I suppose there were some raised eyebrows on Friday morning when high school football fans picked up their copy of the Sun-Times and were informed that Jordan Tassio of Naperville North had been selected as the Player of the Year in the Chicago area.
Not Steve Filer of Mount Carmel or Tommie Thomas of Richards or David Schwabe of Driscoll.
That was the short list. After 12 weeks, they had emerged as the finalists. Filer, the Lawless Award winner as the best player in the Catholic League. Thomas, who passed and ran for more than 2,000 yards. And Schwabe, who passed and ran for more than 2,000 yards--and was in position to set a state record for interceptions in a career.
As a quarterback, he didn't run and pass for as much yardage as Thomas or Schwabe. And he couldn't beat out Maine South's Charlie Goro, who passed for 2,725 yards and 28 touchdowns, as the quarterback on the 25-man squad. Instead, he earned his spot by averaging 40 yards per punt.
So why Tassio?
If you saw him perform in the closing minutes of Naperville North's 42-41 triple overtime loss at Wheaton Warrenville South last month, you wouldn't ask. You'd understand why he was the best choice.
Tassio is a winner. Unshakeable, unflappable, supremely confident, the epitome of a leader. And it all rubs off on his teammates.
Here's the play-by-play of the last few minutes of that memorable game:
* With 1:51 to play in the fourth quarter, he runs 20 yards to force a tie at 20.
* After regaining possession, he throws an interception with 44 seconds to play, giving WW South the ball at midfield.
* With 18 seconds left, WW South's 38-yard field goal attempt is blocked.
* In the first overtime, with Naperville North getting the first possession at the 10, Tassio completed a five-yard pass, then ran five yards to score.
* WW South tied at 27, then went ahead 34-27 in the second overtime. On first down, Tassio ran 10 yards to tie.
* In the third overtime, Tassio ran 10 yards to score on first down. WW South scored on Mike Piatkowski's pass on third-and-four, then gambled and won on Piatkowski's two-point run.
Why did WW South gamble? Because WW South Ron Muhitch said he didn't want to give the ball back to Tassio.
For the game, Tassio rushed 11 times for 64 yards and four touchdowns and completed 12-of-23 passes for 138 yards and one touchdown.
In making its Player of the Year selections since Evanston's Bob McKeiver in 1951, the Sun-Times (and the Daily News before it) has placed an emphasis on senior performance, not the projections of college coaches or the ratings of recruiting analysts or the number of scholarship offers.
Tassio has no offers at the moment. But neither does Thomas or Schwabe. Filer long ago committed to Notre Dame.
Look at the list of former Players of the Year. You might recognize some of them--Dick Butkus, Jim Grabowski, Billy Marek, Chris Boskey, Tim Marshall, Mike Tomczak, Eric Kumerow, Kent Graham, Mike Alstott, Rocky Harvey, Tom Zbikowski and Dan Dierking.
But how about John Carroll, Al MacFarlane, Tom Spotts, Frank Shellenback, Barry Cernoch, Alex Rodriguez, Marty Finan, Broc Kreitz, Jason Loerzel and Mark Floersch?
Only time will tell where Jordan Tassio will rank in the pantheon of Players of the Year, if he will be remembered like Butkus. What matters is he is one of them.