LOMBARD — Tradition. Winner. Champion.
Words that hold special meaning at Montini Catholic. Words that aren’t taken lightly. Or for granted.
Dylan Thompson gets it. Always has. From the first day he stepped on campus and joined Chris Andriano’s powerhouse football team.
“He’s been great for us,” Andriano said. “He’s got the right attitude about everything in terms of football and high school.”
Montini’s success, on the field and in the classroom, drew Thompson to the school.
“He was going to go to a Catholic school. His parents were committed to that,” Andriano said. “We’re happy for that. Obviously.”
During his three years on the Montini varsity, Thompson has never lost a playoff game. The defensive leader of the four-time defending champions, Thompson is The News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year.
“He deserves it,” Andriano said. “He earned it.”
At 6-foot-5, 285 pounds, Thompson stands out on the field. But he wasn’t always the biggest guy on the team. Or the best player.
“He was a tall, gangly kid when he first started out,” Andriano said. “He’s progressed from there. He’s been very dedicated in the offseason.”
Thompson worked on the offensive line as a sophomore. But even then, Andriano envisioned a player who soon could dominate on the defensive line.
“He’s unblockable one on one,” Andriano said. “He can run things down. He’s strong and powerful. He’s a complete player.”
The complete player has 55 tackles, 35 tackles for loss, and 12 sacks this season.
Thompson becomes the first Montini player to win the N-G award since receiver Bob Westerkamp in 1982.
He’s also the first primarily defensive player to win since 2007, when Chicago Mount Carmel linebacker Steven Filer was honored.
Others have noticed Thompson, too. Like Urban Meyer and unbeaten Ohio State. Thompson, who had scholarship offers from the top programs in the country, will sign with the Buckeyes in early February.
“We lost count there were so many,” Andriano said.
“Alabama was in on him. There were SEC teams all over the place who were in on him. All the Big Ten teams. He’s definitely gotten the notoriety.”
Why Ohio State? Remember, the guy is used to winning. Something they do a lot of in Columbus.
“I felt at home when I walked in the door of the Woody Hayes Center,” Thompson said. “It’s where I wanted to be. Great coaches. Great players.”
Thompson tried to enjoy the recruiting process. Looking back, “it was stressful,” he said. “It took up a lot of time. I would be on the phone with coaches for two or three hours at night. Then, I’d still have to do homework and eat.
“I’m not going to say I’m happy that it ended. But I’m happy with the choice that I made. A lot of it wore me down.”
Longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming saw Thompson’s potential during the 2012 playoffs.
“He dominates everybody with his strength and determination,” Lemming said.
Thompson shows off his strength in the weightroom, bench-pressing more than 400 pounds. That translates on the field, helping him shed blockers as if they were meddlesome flies.
It takes more than one offensive lineman to block Thompson. Teams send two, three or even four to get in his way.
“He has to be accounted for at all times on the field, and that’s the mark of a high school difference-maker,” Lemming said
Thompson looks like a college player. Now. And just wait until the Ohio State strength coaches get hold of him.
“He could be a junior or senior in college buildwise,” Lemming said. “He looks like a man among boys. He looks like a 25-year-old playing against 16-year-olds.”
He is not perfect. There is room for Thompson to improve.
“He’s a little stiff,” Lemming said.
If Thompson continues his current career arc, Lemming thinks he can be a star with the Buckeyes.
“He reminds me of John Simon, who was just as strong coming out of high school,” Lemming said. “Simon needed a couple years of work also.”
That Meyer likes him is a good sign.
“Alabama and Ohio State do the best job of anybody in the country at finding guys who fit into their schemes,” Lemming said.
The Buckeyes sent former NFL All-Pro Mike Vrabel to recruit Thompson. He will be a good mentor.
And Thompson will listen.
“He’s a solid kid who takes instruction well and learns from his mistakes,” Lemming said. “He’s a hardworking football player, and I think he’ll have the patience to allow himself to improve.”
The Montini way
Andriano had been at Montini 26 years before winning his first state championship. The massive success didn’t happen overnight.
The school had many heartbreaking losses, making it to the quarterfinals or semifinals. Andriano wondered if a title was ever going to happen.
But they beefed up their game preparation, and today it looks like UCLA during the John Wooden era.
“I’m pinching myself right now,” Andriano said. “I never knew this was possible.”
He brought in players like Thompson, who will make a play when asked. In the quarterfinal win against Joliet Catholic, Thompson had a key block on the winning two-point play. It was one of the biggest wins in Montini history.
