Geneva's Michael Ratay shakes Carmel's Jake Sinkovec to score the Vikings' first touchdown in the second quarter of their IHSA quarterfinal Saturday at Burgess Field in Geneva.
Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer
Aurora Christian quarterback Jordan Roberts throws a pass as Richmond-Burton defender Mathew Marzahl chases him during the high school semifinal playoff football game between Aurora Christian at Richmond-Burton.
Gilber R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer
If there was ever two players from opposing schools who could sit down and have 100 things in common to talk about, it has to be Geneva senior running back Michael Ratay and Aurora Christian senior quarterback Jordan Roberts.
How does it feel to lead your team to the most wins in school history?
What's it like putting your name at the top or near the top of the most prestigious records in Illinois high school football history?
What went through your mind when you realized your team is heading to state, the first time ever for the Eagles and first time in 33 years for the Vikings?
They aren't even all fun questions.
How hard is it to get all the way to the state championship game and come up short?
How does it feel to have all these amazing statistics, all these records...and not be able to have colleges knocking down your door?
Ratay answered that final question time and again throughout the regular season, then from a new wave of reporters in the playoffs who cover opposing schools and could not believe this back who just torched their team didn't have a single college scholarship.
"I've been sending my tapes out," Ratay said. "Hopefully, I'll get a scholarship somewhere. If not, I'll probably just try walking on somewhere."
Roberts also faced the question all year, then again at state this past weekend.
"I see guys in Illinois have offers and commmited and right now I don't have that." Roberts said. "Division I is the goal, it would be anyone's goal, but I am open to anything right now. I'd rather go to a smaller school and play three, four years."
Whatever the future holds, it would be hard to accomplished more at the high school level than these two, the co-captains of the 2008 Daily Herald Tri-Cities All-Area Football Team.
And they both realize it, thankful for the chance to have had such fun and so much success at their respective high schools.
"I had an opportunity to go four years, start as a freshman," Roberts said. "I've watched all the seniors, how they acted. These seniors I would not trade them for anything. I would not trade anything for these guys. It's just a brotherhood, we would take a bullet for each other. It's been a lot of fun this year."
While Roberts started from Day 1 as a freshman, Ratay had to overcome a season-ending injury that robbed him of his sophomore year and a chance to play varsity with his brother Shaun, Geneva's quarterback.
He returned in a big way his last two years, leading Geneva to a combined 24-2 record, with the only two losses to an East St. Louis team filled with Division I players.
The connections between Ratay and Roberts aren't limited to the football field. They have known each other since fifth grade and playing travel basketball against each other. When they were in eighth grade, Ratay's Geneva football team won against Roberts' Yorkville junior high team.
Roberts father Doug said Ratay was "as dominating then as he is now." It's a description that could easily apply to either player, Ratay with his 44 rushing TDs (second most all-time) and 2,859 yards this year, or Roberts and his 45 passing TDs this season that helped him set the state record with 127 career passing touchdowns and another state record 9,755 career passing yards.
But the two will be missed for much more than all the numbers. They certainly left an impression on their teammates and coaches. And they again shared a common trait - humility.
"He's one of the best quarterbacks I'll ever see," said Eagles wide receiver David Zielke, mentioning 'his humbleness' as what he'll remember the most. "In practice he'll throw one in your chest and you drop it, the first thing he'll say when you get back to the huddle is 'My fault.' His humbleness is just outstanding.
"His whole game impresses me. He's got perfect size for a quarterback. He's truly blessed."
Aurora Christian running back Lewis Gaddis looked to Roberts as a leader, one that reminded his teammates not to eat chocolate or drink pop.
"He's a great kid," Gaddis said. "On the field he's always into it, he's focused. Off the field he's a great friend, he's great in the classroom. He's a great captain, he plays that role very well. He's a great asset to any team he's going to play for next year."
Ratay also was quite popular with his teammates, treating his offensive line to a steak dinner.
"The best thing about Michael is off the field he never talks football and never talks about himself," Geneva offensive lineman Bryce Biel said.
Geneva coach Rob Wicinski called Ratay a "career-type kid" for him to coach. Wicinski liked to call Ratay "a mudder," marveling at how well Ratay played in poor conditions, at how Ratay got stronger late in games, and how it always took at least two or three tacklers to bring him down.
While Wicinski grew tired of the critics who said Ratay wasn't fast enough to play major college football, Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe likewise tired of the same crowd who derided Roberts for the schedule he plays against. Roberts set a Class 4A state championship game record with 4 touchdown passes and 365 passing yards.
"It just shows you the kind of quarterback he is in the biggest of stages," Beebe said. "In the biggest of games Jordan Roberts stood up and passed that test, there's no doubt about that. He is definitley one of the greatest of all-time in Illinois history."
Roberts is set to take a visit to Grand Valley State on Dec. 20, and also is setting up trips to see a variety of Division I, II and III schools including Appalacian State, West Virginia, Elon College, Western Illinois, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Eastern Illinois, Southern Illinois and Illinois State. Ratay also is looking at MAC schools.
Maybe this time next year, after a couple promising freshman seasons, these two will have even more in common to talk about.
Remember all those colleges who didn't give us offers? How do they like us now?