Jon Janus distinguished himself as a standout two-way player and helped lead Lake Zurich to the Class 7A state championship game for the second straight year.
Vince Pierri | Staff Photographer
Jon Janus takes Rockford Boylan's Alex Greco for a ride during the Bears' Class 7A quarterfinal victory in Rockford.
Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer
Just about everyone in Lake Zurich seems to be reveling in the hometown Bears, particularly the students from a fifth grade class at May Whitney Elementary.
They made dozens upon dozens of cards for the Bears last week.
Most of the cards wished the team luck in its Class 7A semifinal football game against Carmel, which the Bears won on Saturday to catapult themselves into the state championship game for the second year in a row.
But a couple of the cards got a bit more personal. And Jon Janus happened to stumble upon them.
"There were a couple that were made out to me and they were asking me about my shoulder," said Janus, the star running back for the Bears who suffered a nasty shoulder sprain earlier in the playoffs. "They were really nice."
In fact, Janus was so touched that he felt compelled to send out a very special thank you.
On Tuesday, before heading off to practice for Saturday's tilt against Wheaton Warrenville South at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, he sent ... himself.
"I decided I wanted to go over to the elementary school and thank the class in person, especially the two kids who wrote cards to me," Janus said. "I just figured that if those kids knew enough about me to write that, I wanted to meet them. I mean, those kids knew my name, my number, all these little details about me. I can't believe they knew all that. It's incredible."
Or is it?
Janus is well worth knowing -- especially for a high school football fan in these parts.
Not only is he the front man for a talented Lake Zurich offense, he's also one of the best players in the Chicago area. And that's why Janus has been named captain of the Daily Herald's 2007 Lake County all-area football team.
He is the Bears' top rusher with 1,034 yards on 126 carries for an 8.2-yard average. He's also scored 10 touchdowns.
But even more telling is the fact that he's been a starter since his sophomore year and has been a key component in both of the Bears' treks to Champaign.
"He was a really good player as a sophomore and he's just expanded his role each year," Lake Zurich coach Bryan Stortz said of Janus. "He's gone downstate in track (sprint relays), so he definitely has the gift of speed. But he's also tough and a blue-collar worker.
"You know how you talk about who's the heart and soul of your team? He's one of those heart and soul guys."
Janus is too vested in the program not to be.
He first became a diehard Bears fan when he was about the same age as Zach and Matt, the two grade school boys who wrote the personal cards to him.
Back then, Janus' older brother Jeff was an outside linebacker for a Bears team that went down in the history books as one of the best ever. In 2002, Lake Zurich advanced further than any other previous team in school history by getting to the state semifinals.
"It's funny because everyone (in the football program) still talks about that team and compares everything we do to that team," Janus said. "Watching that team is definitely how I got football fever. I went to every single one of their games."
But while Janus was watching a lot of football that year, he sure wasn't playing much of it.
In fact, he wasn't playing football at all.
What makes Janus' production of more than 2,000 career rushing yards all the more impressive is that he made his debut in the sport just three short years ago. Before his freshman year, he was playing soccer full time instead.
"I liked soccer, but at the time I was so mad because my dad would never let me play football and I really wanted to," Janus said. "I would always think, 'How could I not be good at football? I'm one of the biggest, tallest kids. I know I can play this game.' "
Little did Janus know that his dad agreed with him, and that he also couldn't wait for him to get out on the football field.
Brian Janus, after all, is passionate about football himself. He was a standout player at Wheeling High School years ago.
But the elder Janus wanted his son to get the basics down first.
"I always knew that Jon would be a good football player," Brian Janus said. "But I wanted him to develop his athleticism and speed and agility and footwork and I really believed that for a kid of that age, he could do that much better in soccer."
So what's the verdict? Was dad right?
"As much as I hate to admit it, he was right" Jon Janus chuckled. "I think soccer has helped me a lot with football. And I'm glad I did it.
"Actually, sometimes I even miss soccer."
It's possible Janus could get back into it. He's wondering what he'll do to fill the huge void that will be in his life once football is over -- which could be sooner rather than later.
Janus is a 4.4 40 guy whose stock with college recruiters is high, but is tempered by the fact that he is only 5-foot-10. Depending on various circumstances, he could end up playing at the Division II or Division III level -- or not at all.
"Right now, my life revolves around football," Janus said. "And I'm living the high school dream. I'm on this great team that has accomplished so much. We're on-line, we're in the newspapers. But pretty soon, it's all going to be gone.
"So as long as I still have everyone's attention, I just want to say 'thank you to everyone -- thank you to all the coaches, teammates, fans. Thank you for all the support.' I feel lucky to have had that. It's the best feeling ever."
But Janus just experienced a close second the other day.
The reception he got at the elementary school was pretty good, too.
"I went over with a couple of my teammates and we caught the kids during their recess and as soon as they saw us, they all came running over and they were screaming and jumping up and down," Janus said. "The whole class was going crazy. It was really nice. I don't think I'll ever forget that."
Janus probably isn't the only one.