Player of Year: Jordan Westerkamp

Jordan Westerkamp will end his career as the state's career leader in receiving yards (4,024), touchdowns (61) and possibly receptions with six more on Saturday. Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.com

Finding his doubters has become more challenging for Montini’s Jordan Westerkamp.

At first, being an unknown wide receiver in Illinois was enough to motivate him. Then after putting himself on the map his sophomore season while helping Montini to a state title, he was driven by the critics who questioned whether he was a Division I talent. He proved that with an even bigger junior season, another state title and then chose to commit to Nebraska out of the many scholarship offers he had.

Westerkamp found there were very few skeptics remaining as he entered his senior season. It’s hard to knock a player who is a Nebraska recruit, has won two state championships and is on the verge of breaking a handful of Illinois receiving records.

It was a strange place for him because he always considered himself as the underdog from a small school and used those doubters for motivation.

So what to do? You hunt high and low for doubters -- there will always be those who knock even the cream of the crop -- and turn whatever criticisms you find into a mound of kindling.

And that’s what Westerkamp did.

He discovered those who doubted whether he could win a third consecutive state championship, whether he was really good enough to play at Nebraska and whether he could dominant a big school with high-end athletes like Loyola.

“I put everything into that motivation,” he said. “I’m going to prove you wrong. I’m going to prove the whole state. If they don’t think I’m as good as whatever, it’s like fuel for the fire.”

Westerkamp will have to wait until Saturday’s Class 5A state championship for that third state title to be determined, but otherwise he definitively answered everything else. Despite being blanketed by as many as four defenders at a time, he caught 78 passes for 1,342 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. Against Loyola, there was no doubt he was the best player on the field.

From his mind-boggling highlight catches to his single-season numbers to his multiple state championships to his record-setting career, Westerkamp is the 2011 ESPNChicago.com Player of the Year.

Montini coach Chris Andriano said he hasn’t encountered a more complete high school receiver in his 33 years coaching.

“He’s fast,” Andriano said. “He’s got a great body. He’s got a 40-inch vertical. He’s strong. He’s worked very hard at those physical things. Then you add into it, the intelligence of his route running. He can adjust routes. He’s very smart about reading coverages. He does all those things the right way.

“Then, you got the part of the game where he’s so competitive. He’s just a total player. He affects every play, not just the game. Every play they have to do something to take him away from us.”

Defenses certainly tried to eliminate Westerkamp. They put a guy in his face, another guy over the top of him and then had a safety spy on him. Some teams put three defenders in a zone and a safety on top of that.

“You look at it and chuckle,” said Bob Westerkamp, his father and Montini’s wide receivers coach. “We would put a guy in motion, and nobody would budge because Jordan was still the guy over there.”

Despite all the focus, Westerkamp still found ways to get open. He has at least five receptions in nine games. He has scored one touchdown in all 13 games and had seven multiple-touchdown games. He has nine 100-plus-yard receiving games.

As consistent as Westerkamp has been, he’s always saved his best for the biggest games and the biggest moments.

As a sophomore, he had a team-best six receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown in the state championship. Last season, he caught seven passes for 146 yards and three touchdowns in the state championship.

It’s been more of the same this season. In Week 1, he scored the game-winning touchdown in the final minutes to beat Palatine. Against Marmion in Week 3, he was held to three receptions and 23 yards, but decided the game when he scored a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter. Last week in the semifinals, he didn’t have a catch in the first half and came through with a leaping touchdown grab with 2:03 left to lift Montini to a 35-31 win over Kaneland.

In 14 career playoffs game, Westerkamp has 83 receptions for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns, an average of 5.9 receptions, 105 yards and 1.4 touchdowns.

“There’s a lot of guys who are talented, but they don’t have that "it" factor,” Andriano said. “He’s such a unique competitor. He wants the ball. He wants the situation. He wants the pressure. He wants the whole thing like that. He wants that on himself. He takes a lot of pride in being the man.”

Westerkamp especially sought that role against Loyola in Week 2. It was the game he thought would finally cease any doubts about his ability.

“There would be people who say he plays in 5A, and he doesn’t play the same competition as in 8A,” Westerkamp said. “I wanted to prove I could do this against a bigger school and the best teams.”

On Montini’s first drive, Westerkamp hauled in a 22-yard touchdown and came off the field high-stepping and throwing his hands into the air. It was just the start for him. He finished with eight receptions for 159 yards and three touchdowns.

“Do I really have to put it into words?” Loyola coach John Holecek said afterward. “You can’t guard him with two people. He’s special.”

The record books indicate that as well. Westerkamp owns the IHSA records for career receiving yards (4,024) and touchdowns (61). He is also only six receptions shy of tying the state record for career receptions (264).

Westerkamp hopes to add one other feat to his career on Saturday. He would be a three-time state champion if the Broncos defeat Joliet Catholic in a rematch of the 2009 title game.

Whatever happens Saturday, Westerkamp is grateful for all he’s accomplished in four years at Montini.

“It’s crazy just how fast it went,” he said. “I feel fortunate to have the career I’ve had.”