The Dowling Catholic of a year ago shattered the state scoring record with the Ryan Boyle-amped offense and smashed opponents with the Max Morris-charged defense.
The Maroons of today are undefeated, back on top of the 4A rankings and in pursuit of a third straight state championship.
But this is a new Dowling.
The offense no longer revolves around an Iowa-bound quarterback. The defense doesn’t have a Northern Illinois recruit creating havoc at defensive end anymore. There’s not a college prospect with a Power 5 conference offer on the table on this roster – yet.
“We don’t have one guy like (that),” Dowling coach Tom Wilson said. “But we think the sum of our parts can be better than the one guy. That’s pretty important.”
Make no mistake, this Dowling outfit is flush with college football prospects. Defensive lineman Brawntae Wells and tight end Stevie Sarcone visited Western Illinois on Saturday. Offensive lineman Peter Nank took a game day trip to Iowa. Several others pass the eye test for next-level football.
The Maroons’ latest outing – a 35-15 handling of No. 7 Johnston – illustrated Dowling’s across-the-board talent and depth.
Here’s a look at four of Dowling’s top prospects:
DB/WR/PR Michael Zachary
Wilson said Zachary is his most talented player – and the Maroons find plenty of ways to utilize his ability.
He stars in the secondary, where he’s a skilled cover man and physical tackler. He dabbles on offense at receiver and made a spectacular diving catch Friday night for a 36-yard touchdown. He’s most dangerous, though, returning punts.
Zachary led the state last season with four punt return touchdowns. He’s already at two in three games this season and he’s averaging 24.9 yards per return.
“Michael is so shifty and his vision is something special,” Wilson said.
Zachary, also a state wrestling champion, said he’s hearing from Northern Iowa, North Dakota State, Northwest Missouri State and others. He said Iowa Western and Grand View have talked to him about playing both sports in college.
“If I could go somewhere and do both, that would probably be best,” he said. “If I have to pick one, which I probably will if I want to play at the highest level, I’d probably pick football.”
Size might limit some of his options. Zachary is listed at 5-8 and 150 pounds.
“I can’t get big because I try to keep my weight down for wrestling,” he said. “It’s hard to balance those two out. But (questions about my size) really motivate me.”
LT Peter Nank
The 6-6, 270-pound junior was on Division I radars before he played his first career varsity snap in August. Nank camped at Iowa, Iowa State and Illinois State and liked the feedback he’s heard from those three programs.
Nank said he thinks he’s made “straight-line” improvement this season. He’s a high-effort player who finishes blocks.
“He’s got physical skills,” Wilson said. “He’s a great prospect. Fundamentally, we’ve got to keep working with him and foot speed we’ve got to keep working with him, but he’s going to be a 300-pounder before it’s all done.”
LB Jacob Hummel
Dowling’s second-leading tackler is a 6-2, 210-pound junior linebacker with a Division I pedigree.
Hummel’s father, Perry, was a three-time All-American as a wrestler at Iowa State. Wilson thinks the younger Hummel has a future in major college football.
“I think he’s a physical freak,” Wilson said. “His dad was a Division I wrestler. He’s got that kind of toughness and grit. Jacob doesn’t say anything, he just works. If you’d see him here and regular clothes, you’d think, ‘That looks like Division I.’ I think, physically, he’s something special.”
RB Jacob Zachary
The 6-1, 210-pound junior running back is one of Dowling’s most intriguing prospects. He’s fast enough to break big runs and physical enough to flatten defenders.
Zachary is averaging 10.4 yards per carry in a backfield timeshare with fellow junior Cole Deskin. He led the Maroons on Friday with eight carries for 79 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His second score was set up by a highlight reel run one play earlier.
Zachary ran over two Johnston defenders and dragged three more for several yards on a gain of 16.
“We knew we had one guy that we didn’t have blocked (on that play), and that was the safety,” Wilson said. “I said, ‘I think we’re OK.’ ”