Signings: Joliet West honors six character kids
Updated: May 8, 2012 6:55PM
The event was all about relationships.
“I couldn’t help but notice as an athletic director that all our coaches got up and talked about the relationships that were developed here,” Joliet West athletic director Steve Millsaps said. “They mean so much.”
Millsaps organized the West signing ceremony Monday night in the school cafeteria. Six of the Tigers’ best senior athletes were feted as they prepare to continue their careers in college. But with scores of family, friends and teammates on hand for support, the emphasis was on their success as young people as much as in the athletic arena.
West’s boys basketball coach Luke Yaklich’s team had two members signing, 6-foot-9 center Marlon Johnson with Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College, a Division I junior college, and 6-2 forward Brian Edwards with University of St. Francis.
Yaklich recalled Johnson as a “6-4, 130-pound freshman “B” team kid. Marlon went from a player not knowing his potential as a student-athlete to this. He is the most improved player from freshman to senior year that I have been around.”
But what about that ever-present smile? “You want to knock it off his face sometime when you yell at him,” Yaklich said, “but it’s always there.”
Edwards is an example of a kid who used every ounce of energy to reach his potential on the court and off. “He takes his academics and life off the court very seriously,” Yaklich said.
“Brian is somebody you would trust to babysit with your kids. Marlon, too. If my wife and I were going out, they’re two of the first ones I would call.”
Guard Khadija Cooley will represent the West girls basketball program at St. Francis. Coach Kevin Michaels recalled asking her as a junior if she planned to play college basketball. “She said, ‘Coach, I don’t care if I play as long as I go somewhere that has a nursing program.’
“She has a 3.5 GPA, played, practiced and has a job. She is the type that as her teammate, you don’t want to let her down.”
That crossover dribble that she features? “I learned it playing with the boys in the neighborhood,” she said.
Brianna Thompson, the softball catcher, will play at Elmhurst. She had to sit out her junior year after transferring from Minooka but did practice with the team.
Coach Heather Suca called her “the best teammate I have been around, and that includes the great (Joliet Township) teams I played on. She helps our pitchers tremendously; she always helps everyone around her.”
The others honored were baseball outfielder Jeff Gersch, who will play at Spalding University in Louisville, Ky., and football running back SaVaughn Alexander, headed to NCAA Division II Bemidji State.
Baseball coach John Karczewski said he met Gersch at a summer camp about seven years ago. “I’ve been in coaching for 15 years, and Jeff is one of my top five favorite athletes with his work ethic and type of kid he is,” he said.
Football coach Jason Aubry said Alexander always has been an incredible physical specimen, but injuries short-changed a budding high school career. Four days into preseason camp his junior year, he suffered what Aubry called “the worst knee injury I ever heard of. He could have said then, ‘I’ve had enough. I’m quitting.’
“Instead, he worked hard, came back and we were elated. You see on film how he blew up kids blocking them, and he had that 200-yard (rushing) game against Sandburg when he came to my house to hang out with me and my family afterward rather than going out with friends. This is a character kid.”
Five others fitting that description shared the spotlight.