Three JCA football players commit

Bolton and Rodriguez both to Millikin, while Smith set for Loras

JCA football players Carson Smith (from left), Austin Bolton and Nick Rodriguez have made their college commitments. (Photo by Bill Scheibe)

JOLIET – Surgery for appendicitis sidelined Joliet Catholic Academy tight end Nick Rodriguez down the stretch this past season during the Hilltoppers’ drive to the Class 5A state championship game.

It could not stop him, however.

“It was a tough situation, but God had a plan,” Rodriguez recalled. “Not being able to play was tough, but just being there with my teammates was a gift and it’s something I will always look back on.”

Alongside all-conference guard Carson Smith and linebacker/defensive lineman Austin Bolton, Rodriguez was able to look back on his time at JCA as the three seniors announced their college commitments.

Both Rodriguez and Bolton, who led the Hillmen with 111 tackles on 53 solos and added 4 hurries, committed to Millikin University. Smith, who converted from defense, committed to Loras College.

The 5-foot-7, 165-pound Rodriguez will become a slot receiver for Millikin. A part-time contributor at wingback, he rushed for 102 yards on 23 carries in 2011 and also caught a 41-yard touchdown pass.

“I visited a couple of other schools, but Millikin is where I felt most at home – it has that JCA feel,” Rodriguez said. “I wasn’t big enough to be a running back at JCA, but I’m excited to be a receiver there.”

Speaking of big, the 6-0, 220-pound Bolton and the 6-3, 220-pound Smith each have defense in their futures. Bolton expects to play middle linebacker for Millikin, with Smith at defensive end for Loras.

“It will probably be a ‘Mac’ position,” Bolton said. “It feels far enough from home to still get the college experience, but I will be close enough to see my dad. And I really think I fit into their defensive scheme.”

“A little bit of him and my parents helped me,” said Smith, whose older brother Calvin (’09) is a running back at Western Michigan. “Being versatile has definitely helped me, and I’ll probably be a D-end.”

Pointing to an 11-3 record and a 17th trip to the state football championship game, JCA coach Dan Sharp praised not only the ability of Bolton, Rodriguez and Smith, but also their attitude and team spirit.

“Through work ethic and dedication to the program, the amount of time they spent developing their talents into total players, it puts them at a great advantage for college,” Sharp said. “They’re prepared.

“You have Nick who has tremendous speed. He can be a back or a receiver in multiple offenses and a return specialist. You have Austin who can anchor the defense on the line or at linebacker, depending on the team. And Carson started out on the D-line and then became an all-conference offensive lineman.”

The latest trio joins a strong recruiting class for Sharp’s football program, following Nick Collofello (St. Francis), Josh Falk (Northwest Missouri State), Matt Frolik (Robert Morris), Jake Jankowski (Saint Xavier), Malin Jones (Northwestern) and Mike Passo (St. Francis). Isaac Grashoff will walk on next spring at NIU.

 “We had such a close-knit team and I’m going to miss everybody from JCA,” Bolton said. “We had fun throughout the year and to make it as far as we did, right to the state championship game, was great.”

“We worked so hard to get there,” Smith said. “Making it to state was the highlight of our season.”

Those highlights should continue in college, where Rodriguez and Carson plan on majoring in the medical field and Bolton plans on majoring in history before going to graduate school for archaeology.

“It has been a great four years,” Rodriguez said. “How many people can say that they had the chance to play or be a part of two state championship games in football? It’s just a great feeling overall at JCA.”

— Bill Scheibe, Director of Communications

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