It sounded so simple.
"I know they throw the ball well, but you have to slow down the running game," Monticello coach Cully Welter said after IC Catholic Prep ran for 516 yards and 6 touchdowns in a 48-6 Knights victory in the Class 3A football semifinals.
That was the mantra against IC Catholic. Stop the run.
We're still waiting.
ICCP's dominant climb to the Class 3A title combined an avalanche of 721 points that ranks third in Illinois history with a defense that produced eight shutouts, choreographed by coaches steeped in winning strategy and technique in high school, college and even professional ranks.
The Knights fielded a wealth of stars, key role players and depth as all 14-0 juggernauts do. The trump card and bottom line was 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds of state-caliber sprinter. Always the focus, typically a blur.
Slow the running game?
Optimistic, perhaps even delusional when discussing the eighth-leading rusher in Illinois prep history, Jordan Rowell, the Daily Herald DuPage County 2016 All-Area football captain.
Only he can slow it down
"When I'm carrying the football, when I'm running down the field, everything slows down," said the ICCP senior, who on 178 carries this season gained 2,297 yards and 37 touchdowns -- 12.9 yards a carry, a touchdown every 5. Add his team-high 32 catches and Rowell compiled 2,840 yards, 42 touchdowns.
A three-year starter who ran for 531 yards as a freshman, when Rowell capped his time at ICCP on Nov. 25 with a Class 3A title-game record of 272 yards in the Knights' 43-0 win over Carlinville, it brought his four-year total to 6,032 yards rushing on 588 carries, 10.3 yards a pop.
His 75 touchdown runs, midway between former area superstars Justin Jackson of Glenbard North at 85 and Sam Brodner of Glenbard West at 68, are tied for 13th all-time.
"Everything goes quiet and everything kind of slows down," said Rowell, who has scholarship offers from Northern Illinois, Iowa and Purdue. "I don't hear anything at all. My vision, I would say, increases, or enhances. I'm running to the right but I can feel someone to my left, or I feel that there's no one even close to me so I can slow down."
A nine-time all-state track athlete running distances of 100 to 400 meters -- double the medal count of any other ICCP male track athlete -- Rowell's "shortest" long run this season was 21 yards against Riverside-Brookfield.
The Bulldogs did the best of anyone containing Rowell, 80 yards rushing on 14 carries. The trade-off was 342 yards passing by Rowell's read-option partner, fellow Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Class 3A All-State pick Luke Ricobene. Rowell caught 5 passes for 108 yards with a 65-yard touchdown reception, his longest this fall.
Yes, Rowell could be tackled at the line ... once, twice. Then, he'd take Ricobene's handoff or pitch, square his shoulders, go up the gut or around end -- didn't matter, really -- sprint through the second level and leave flailing defenders in his wake like a catamaran through canoes, like Forrest Gump.
St. Edward saw that movie twice when Rowell ran for 99- and 97-yard touchdowns in a 49-3 ICCP win.
"Jordan is probably the second-best skill player I've ever seen play football, behind Laquon Treadwell," said Glenbard South coach Ryan Crissey, citing the Minnesota Vikings receiver who played at Crete-Monee.
Knowing some of the Raiders, Rowell took particular pride in running for 174 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 50-0 win over Glenbard South. By then, he and the Knights had served notice they'd be a handful. Rowell ran for 207 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 34-0 season-opening win over defending Class 3A champion Bishop McNamara; he followed with 260 yards, 4 touchdowns in a 63-49 win over eventual Class 6A semifinalist St. Laurence.
His high game this season -- as a sophomore he ran for 311 yards against Breese Mater Dei -- was 302 yards with 4 more touchdowns against Monticello. ICCP statistics indicate Rowell fumbled once all season.
"This year more than any years past he's developed as an all-around football player, both sides of the ball, how physical he plays," Crissey said.
Knights coach Bill Krefft couldn't agree more.
"We have this conversation all the time," said Krefft, a two-way star on ICCP's first state champion in 2002. "We don't look at Jordan Rowell as a running back, we look at him as football player."
During preseason Krefft said Rowell had become more than a thoroughbred. Against Carlinville he fought off arm tackles on a 20-yard touchdown run and later shucked two successive defenders and paved over a third as he bounced outside 78 yards. His 3 touchdown runs and a 22-yard touchdown catch tied the Class 3A title-game mark of 4 touchdowns.
"There were times in our scheme that we left people unblocked because we knew it didn't matter," said Krefft, calling Rowell not just the top running back he's coached, also the best cornerback. On the year Rowell made 22 tackles, 3 interceptions and defended 7 passes.
In the Class 3A semifinals Rowell went man-on-man against Monticello's 974-yard receiver Isiah Florey. The 6-3 Florey finished with 2 catches for 11 yards.
Secondary coach Matt Bowen was thrilled. The former NFL safety and Glenbard West all-stater taught jamming techniques so receivers couldn't freely launch patterns off the line.
"What I valued the most, as his coach, is Jordan's work ethic," said Bowen, once an All-America safety at Iowa who believes Rowell has Big Ten talent. "He didn't come off the field this year. Offense, defense and special teams. And how many all-state running backs are covering kicks? But that's Jordan. He is extremely humble despite his success on the field and he's very coachable."
The final word
Rowell has the farthest-reaching goals. A Heisman Trophy, NFL stardom. "To be recognized as one of the greatest of all time," he said.
Why not? Aim high.
Yet, were football not to work out he'd like to be a psychiatrist or follow the example of his mother, LaTania. She's a fourth-grade teacher at Emerson Elementary School in Maywood.
"I want to help people," said Rowell, 18.
Amazingly, he said he reopened his recruiting in late September from a June commitment to Northern Illinois because he thought ICCP's success might increase exposure to his teammates.
Together, they were unstoppable.
"It was the perfect season," Rowell said. "We went out with a bang, and I think the best thing about it was we left one of the biggest legacies at IC. We went undefeated and no other team can really beat it. They can tie it, but they can't beat it."