“You build a culture,” Andriano said. “There are expectations. Our kids get coached very hard. I’ve got basically a college staff. All of our coaches are terrific. Everything is in place for a kid to really be his best.”
The coaches challenge the players. They are hard on them. All with one end game in mind: winning another state title. As many as possible.
“We’re harder on our great players than we are on anybody else,” Andriano said. “We’ve built such a great camaraderie between all the kids. The kids are more willing to do what you ask them to do.”
There is pressure on the players to live up to past success.
“There’s a lot, especially with the reputation Montini has of being great in football and great academically,” Thompson said. “It gets to you a little bit.”
It is also a lot of fun.
“It’s a great experience, with all my friends here and all the great coaches,” he said. “I don’t know what losing feels like. It’s going to be rough next year if I end up losing a game.”
Thompson had a great mentor when he arrived at Montini: star defensive lineman Garrett Goebel. Thompson is following Goebel’s track to Ohio State. Goebel was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes and played on Meyer’s undefeated 2012 team.
“Dylan is definitely in Goebel’s category,” Andriano said. “They know each other. I think Garrett gave Ohio State good reviews and talked very highly of the whole program. That had something to do with it.”
Whatever it takes
The biggest knock on Thompson was his agility. So, he decided to do something about it.
Last year, Thompson joined the Montini volleyball team. Not your typical spiker, he admits it isn’t his best sport.
But he tried. He did what he could to help the team while also improving his vertical leap.
“He is willing to step out of his element,” Andriano said. “He wasn’t a great volleyball player, but he knew it would help him. That’s just wanting to get better. He didn’t care what other people thought or said.”
Not that he’s going to give up football.
“It helped with my explosiveness,” Thompson said. “It helped a lot. I don’t think I’ll play it at Ohio State.”
Andriano was impressed that Thompson tried.
“He’s got to be coordinated in his movement skills,” Andriano said. “I think he’s got a chance to play on Sundays.”
Work ethic is not a problem for Thompson. He is one of the hardest workers in Montini program history.
He is ready to get back in the weightroom and on the field. As soon as possible.
“At the college level, I’ll need to work harder in the offseason,” Thompson said.
He has been dreaming about the move to college since his sophomore year at Montini. That is when he started to realize he could be another in the line of special Montini players.
“There was a lot of encouragement from my parents,” Thompson said.
One for the thumb
Last Saturday, Montini beat Sycamore to qualify for this weekend’s Class 5A finals. Thompson did his part, approaching double figures in tackles, including a pair of sacks and two tackles for loss.
The Broncos play another longtime power, Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, on Saturday morning in DeKalb.
“I’m really excited to play them,” Thompson said. “I heard they have a couple of Division I guys.”
If Montini wins, it will be the fifth consecutive state title. Three of them with Thompson on the team.
“It feels really good,” Thompson said. “Our team had a great game (Saturday). We had the mind-set all along that we weren’t going to be beat, and we were going to do whatever it takes to win.”
Montini won’t make its usual late-November trip to Champaign-Urbana. Instead, the Broncos will have a shorter jaunt to the Northern Illinois campus.
“It seems a little bit different, but it’s still going to be a great environment,” Thompson said.
Montini will have plenty of fans in the stands. Thompson is expecting at least 5,000 to travel from the Lombard area.
Join the club
Dylan Thompson breaks up a run of five straight offensive
players to be named News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year. A look at recent winners:
YEAR NAME SCHOOL POS.
2013 Dylan Thompson Lombard Montini DL
2012 Matt Alviti Maine South QB
2011 Wes Lunt Rochester QB
2010 Reilly O’Toole Wheaton South QB
2009 Kyle Prater Proviso West WR
2008 Terry Hawthorne East St. Louis WR
2007 Steven Filer Chicago Mount Carmel LB
2006 Robert Hughes Chicago Hubbard RB
2005 John Dergo Morris RB
2004 Jake Christensen Lockport QB
2003 Sean Price Maine South QB
2002 Pierre Thomas T.F. South RB
2001 Tim Brasic Riverside-Brookfield QB
2000 Casey Paus Lincoln-Way QB
1999 Ryan Clifford Naperville Central RB
1998 Jon Beutjer Wheaton South QB
1997 Siaka Massaquoi Evanston RB
1996 Antwaan Randle El Thornton QB
1995 Marcus Smith Bolingbrook RB
1994 Quincy Woods Rich East QB
1993 Greg Williams Bolingbrook QB
1992 Robert Farmer Bolingbrook RB
1991 Chris Moore East St. Louis RB
1990 Corey Rogers Chicago Leo RB
1989 Oliver Gibson Romeoville LB