Austin Culton never thought about the number of times he was handed the ball each Friday night.
The Sycamore senior, who routinely had 25 to 30 rushing attempts a game in the second half of the season, didn’t much care what the number was. But more often than not, when Culton’s number was called, he delivered.
“To be honest, I didn’t really think about it much,” Culton said. “I would just be out there playing.”
The 5-foot-7, 160-pound running back recorded a staggering 237 carries over 11 games in 2012, more than double the total of any other tailback in the area. He ran for 1,412 yards and scored 18 touchdowns, including five scores in Sycamore’s two playoff games against Chicago King and Montini.
For Culton’s individual accomplishments and Sycamore’s team success, he is the Daily Chronicle’s Football Player of the Year. Kaneland junior running back Jesse Balluff also was considered for the award.
“His ankle wasn’t good from Geneseo (Week 4) on,” Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. “I’d like to see how he would’ve done if his ankles were good the whole season. That was another thing that showed how tough he was.”
With a new quarterback and a relatively young offensive line, the Spartans depended on Culton to provide consistency in the offense. Culton started at running back as a junior in 2011, and Ryan noted that he was a more patient runner in 2012.
As the offensive line became better later in the year, Culton’s carries started to increase. He had 31 carries for 188 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-14 win against Rochelle and scored four touchdowns in the first round of the IHSA Class 5A playoffs against King.
In his final game, against Montini in the second round of the postseason, Culton had a season-high 32 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown.
“It took [the offensive line] a while to realize if you can work together this is what we can be and what we can accomplish,” Culton said. “I give a lot of credit to my line the past two years.”
Culton’s football career ended against Montini, and the last carry of his career, a successful two-point conversion, put Sycamore up, 22-21, before Montini’s last-minute comeback.
“That sums up his career and how he ran for us all in one play,” Ryan said. “There wasn’t a lot of room and he fought his way into the end zone. I know he’s the toughest kid I’ve ever coached.”
Culton, who also was the 2012 Daily Chronicle Wrestler of the Year, recently signed his letter of intent to wrestle at Northern Illinois. He was the 2012 IHSA wrestling state champion at 152 pounds.
But he says he’ll miss putting on the pads each fall.
“Even though I’m signing to wrestle at Northern Illinois, football has always been my favorite sport,” Culton said. “It always will be my favorite sport.”
DAILY CHRONICLE ALL-AREA FOOTBALL FIRST TEAM
Kaneland, QB, junior David’s individual statistics weren’t as impressive as 2011 when he was named the Daily Chronicle Player of the Year as a sophomore. Yet the veteran QB managed to lead Kaneland to another undefeated regular season, throwing 23 touchdowns despite dealing with a late-season wrist injury.
Sycamore, RB, senior The Daily Chronicle Player of the Year carried the ball 237 times for 1,412 yards and 18 touchdowns, leading the area in all three categories. He was Sycamore’s most consistent weapon and was vital in pass protection for the Spartans, who ended the year with a 7-4 record.
Kaneland, RB/S, junior A two-way starter for the Knights, Balluff was a versatile offensive player out of the backfield. He had more than 1,000 combined yards rushing and receiving and, later on in the year, was used in Kaneland’s wildcat formation. With QB Drew David injured in Week 8, Balluff ran for 183 yards and two touchdowns against Sycamore in a 30-7 win.
Sycamore, WR/S, junior Niemann was Sycamore’s big-play threat and developed into QB Devin Mottet’s go-to receiver. The recent Northern Illinois commit stretched defenses vertically and led the area with 876 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. He also returned punts and started at safety for a stingy defense that yielded few big plays.
Kaneland, WR, senior Martinelli developed into the No. 1 receiver for Kaneland. Despite playing in an offense with numerous weapons, Martinelli was the area’s second-leading receiver, hauling in 41 catches for 701 yards, including 11 touchdowns.
Kaneland’s offense was held to fewer than 25 points only once in 11 games and averaged more than 40 points a game.
Sycamore, LB, sophomore Although only a sophomore, Weaver developed into one of the leaders on a young Sycamore defense that got better as the season went on. Weaver consistently was around the ball and was a major reason Sycamore allowed fewer than 17 points a contest.
Kaneland, LB, junior Koehrig played in the middle of Kaneland’s 3-5 defense, a much-improved unit from 2011. Kaneland yielded only 14 points a game and pitched four shutouts in 11 contests.
Lincoln-Way West coach Dave Ernst said Koehrig was the top linebacker they had seen all season through the second round of the playoffs.
Sycamore, DL, senior Davis was one of the few senior leaders for Sycamore. His play along the defensive front allowed space for Brett Weaver and the Spartans linebackers to make plays.
Davis’ impact was seen toward the end of the season as he recorded three tackles for loss against King in the first round of the playoffs.
DeKalb, RB, sophomore Brown was DeKalb’s main offensive threat, with the ability to break off a long run on any carry. The sophomore had 108 carries for 759 yards and nine touchdowns.
Brown played only three games during his freshman campaign in 2011, but already has shown enough promise to attract scholarship offers from Illinois and Northern Illinois.
Kaneland, OL, senior Theis was part of a dominant Kaneland offensive line that excelled in both pass protection and run blocking. He was one of two local area players named to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Class 5A All-State team.
Genoa-Kingston, OL/DL, senior Rabe was a unanimous All-Big Northern East Conference selection on the offensive line. He played three years on the varsity level and all three OL positions.
The G-K senior also was the Cogs’ middle linebacker and played on special teams, rarely leaving the field.
“Ben was a smart, physical and vocal leader for G-K,” Cogs coach Travis Frederick said.
Derek Ross, sr., WR, Hiawatha Devin Mottet, jr., QB, Sycamore Mike Mercado, jr., QB, Hiawatha Dakotah Quimby, sr., RB / LB, Hiawatha Daniel Coovert, so., C, Sycamore Jack Sauter, jr., QB, DeKalb Jack Dargis, jr., LB, Sycamore Gabe Williams, sr., WR / DB, Genoa-Kingston Alex Snyder, jr., OL, Kaneland Jake Carpenter, sr., WR, DeKalb Jaumaureo Phillips, jr., DL / OL, Kaneland
Martin Malone, sr., OL, Sycamore John Beaudoin, sr., OT, Sycamore Logan Bankson, sr., OT / LB, Genoa-Kingston Kevin McINtyre, jr., OG / DT, Genoa-Kingston Dylan Hottsmith, jr., RB / K / DB, DeKalb Dylan Nauert, jr, WR / LB, Kaneland Allen Letterer, so., TE, Hiawatha Connor Bankson, jr., C / DT, Genoa-Kingston Matt Rodriguez, jr., K, Kaneland Sal Lopez, jr., RB, Genoa-Kingston Nick Doolittle, so., RB / DB, Hiawatha
- Ross Jacobson, firstname.lastname@example.org