Bellizzi's physical style brings success for Maine West
Jake Bellizzi is a throwback player.
At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, the bruising senior played both running back and linebacker for a Maine West team that had its best season in school history.
"He rarely came off the field for us," Maine West coach Jason Kradman said.
Bellizzi rushed for an area-best 1,538 yards while toting the rock a mind-boggling 239 times for an average of 6.4 yards per carry this season. He also scored a school-record 26 touchdowns.
On defense he anchored a squad that allowed just over 14 points per game. Bellizzi had 64 tackles, 11 tackles for loss including 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and interception that was returned for a touchdown.
For his play in 2018, Bellizzi has been named the Daily Herald All-Area Team Captain for the Northwest Suburbs.
"I am just kind of like old-school," said Bellizzi. "I just like to be physical."
Bellizzi helped lead the Warriors to the undisputed Central Suburban League title this season after sharing it last season. Maine West also qualified for the playoffs in each of those seasons, the first time in school history the Warriors qualified in back-to-back seasons.
"Jake was a big part of the run we had the last two years," Kradman said. "He has played both ways for us in the last three years. In his sophomore year, he wasn't fully going both ways because we had other guys running the ball at times."
There were only 15 seniors on the Maine West roster this season, down from 20 last year and 30 the prior year. With that small group of seniors, it made Bellizzi's year even more incredible.
"We had a small bunch of seniors," Kradman said. "Which is unlike other years. It is a talented group. They led us to uncharted waters. "
Bellizzi had a huge part in the success of Maine West. The Warriors came into the season looking to win their first outright conference title since 1963. They also looked to win their first state playoff game and win more than 8 games in a season, which was the school record.
Maine West finished undefeated in Central Suburban North conference play and they beat Benet 20-18 in the first round of the playoffs. They did lose to Willowbrook 36-26 but still finished with a 9-2 season.
"Every week it was another step," Kradman said. "We talked about goals for the season. As far as our on the field goals, we achieved everything we set out to achieve. Of course we would have liked to advance further in the playoffs. The ball just didn't bounce our way at certain times.
"It was a great run. It was exciting to be part of it. It is all about the kids."
But it bounced plenty well for Bellizzi, who leaves the school as its all-time leading rusher. Bellizzi set school records with 39 career rushing touchdowns and 2,496 rushing yards on 413 carries.
Bellizzi was especially unstoppable in CSL North play. He rushed for 1,090 yards and scored 18 touchdowns. He was voted the conference's most valuable offensive player.
In his game against Deerfield in the final week of the regular season, Bellizzi rushed for another school record. He racked up 312 yards and 4 touchdowns and for his efforts, was named Chicago Bears High School Player of the Week. Bellizzi will be honored at halftime of the Bears-Packers game on Sunday, Dec. 16.
Bellizzi was a 4-year varsity player for the Warriors after being called up to the varsity in his freshman year during Week 8 of the season to play linebacker. He never relinquished that position and was voted CSL defensive player of the year in 2017.
Bellizzi got his start playing youth football in Mt. Prospect. As one would expect, he was a two-way player there at running back and linebacker.
"It was great," Bellizzi said. "I feel like I have been playing the same position for a while now. So I was able to pick up things."
Bellizzi said getting moved up to the varsity as a freshman changed him.
"It was a great experience because I was so young," Bellizzi said. "I was really scared at first. But I knew all the guys on the team because my brother Joey played on that team. So they made it a great experience for me.
"They taught me the ways of varsity. It was a great learning experience at how fast practices go and the intensity of the game there."
Bellizzi credited his time playing as a freshman on the varsity squad on his ability to blossom.
"It really helped me," Bellizzi said. "I knew next season what I had to do to get ready to play as sophomore."
Bellizzi started at linebacker that season and got some time playing fullback as the Warriors just missed the playoffs going 4-5.
That set the stage for Bellizzi and Maine West to turn the tide.
He rushed for 874 yards and 12 touchdowns as the Warriors shared the CSL North title and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
In that season Bellizzi was named the conference's defensive player of the year. He was also named to the Daily Herald All-Area team.
But it also took a toll on his body.
"I had to learn to get myself into even better physical condition," Bellizzi said. "All those carries and playing linebacker really wore me out."
This season he came in ready and he and the Warriors took things to a new level for Maine West.
"It was so exciting playing here," Bellizzi said. "I was able to be with all my friends and my family and my coaches. It will be a year I will never forget."
Bellizzi is also a top-notch wrestler, qualifying for the state finals last season at 195 pounds. He lost in his opening match and then in overtime in the wrestlebacks. This season he will compete at 220 pounds.
"I just don't want to lose the weight anymore," Bellizzi said. "I'll need it for next year."
For next season, Bellizzi is looking to play college football. He is currently being pursued by some Division-II and D-III schools and is hopeful that some D-I school will take a look at him.
"I would love the chance to play Division-I," Bellizzi said. "That is the goal. But what I really want to do is play football. That's what I look to do."
And you wouldn't expect anything else from a throwback.