Standing 6-feet, 4 inches, weighing 215 pounds and equipped with a strong, accurate arm, Jacobs senior quarterback Bret Mooney passes the eye test.
In the coming weeks he and his Golden Eagle teammates hope to pass his football program's biggest test in decades: winning the school's first league title since 1979.
Driven to improve upon a 5-5 finish in 2012, Mooney and his teammates jumped back into the weight room within a week of their Class 7A first-round playoff loss at Rockford Boylan last October. It was just the start of what proved to be an intensive off-season regimen for a player who, as a junior, led the area with 2,086 passing yards and threw 17 touchdowns.
Mooney was limited last season to 53 yards rushing (including sack yardage) and 3 touchdowns on 36 carries. To improve his speed and mobility the West Dundee resident went out for track last spring and competed in sprint relays, a sport also coached by football coach Bill Mitz. That experience, combined with years of speed training sessions with a personal trainer, helped Mooney lower his 40-yard dash time to "the low 4.7's, high 4.6's," he said.
The improvement is obvious. Mooney has already rushed 42 times for 283 yards. He surpassed last year's rushing total in the season opener against Barrington by racing 55 yards for a touchdown.
"(Mooney) is a heck of a football player," Barrington coach Joe Sanchez said after his team pulled out a 22-15 win. "We thought we had him contained and he made something out of nothing."
"And it's not always scrambling," Mitz said of Mooney's rushing total. "It could be a quarterback draw or different things we're doing out of the spread. Jeez, he's a 6-4, 215-pound kid running with the football. He's not easy to bring down."
Over the summer Mooney attended Jacobs summer practices from 7:30-11 a.m. If the team didn't lift weights during practice, he lifted on his own afterward, including lots of squats.
Following a few hours of down time, it was off to work with a personal quarterback coach in either Rosemont or Lockport, depending on the day. He normally returned home round 9 p.m., following a two-hour workout.
"It wasn't that bad. I still had the weekends to myself," Mooney said. "But I definitely did what I could to get better."
Through 4 games the extra work is paying off in two ways, according to Mooney: better pocket poise and improved footwork. In a 20-0 win at Prairie Ridge two weeks ago, Mooney said he felt two defenders rushing from his blind side. He spun away and made both tacklers miss before making a positive play.
"I literally have a feel for the game better than I did previously," he said. "When I'm in the pocket, I can feel pressure from the back side. Last year my feet were really stagnant in the pocket. This year I'm moving my feet a lot better, which has helped me avoid the rush because I'm a lot quicker in the pocket."
Mooney is better equipped to scramble than he was a year ago and better able to recognize when to pull the ball down and take off. Those improved traits have led to fewer interceptions thrown. Last season he finished tied for the area lead with 14 interceptions. Through 4 games he has been picked off just 3 times, 2 of which were tipped balls that could have just as easily been caught.
"When there's not a guy open I have confidence to scramble and run with the ball now, whereas, before I would try to fit the ball into spots," Mooney said. "Sometimes I could, but if I didn't make that perfect throw it would get intercepted. Now, I run the ball and if someone gets open I'll throw it. But I have confidence now I can at least get back to the line of scrimmage or get a few yards."
Mooney is coming off, arguably, the best consecutive games of his two-year varsity career. In FVC Valley victories against Prairie Ridge and McHenry, he completed 32 of 42 attempts for 502 yards, 7 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. It's precisely the kind of production from Mooney the Jacobs coaching staff had in mind when they switched from a three-back offense to the spread with four wideouts and speedy junior Josh Walker alone in the backfield.
"In years past we'd bang the ball and bang the ball," Mitz said. "Now you look up at the scoreboard and -- boom, boom -- we can hit you quick."
Of Mooney's 9 touchdown passes this season, 5 have been thrown to senior receiver Hunter Williams (6-0, 215), his best friend since Liberty Elementary School. The two began playing together in second grade for the Lake in the Hills Falcons (now the Jr. Eagles). They played four more years together between fifth and eighth grades for the Huntley Mustangs. In two varsity seasons they have connected for 12 touchdowns.
"I wouldn't say we're telepathic, but some people see us that way because we seem to know exactly what the other is going to do," Williams said. "Our chemistry is pretty much perfected. He knows where I'm going to go and I know where he's going to be looking. All I have to do is lift up my hand and he looks for my hand."
Williams considers Mooney his trusted friend for other reasons.
"He's a good guy, he's nice to everyone," Williams said. "He treats everyone on the team the same. If someone doesn't play, he still treats them like a starter. I think he's a great leader."
With an eye toward the future, Mooney attended one-day college camps last summer at Vanderbilt, Colgate, Illinois and Purdue. His father, Keith, was an academic all-Big 10 linebacker at Purdue in the late 1980s. Colgate offered a full ride. Mooney intends to make an official visit to the Hamilton, New York, school on October 12.
Though he still receives interest from a couple of Mid-American Conference programs, most Football Bowl Subdivision schools passed on Mooney when he was younger because his skills were not yet fully refined.
"It's too bad people didn't wait for me to develop," he said. "A lot of schools have had their commitments since I was a sophomore. There's one school I know, I won't say the name, but they are only looking at freshmen right now. They aren't even recruiting seniors, juniors or sophomores because they already have their commits for those other ages.
"I think it's stupid of them for not letting people develop as they grow because when I was a freshman, sophomore and junior I didn't have this speed. And I grew three inches to 6-4 between my sophomore and junior seasons. It's fair to say everyone knew I could throw the ball, but everyone was worried about my footwork and my ability and speed. I think that's been taken care of.
"But I'm sure there are a bunch of other athletes that don't get opportunities because they don't grow into their bodies late. It is what it is. I've got an offer and I'll be playing college football."
However, for the next five weeks (and likely beyond) Mooney will still be playing high school football -- at a very high level. Heavily favored Jacobs (2-2, 2-0) looks to make it 3 straight wins with a homecoming victory over Woodstock (0-4) this Friday. The Golden Eagles then face a tough road test at Crystal Lake South (1-3), a program Jacobs has not beaten in the three seasons since Mitz arrived.
If all goes according to the team's best-case scenario, Jacobs would return home on Oct. 11 with a 4-game winning streak to face Cary-Grove in a showdown for first place. The teams are currently tied atop the FVC Valley with 2-0 records. Jacobs closes the season with rivalry games at Huntley and home against Dundee-Crown.
"Going forward we have some tough games, but I think we have a good chance to win out," Mooney said. "Some of them will be tougher than others. Hopefully, we can get a home game and get a playoff win for our school and go from there. We'll stop at nothing.
"From what everyone tells me this is the best time of your life. You have to take it as it is and let it all sink in. I'm doing that and it's a lot of fun."
Bret Mooney by the numbers
Att. Comp. Yds. Int. TD
131 240 2,086 14 17
Opp. Att. Comp. Yds. Int. TD
Barr. 16 28 155 1 1
SCE 9 19 142 2 1
PR 19 28 280 0 3
McH 13 14 222 0 4
Total 57 89 799 3 9
Att. Comp. Yds. Int. TD
173 329 2,885 17 26
(65 percent completion rate)
Att. Yds. TD
36 53 3
Opp. Att. Yds. TD
Barr 11 101 1
SCE 13 77
PR 6 33
McH 12 72
Total 42 283 1
Att. Yds. TD
78 336 4