Batavia's Thielk, Moffatt looking for storybook ending
Tuesday night at Batavia High was "Media Night" for reporters to gather the goods on the Class 6A state championship-bound Bulldogs football team.
It also was about Batavia Youth Football. Batavia coach Dennis Piron anticipated that in the span of two hours some 300 kids would be scrambling through the Fine Arts Center hallway to meet and gather autographs from their varsity heroes.
Batavia middle linebacker Anthony Thielk -- all of 6-foot-3 plus that 2-inch Afro stack -- towered above the knee-high admirers. Bulldogs cornerback-receiver Michael Moffatt joined members of the Bulldogs defense for a video preview of the title game against Richards then handled an interview, maturely addressing his subject dead in the eye.
Time does fly. It wasn't so long ago these three-year starters were in the scuffed-up shoes of the youth leaguers crowding the hall. Saturday in DeKalb will be the next chapter of what's already been a long and rewarding relationship between Moffatt and Thielk.
"He came to our school (Alice Gustafson) I think in fifth grade," Moffatt said. "We didn't really talk that much, and have become really close friends. It didn't take till about middle school when me, he and (defensive back) Brandon Dean started hanging out. That's when we started realizing how close to a bond that we were having."
Thielk and Moffatt, uniform Nos. 22 and 23, respectively, both hinted their friendship did not begin in best-buddy heaven.
"We were always competing out on the field during recess, playing basketball. We were just trying to be better athletes than each other," Moffatt said.
"We'd get into, like, who's better at football," said Thielk, who also recalled rough-and-tumble kiddie high jinks with running back Anthony Scaccia and safety Forrest Gilbertson, classmates he's known since preschool.
"We'd argue every now and then," Thielk said of he and Moffatt. "It just made us compete better and I think that's honestly made us better to this day because we've been competing ever since fifth grade."
This season Batavia went 6-0 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division for a third straight year, 33-3 overall in that span. Saturday the 12-1 Bulldogs play in their first championship game since losing the 6A title to Normal's University High in 2006, and they seek their first state football title.
Did Thielk and Moffatt see the writing on the wall way back when? They were on the same team that beat a bunch from Kaneland for an eighth-grade football championship.
Piron called it one of the greatest middle-school games he's ever seen.
"The last play of the game a (Kaneland) guy was wide-open in the end zone," Thielk said. "I still remember it to this day, like it was yesterday. We all thought he was going to catch it and score and that'd be the game. Moffatt literally came out of nowhere, tipped the ball like right out of his arms. It was crazy."
Moffatt said: "I'm pretty sure that there was like five seconds left and we ended up blitzing one of the safeties, and I was playing safety at the time. I saw some kid just sitting wide-open in the end zone and I just dove for it and luckily got a hand on it to break it away."
"We'd always talk about, even in fifth grade, wanting to go to state when we're in high school," Thielk said. "We won the championship in eighth-grade, so we were like, we can do it in high school, too."
Of course, it's not that easy. Moffatt and Thielk, Batavia's seventh- and eighth-leading tacklers as sophomores, saw the season come to a crashing halt in Prairie Ridge's 33-22 victory in the 2011 6A semifinals. Senior receiver and cornerback Roarke Mullins got reps on that team, too. Moffatt actually made 6 tackles on the varsity as a freshman in 2010.
"It was cool playing as sophomores together, just because we'd been friends for so long," Moffatt said. "That was when our relationship came even closer, just being on the team together. It was nice having a friend like that on the team.
"Before the season me and him actually talked a lot about how we felt like we could go down to state that year because we had such a big team, we had a lot of athletes. To come up that short was a heartbreaker for us. But all the seniors in that group that we came close with kept telling us, hey, you have two more years, you guys are going to be able to do this ... They kept giving us a lot of motivation.
"I know Piron and all the coaches felt like this year's group could be in the state game," Moffatt said. "They saw a lot of talent out of us, so it really motivated us to get to that next step."
Entering the championship game, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Moffatt has made 29 tackles but his true value is as a lockdown cornerback with 4 interceptions and 17 pass breakups. Offensively he's Batavia's leading receiver with 42 catches for 600 yards and 7 touchdowns.
A young man who has persevered through Crohn's disease, he was voted to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Class 6A All-State Team along with Scaccia. Quarterback Micah Coffey is an honorable-mention selection.
Thielk, who moved to the middle linebacker from outside linebacker his first two seasons, has made a team-high 99 tackles despite missing two games resting nagging injuries. He's up to 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, third on the team behind new single-season sack leader Josh Leonhard, with 12, and fellow defensive end Noah Frazier with 10.
Moffatt said he and Thielk "hang out" many days and most weekends. They'll take lunch together, relax and play sports-minded video games.
"We always trash-talk each other when we're playing 'Madden' and stuff, it's just fun," Moffatt said.
As seniors with the perspective of three varsity football seasons and having the first end so close to the grail, Thielk, Moffatt, and their classmates play with a sense of urgency.
Urgent, not wound too tightly.
"Before the games, obviously, we're pretty intense, we know what the task at hand is," Thielk said. "Everyone gets a little nervous before games, but once you actually get into the game, a couple drives in the game, we get to talking, we tell jokes every now and then.
"It's just like off the field. We're pretty laid back but we know that there's something that needs to be done and that's obviously get a stop on defense or him score on offense. You know, win the game."