Barrington's Niro finishes with a bang
Beware of Nitro.
That was the notice every opponent of Barrington's football team has had the last two years. And despite the warning label, there was no stopping Ray Niro -- a.k.a. Nitro -- from exploding.
The Barrington quarterback had eye-popping stats this year as he led the Broncos to their first outright Mid-Suburban League title since 1998. Barrington won 10 consecutive games this season before bowing out in the second round of the state playoffs.
Niro finished his 11-game season with 2,023 yards rushing on 190 carries and 30 touchdowns. He was 100-for-150 passing for 1,565 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass in a game against Hoffman Estates.
For his consistently combustible play, Niro has been selected as captain of the Daily Herald's Northwest all-area football team.
Niro came to the Broncos two seasons ago on the heels of another great Broncos quarterback -- Johnny Davidson. The comparisons came quickly.
"In terms of stature, Johnny and Ray are a lot in common," Barrington coach Joe Sanchez said. "And although they were similar in stature, we thought they could be exactly the same. They were not. But Ray did things his way, and that gave us time to figure out what his talents were and to utilize them the best we could."
Niro attributed his ability to adjust to the high school game to Davidson's mentoring.
"Johnny did a great job of helping me out starting from freshman year," Niro said. "He showed me how to deal with the stress and everything else. But he also told me to be myself and take notice and play my game."
Taking those lessons to heart, Niro took off immediately as a junior for Barrington.
Unlike Davidson, Niro was a runner, with an uncanny ability to read a block and make tacklers miss.
"To Ray's credit, he just wanted to fit in," Sanchez said. "He didn't have to come in and lead right away. It allowed Ray to figure out what part he played."
That year, he rushed for 1,402 yards on 136 carries with 17 touchdowns. He was also very effective throwing the football, finishing 92-of-143 for 1,210 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Broncos rode his running style into the state playoffs with an 8-1 record. But a high ankle sprain that Niro received in the opening round of the playoffs slowed him in the second round of the playoffs. After two series he left the game, and Barrington succumbed to eventual state champion Maine South.
The injury changed the way Niro approached his senior season.
"Since I had a high ankle sprain, I started up yoga and Pilates," Niro said. "I also taped up my ankles every day. I wanted to get used to the feel. I wanted to be more flexible."
With that additional flexibility, along with the increased speed Niro got from a camp held by his trainer Michael Drach, Niro was ready for the 2017 campaign.
And what he did even amazed his head coach.
"He did things with the football, you just couldn't explain it or imagine it," Sanchez said. "He just made it so much fun at times. But it could also drive you crazy.
"I was so scared something bad would happen. He is just so tough and elusive and he just found ways to make people miss. You just held your breath to see what he could possibly do next."
Niro worked with two different types of offensive lines, and both were tremendous in front of him.
"I had great guys blocking in front of me,' Niro said. "I was really nothing without all of them. I am very thankful for that."
Sanchez said Niro's unpretentiousness made everyone around him feel special.
"Ray has a great sense of humility," Sanchez said. "He is first guy to credit his teammates, his offensive line and coaches. It is a true mark of a player when he makes the players better around him."
Niro began playing football in third grade, and he was a running back. He then transitioned to quarterback in fifth grade and really came into his own in eighth grade.
Niro has accepted an offer to be a preferred walk on at Northwestern. He figures to play slot receiver there and has been working out catching footballs and running routes this off-season.
Sanchez is confident Niro will succeed at the next level.
"Ray is just fun to be around," Sanchez said. "What you saw on a Friday night was just a microcosm of how he played. That's what made him special. It is his ability to do that every day."