JOLIET — Injuries were a thorn in the side of the Joliet football team last year, specifically to their duo in the backfield. With quarterback Hayden Ward recovered from an elbow injury and tailback Rye Brastrup back at full strength after a back injury, the top-ranked J-Hawks are a menacing force in the 8-Man South.
“It was definitely a challenge, but I’m happy to watch them succeed, even without me. It gets tough, though," Brastrup said of standing on the sidelines.
“My guys, they all stepped up and they did better at their own jobs, actually, with my injury. They knew I wasn’t 100 %, so they stepped up and helped us get better with that," Ward said.
Last year’s back injury marked the second consecutive year Brastrup saw his season cut short, as a leg injury prematurely ended his sophomore campaign. It also likely cost Joliet a conference title, which is just one of the goals on the J-Hawks’ list in 2021.
If Joliet is to achieve those goals, it’s likely to be on the back of Brastrup and Ward.
“I’m happy with four yards and a cloud of dust, but he’s always looking to break to that next edge. He’s electric," Joliet head coach George Warburton said. "He definitely has a sixth sense when it comes to cutbacks and reading that field. Sometimes I find myself just watching him.”
“I have trust in him if something happens and I give him the ball, I’m basically walking to the sidelines thinking it’s a touchdown every time. I’m sure when I pull it he’s doing the same thing," Ward said.
Joliet’s two seniors remember the sting of losing last year’s game to Park City, which gave the Panthers the conference’s regular-season crown. The J-Hawks, though, have looked great so far in 2021.
“It was very hard to get over, but it was mostly just motivation to come back even stronger this year," Brastrup said.
“We always have high expectations. We’re not afraid to reach for the stars. We walk in that first day and we talk state. That’s how you should live your life. Reach for the stars," Warburton said. "Right now it’s one check at a time. Eventually we work our way down to that conference championship, then once we get to the playoffs it will be that one step at a time. But right now when we first go into camp, it’s always state.”
Joliet’s next game will be Sept. 24 at Twin Bridges.