OPOY: Joliet Catholic's Ty Isaac

If Joliet Catholic Ty Isaac’s season goals are any indication of his ability to estimate, he probably shouldn’t be on "The Price is Right" anytime soon.

Isaac, a junior running back, was 25 touchdowns off what he believed was possible this season.

The thing is he took his season goals seriously prior to the year.

He didn’t want to set the bar too high and be unrealistic about them. At the same time, he was careful in not placing them too low and make them too easy to accomplish. There was no challenge in that.

So what Isaac decided was he hoped to score 20 touchdowns and rush for 1,500 yards this season. They were numbers similar to what Joliet Catholic senior running back Malin Jones, a Northwestern recruit, and former Hilltoppers running back Josh Ferguson, now a freshman at Illinois, accumulated during their junior seasons.

Instead what Isaac has done his junior season is taken his targeted numbers and annihilated them. Leading up to Saturday’s Class 5A state championship game, Isaac has rushed for 2,114 yards and 36 touchdowns, caught 16 passes for 360 yards and seven touchdowns and has two special teams’ touchdowns.

He broke Joliet Catholic’s record for touchdowns in a season, breaking J.R. Zwierzynski’s mark of 39 touchdowns in 2001. His 45 single-season touchdowns had also put him tied for sixth in the IHSA’s record book.

For Isaac’s feats, he is the 2011 ESPNChicago.com Offensive Player of the Year.

“What I’ve done is surpassed my expectations,” Isaac said. “I think after the first couple games with the way our offense was going, I kind of figured it was going to be a bigger year, but I never expected this.”

Isaac’s season couldn’t have started with a bigger bang. Against rival Carmel, he rushed for 221 yards and two touchdowns. In the final minute, he ran a fade route, the ball was throw his way, he slowed down to catch it over his right shoulder, avoided Carmel’s defensive back, tiptoed around the sideline, then gathered himself and sprinted the remaining 50 yards for the touchdown. His 75-yard score proved to the difference in Joliet Catholic’s 32-31 win.

“He just has the ability to make plays,” Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp said. “I think what he did that night jump started himself and our entire offense.”

Carmel coach Andy Bitto saw something special that night and declared Isaac something after the game no one had before then.

“I think Isaac might be the best back in the state,” Bitto said.

Isaac has proven Bitto to be dead on week after week. Isaac added three more touchdowns against Notre Dame in Week 2. He rushed for 311 yards against Peoria Richwoods in Week 3. He was up to double-digit touchdowns by Week 4.

By the time Nazareth faced him in Week 6, Isaac was already nearing 20 touchdowns. He added two more scores against the Roadrunners.

Nazareth coach Tim Racki has already seen enough of him.

“I still can’t believe this kid is only a junior in high school,” Racki said. “Breaking him down on film, he really pops off the screen. When scouting him, I was impressed at how effortless he makes the game seem. Watching him play against my team is when my jaw really hit the floor.

“Not sure I have seen a young man who possesses the size, speed, vision, athleticism and strength he has. I now know how Marcus Allen must have looked and played like as a junior in high school.”

Racki’s comparison to Marcus Allen at the high school level isn’t an anomaly. Isaac has often been linked to Allen because Isaac’s 6-2, slender and haunts defenders with his elusiveness.

Isaac’s highlights this season almost appear as if they’re choreographed the way he’s made defenders miss. Against Lincoln-Way East in the opening round, he was handed the ball, ran right, found himself surrounded by defenders, stopped, cut right, then cut quickly left, split four defenders and went on to score a 67-yard touchdown.

Isaac’s father, Tyrone Isaac, isn’t amazed by much his son does because he’s seen it all, but the Lincoln-Way West run even blew him away.

“He probably should have been tackled three times before he made it to the line of scrimmage,” said Tyrone, who also was a running back for Joliet Catholic and graduated in 1988. “It’s the best run I’ve ever saw.”

Sharp has had some great backs come through his program in his 19 years, but he believed Isaac could top them all.

“First of all, he’s very elusive,” Sharp said. “He has great vision and ability to cut. He’s strong and fast. Put all that together, and he’s a great running back.

“He’s as good as we’ve had. Ty is the one who is going to be a big-time recruit out of them all.”

Arizona, Notre Dame and most of the Big Ten have already come forward with offers for Isaac, but Sharp thought his recruitment would be more of a national one this offseason.

Isaac’s rise this season wasn’t completely unexpected. He’s been on varsity since his freshman year. He was on the verge of breaking out last season, but he suffered a leg injury and also had Ferguson and Jones ahead of him.

This season, he came in healthy and only had to share carries with Jones. He and Jones have been a major 1-2 punch with Jones also rushing for 1,494 yards and 25 touchdowns.

Isaac is humble about his success, too. He credits his offensive line. He thanks Ferguson and Jones for their mentoring. He’s grateful to have a father who has been able to teach him the game.

Isaac understands how unique his year has been, and it’s why he hasn’t let it go to his head.

“I think a season like this doesn’t come around all the time,” he said. “I know there are other guys around the country doing spectacular things. I don’t want to be like, ‘I’m this or I’m that.’ There’s always someone out there better. I want to be that guy that’s better.”