Jacob Brinlee capped his high school career at Lake Zurich by rushing for 226 yards in a state championship loss to Wheaton Warrenville South.
No colleges were ready to offer a scholarship, so Brinlee attended a prep school in Virginia for a year.
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So Brinlee walked on at Northern Illinois and made a quick impact at wide receiver. He saw action in eight games last fall, producing 2 receptions and 31 yards rushing. Playing right away is unusual for any true freshman, let alone a walk-on with no scholarship offers.
The 5-foot-9 Brinlee is back in the mix as a sophomore, with the Huskies needing to replace two of their top three receivers from last year's Orange Bowl team.
"He's having a great camp," NIU receivers coach Thad Ward said of Brinlee. "He had a great summer in the weight room. I expect him to play a lot more this season."
An overnight success, he's not. Brinlee spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy in central Virginia. Most of the school's games involved road trips to other states and were often against college JV teams.
"It was a military post graduate school. It was like a fifth year of high school," Brinlee said. "So it was tough, but I think it was worth it. I learned a lot there, just through the whole military aspect. It's not like I was ever a disobedient kid or anything, but just the discipline and everything was a good experience."
Once he decided to enroll at NIU, Brinlee had to switch positions and become a receiver. He worked with former NFL receiver Don Beebe, whose son Chad is a freshman in DeKalb this fall.
"Obviously route-running is a big thing," said Brinlee, who did not play in the Orange Bowl. "Just knowing your assignment is big. That's kind of how I got in last year. I knew what to do."
Ippolito ready for impact:
Heading into fall camp, Neuqua Valley's Michael Ippolito was making a bid to become DeKalb's most versatile defensive lineman. A true sophomore, Ippolito was listed as second-string defensive tackle and third-string end.
"My goals this year are being able to influence the team somehow -- on and off the field," he said. "On the field, special teams, and if I work out the way they want, then I'll end up maybe getting some playing time.
"I was at defensive end last year and they kind of transitioned me into tackle this year. It's kind of easy learning the ropes from (starter) Ken Bishop, as far as being a defensive tackle, learning under his wing. He's teaching me everything. It's a nice transition."
Asked about last year's trip to the Orange Bowl, Ippolito could barely find the words to describe it.
"That experience was one of a kind," he said. "(I'll) never forget, (I'll) tell my grandchildren about it. It was unbelievable, it really was."
Geneva grad pulls a switch:
Last spring, Geneva graduate Matt Williams was one of NIU's most effective quarterbacks. Not that he was going to beat out Jordan Lynch for the starting job, but Williams completed 6 of 10 passes for 88 yards and 2 touchdowns in the spring game.
Since then, Williams switched to wide receiver and is hoping to make an impact catching the ball this season.
"It kind of happened at the end of the summer," receivers coach Thad Ward said of the switch. "I think we got better as a team by doing that. Right now, this camp has been him learning how to play receiver.
"He has good hands. After playing quarterback, he knows where everybody should be. Now it's a matter of learning the details."
Williams is a fast study. He had a 22-yard touchdown reception during the team's scrimmage on Aug. 17.