Naperville North quarterback Jordan Tassio scored 32 touchdowns passing, rushing and receiving.
Ed Lee | Staff Photographer
Several years ago Chuck Tassio wondered if his younger son was ready for the rigors of football.
A moment of truth came during a Pop Warner youth game in Florida when, while playing defense, Jordan Tassio throttled a ball carrier on a sweep with a wicked helmet-to-helmet collision.
As Jordan stayed down for a moment near the sideline, his father burst to the aid of his seventh-grade child.
"I just jumped on him and saw his helmet was kind of backward," Chuck said. "I yelled, 'Are you OK?' And he said, 'Yeah.' So I picked him up, helped him with his helmet and told him to get back out there."
Laughing about it now, all doubts faded away with that one play.
"That's when I knew he could take it," Chuck said. "I knew the kid could hit."
To this day the hits just keep on coming.
With a deceptive combination of strength and speed, and with uncanny ability to control a game with his arm, legs and booming foot, Naperville North senior quarterback Jordan Tassio is the Daily Herald All-Area 2007 football captain.
He'll lead the Huskies into the Class 8A state championship game Saturday, the program's first appearance in the final since 1994.
"I've learned a lot through the years, especially from my father," said 18-year-old Jordan. "I think that's helped me become the player I am today."
'He can do anything'
What a player he's become.
At 6-foot, 210 pounds he's an imposing figure behind center. As soon as defenses focus on his power, he'll flash that burst of speed on a bootleg or quarterback draw.
The athletic package is multilayered and terrifying for opponents. In his three-year varsity career he's thrown for 2,967 yards, rushed for 1,216 yards and caught 27 passes for 326 yards. He's accounted for a total of 53 touchdowns.
He's done it all, including kick and punt the ball as well as anyone in the state. Tassio averaged 40 yards a punt this season, kicked 7 career field goals and 79 extra points.
He developed a knack for blasting touchbacks on kickoffs, something that began as a freshman when Tassio was promoted to varsity for the playoffs.
Tassio added a rugby punt to his repertoire this season, a play where he takes the long snap, moves to one side of the field or the other and reads the action. If he finds a seam, he'll run for the first down. Otherwise, he'll punt.
With Tassio's tremendous athletic ability, it's a dangerous play defenses must account for in a continual attempt to contain him.
Even on punts, opposing teams have to keep a close watch on No. 4.
"I don't know how I became a kicker, but I just stuck with it," Tassio said. "I've never been to a kicking camp before. It was something I learned along the way."
Quarterback is another role he grew into.
This season he has 1,391 passing yards, 693 rushing yards and a combined 31 touchdowns. Most important, he'll take a 26-8 varsity record into the title game against Glenbard North.
"Jordan is probably the best athlete I've seen at Naperville North," said Huskies defensive coordinator Sean Drendel, a 1990 graduate of Naperville North. "He can do anything."
Tassio's teammates share a similar respect for their leader.
"He's the most modest kid you could ever meet," said Huskies senior safety Dan Hess. "He's a heck of an athlete, he could play anywhere on the field. But you'd never know it talking to him. He's just another guy out there."
'I wanted to be like them'
In first grade Jordan would go to the grocery store with his mother, Kyle, and pick up cookies to hand out to Willowbrook football players as they walked off the field after practice.
It was Tassio's introduction to the sport.
"They played so hard and with so much emotion," he said. "I wanted to be like them."
His father was the head football coach at Willowbrook from 1999 to 2003, leading the program to four playoff appearances. The pinnacle came in 2000 when all-state linebacker Matt Roth led the Warriors to a 7-3 record.
Roth, who now plays for the Miami Dolphins, left an indelible mark on Tassio as a man among boys. A football standout and unbeaten heavyweight wrestling state champ at Willowbrook, Roth had a physical presence not often seen in high school.
"I wanted to dominate the game like Roth did," Tassio said. "My dad always said my time would come."
A ball boy at Willowbrook from second to fifth grade, Tassio finally made his playing debut in sixth grade. After everything he had already seen from the sidelines, he was ready.
"He's always been around it," Chuck Tassio said. "I'd try to make him understand that you need to do things the right way out there. It sank in with him, and he was ready."
Following national-caliber games at the youth level, Tassio came to Naperville North as a freshman prepared to embark upon a stunning high school career.
By sophomore year Tassio was ready for full-time duty on varsity and, as a slot receiver, caught 26 passes. At the same time Tassio was being groomed to become a two-year varsity quarterback.
"To be elected two times as captain by your teammates, that really says something about him," said Huskies coach Larry McKeon. "Jordie's so even tempered. He's just out there enjoying himself. He never rattles."
'The kid's phenomenal'
After spending a year away from quarterback, Tassio's junior season became a learning experience.
This season the difference clearly showed.
Tassio's confidence level soared as the Huskies won their first eight games. Ironically, his best moment may have come in the team's only loss when he scored four straight touchdowns in a triple-overtime epic against Wheaton Warrenville South.
His three overtime touchdown runs looked easy, and even with the loss it showed Tassio's ability to take over a game at crunch time.
"He's incredible," said Huskies senior offensive lineman Ben Domyancic. "He leads us. There's no one else you want back there other than Jordan."
An easy choice for the offensive player of the year in the DuPage Valley Conference and an all-state pick by the coaches association, Tassio's impact spread to every field he played on.
This weekend he'll add Champaign's Memorial Stadium to the list as he joins a close-knit group of teammates in search of football immortality.
"He's the best high school player in the state of Illinois," said Naperville Central coach Mike Stine. "He's worked real hard to get where he's at, and he's a throwback in that way.
"If he's out on the field, he can beat you."
Tassio will take a break after this weekend's game and figure out to which college he'll take his 3.4 grade-point average and 27 ACT score.
Surprisingly, Division I programs haven't been knocking down his door with scholarship offers. Everyone who knows Tassio, though, has a feeling something will break for him eventually. He simply has too much talent.
"If you were to combine everything any coach would want in their players, it's him," said Wheaton North coach Matt Foster. "He's the total package. Not just in how he plays the game, but how he carries himself as a class act off the field.
"The kid's phenomenal."
Tassio plans to end his high school football career with a state title, and then he'll prepare for a third varsity season as a starter on the Huskies' baseball team in the spring.
Typical Tassio, the hits will keep on coming.
"It's really been amazing to be a part of this team," he said. "I consider these guys like a family to me."
Daily Herald DuPage All-Area Football Captains
• 1989 -- Jeff Thorne, Wheaton Central
• 1990 -- Bill Korosec, Naperville North
• 1991 -- Tim Miller, Glenbard North
• 1992 -- Broc Kreitz, Waubonsie Valley
• 1993 -- Bobby Nelson, WW South
• 1994 -- Steve Havard, Wheaton North
• 1995 -- Tim Lavery, Naperville Central
• 1996 -- Tim Stratton, York
• 1997 -- R.J. Luke, Waubonsie Valley
• 1998 -- Jon Beutjer/Jon Schweighardt, WW South
• 1999 -- Ryan Clifford, Naperville Central
• 2000 -- Kyle Kleckner, Downers Grove North
• 2001 -- Phil Horvath, Naperville Central
• 2002 -- Brad Bower, Hinsdale Central
• 2003 -- Tom Edwards, Downers Grove North
• 2004 -- Cody Cielenski, Downers Grove North
• 2005 -- Brett Morse, Hinsdale Central
• 2006 -- Dan Dierking, Wheaton Warrenville South
• 2007 -- Jordan Tassio, Naperville North