Forward-thinking Lees certainly achieved for Libertyville
Not that Riley Lees, one of the fastest, most elusive football players in the North Suburban Conference, needs extra help to make big plays.
But his power of positive thinking probably doesn't hurt his cause.
"Every time he touches the ball, Riley believes he's going to score a touchdown," Libertyville head coach Mike Jones said of his explosive junior quarterback.
To which, Lees would reply: "You have to have that mentality. I don't get mad when I don't score a touchdown. It's not like it's the end of the world for me. But you can't go into any play thinking, 'Oh, I just want to get 5 yards.' I go into every play believing it can be a big one."
Whether it was by way of visualization or sheer athleticism, or both, Lees made more than his fair share of big plays this season.
His stats are mind-blowing, and beyond comparison. No one in Lake County came close to his 3,281 all-purpose yards and his 45 touchdowns, both school records at Libertyville. For his eye-popping numbers and human highlight reel of a season that was capped by Libertyville's run to the Class 7A state semifinals, Lees has been named the honorary captain of the 2014 Daily Herald Lake County all-area football team.
"I think I'm most proud of my passing stats," said Lees, who completed 83-of-188 passes for 1,482 yards and 10 touchdowns. "My passing improved so much this year. It's the most I've ever had to pass and, by the end of the season, I was doing a much better job of sitting in the pocket instead of running around when I shouldn't have. I trusted myself and my arm more."
Lees, the youngest of four football playing brothers, has had to play catch-up on some of the finer points of quarterbacking. He's rather new to it, having served as a running back until eighth grade. And he had no frame of reference. His brother Sean was a running back, Kyle was a cornerback and Tyler was a linebacker. All of them played at Carmel.
Two years ago, Lees got his very first exposure under center when he was named the quarterback of Libertyville's freshman team. Last year, he was the varsity's back-up quarterback but got most of his reps at wide receiver.
"There were a lot of things I improved at that might not be noticeable to the ordinary person," Lees said. "I think I grew a lot as a quarterback as the season went on, both emotionally and physically.
"I grew a lot as a leader, too. I really worked at being a positive leader, and keeping all my teammates in the game."
Of course, Lees kept Libertyville in plenty of games with his skills. He was often most comfortable going back to his roots, and using his legs to scramble all over the field. He set school records for rushing yards in a season (1,799 yards on 225 carries, 35 touchdowns) and rushing yards per game (138.4). Against Mundelein this season, he had 200 rushing yards in the first half alone.
"I've always been fast," said Lees, who boasts a 4.46 40 time. "And I did a lot of work (in the weight room) over the summer and that made me faster. I also do a lot of lunges, a lot of quick feet stuff with the (agility) ladder."
Without fail, Lees was in the weight room at least four days a week during the off-season, even when he was playing varsity baseball last spring for Libertyville as an outfielder.
"His off-season preparation was so good that he was able to play the entire season injury-free," Jones said. "That type of commitment is one reason he's so good."
Now, the 6-foot, 185-pound Lees is wondering if he's good enough to play football in college, for a major program.
"It's always been the dream to play college football," Lees said. "Especially after this season, I really hope it's a possibility."
Baseball also might be a possibility for Lees at the next level. He was moved up to varsity quickly last season, and eventually made his way into the starting lineup.
"I haven't really decided what I would do yet," Lees said. "I like baseball a lot, too. It's really whatever season I'm in. Right now, I really love football. In the spring it will be baseball.
"I'll be going to a lot of football camps this summer and showcases for baseball. Hopefully, I'll do well there and something good (with college recruiters) will happen."
Of course, Lees won't let himself imagine the alternative.
• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw