Newman Central.
Overall, on defensive coordinator David Beebe's 100-point grading scale Mayes finished at 94.23, highest on the team.
"The bigger the game, the bigger Brandon Mayes was," Don Beebe said.
In a 13-1 championship season in which Aurora Christian lost only to Montini in the last minute, all those numbers added up to an all-conference slot for Mayes in the loaded Suburban Christian Conference Blue Division (he was all-SCC Gold as a junior), and an Illinois High School Football Coaches Association 3A All-State honor.
"I just came out there and tried to play my game and do what I normally do," said Mayes, who before committing to Northern Illinois on June 21 -- he personally announced his intent during a Huskies coaches meeting, whereupon "they all went crazy" -- had corresponded with Northwestern, Indiana, Western Illinois, Western Michigan, Western Michigan, Ball State, North Dakota, South Dakota, Southwest Missouri and Drake.
A religious person -- "I try to make that evident in everything I say and do," he said -- Mayes is perhaps too humble. Aurora Christian special teams coordinator and offensive consultant Bryan Wells illuminates what Mayes' speed and football intelligence meant on the field.
"Brandon carries with him the ability to make explosive plays from anywhere on the field, whether offensively or defensively or special teams," Wells said. "And he had the ability to make plays from receiver, running back, linebacker, safety, multiple positions on offense and defense.
"Really," Wells said, "the only reason he didn't run down the field on kickoff (coverage) and make plays there is it was an opportunity for us to rest him."
As Beebe stated above, Mayes' impact transcended touchdowns and tackles. The strong will, passion to succeed, understanding of the game and work ethic, among the reasons why Beebe started him on varsity as a sophomore, come from being a person comfortable in his own skin. Or in Mayes' case, happy.
"He's a jubilant young man," Wells said.
"The thing about Brandon," said Aurora Christian quarterback Ryan McQuade, "is he is an extremely hard worker and whatever he does he just puts 110 percent into it.
"He is nice to everyone. He doesn't dislike or mistreat anyone. He's an awesome friend and he's my best friend. I love him like a brother. What he did for the team, you can't replace him because he's obviously the best player on the football team and if we lose him we're in trouble."
Mayes started playing football in third grade with the Aurora Superstars, which spun out players to Kaneland, Aurora Central Catholic, West Aurora and Marmion. He transferred to Aurora Christian from the Kaneland school district after seventh grade. He got his leadership base from parents Sharron and Willie Mayes Sr., obviously the son of a baseball fan, his middle name being Maris.
Brandon said his mother taught him to set high expectations, and go out and achieve them. From his father he learned about being "a man of character and integrity."
"I told Brandon some years ago that leadership is not always something that you choose, but sometimes it's who you are and where you're at," said Willie Mayes, a sergeant in the Kane County Sheriff's Office and commander of the Kane County Bomb Squad.
"Him playing this game, the passion he has for working out, spending the extra time going to the House of Speed, doing everything he could to improve his skills, sometimes that puts you in the forefront and you become a leader without really trying to."
Brandon Mayes said his goal as a team captain was to get the Eagles back in Champaign as state champion, but it went deeper than that: "It was more of spiritually to keep encouraging the guys."
Leaders don't pick and choose who they lead. They can't play favorites. Mayes didn't believe team chemistry was that outstanding in his freshman and sophomore years, and chose to reach across class lines to younger players.
This impressed Beebe.
"When you're a star player at a young age you can kind of get into the mode of an 'I got it made-type attitude.' Sometimes you just get lazy, complacent, you can look down on other kids," the coach said. "Brandon's one of those kids that as a senior captain he loves the freshmen as much as anybody else."
Beebe said Mayes would rather joke with underclassmen than make them carry his equipment.
"I believe that leadership is by example," Mayes said. "This program is different than other programs, we all care for each other ... We really don't believe in breaking everyone down."
Altruism does have its limits.
"When it comes to food, it's a different story," Mayes joked. "You have to jump back in line. Most of the time the seniors eat first."
That comes with the territory, team captain or not. But within the space of 10 seconds Don Beebe explained why Mayes was the consummate leader on and off the field.
One example was his 16-yard touchdown run in the 3A title game, when he stretched to the end zone with Unity players hanging all over him.
"That's the will to win and the drive that he has going to get into that end zone no matter what it took, and that's rare for high school kids. He just has that 'it' factor," Beebe said. "He's fun-loving, competitive, easy going, always has a smile on his face. He's just a good-natured kid. I've never seen Brandon Mayes in a bad mood. He loves to practice, loves to train."
Never is a strong word. In this case it seems to apply.
"I enjoyed every week that we got to play," Mayes said. "Every week we got to strap on that helmet and put on that jersey was a special day in my mind."