Benet coach Patrick New and his staff discussed at length how their team was going to defend Wheaton Warrenville South quarterback Reilly O’Toole in the opening round of the playoffs.
There was talk of blitzing him and trying to push him out of the pocket. The other idea was to drop eight defenders and take away his options.
“We decided on mixing it up, and what we found is that it doesn’t matter,” New said. “He'll beat both strategies.”
The Redwings shouldn’t feel too bad. Every coach who faced O’Toole this season tried a variation of Benet’s plan, and every coach discovered the same truth -- there was no precise way to defend him this season. O’Toole was nearly perfect this season while leading Wheaton Warrenville South into the national rankings and to the Class 7A state championship game for the second consecutive season.
For all his success, O’Toole is the ESPNChicago.com High School Football Player of the Year.
“He's one of the best quarterbacks that I've seen in the Chicago area since I've been coaching high school football since 1990,” New said. “I played on an all-star team in the late ’80s with Kent Graham, and he reminds me a lot of him.”
Like Graham, O’Toole tormented defenses in the DuPage Valley throughout his senior season. Graham’s old team, Wheaton North, experienced the best of O’Toole, too. In Wheaton Warrenville South’s two wins over the Falcons this season, O’Toole was 28-of-32 passing for 483 yards and eight touchdowns.
O’Toole’s season stats weren’t much different. He was 172-of-229 passing for a 75.1 completion percentage to go along with 3,005 yards and 40 touchdowns. He also rushed for 393 yards and six touchdowns.
Of his numbers, what may be most impressive was the Illinois-bound O’Toole threw just two interceptions.
“The thought of throwing just two interceptions in 13 games with as much throwing as they do is just mind-boggling,” Naperville North coach Sean Drendel said. “There’s no dropped balls. You got to think there’s going to be a fluke in there. It’s incredible. I’m just happy he’s going away to college, so Naperville North doesn’t have to face him.”
Naperville North senior linebacker Nick Lifka, who was the ESPNChicago.com Defensive Player of the Year, was on the losing side of two meetings with O’Toole during his career, but he always enjoyed the challenge. O’Toole was 11 of 18 for 228 yards and three touchdowns in the Tigers’ 41-13 win over Naperville North this season.
“Reilly O’Toole is a very efficient quarterback,” Lifka said. “He’s smart. He runs the ball. He uses the pocket. In our game, he didn’t make a mistake. He would throw the ball perfectly to the receiver. He would make the reads. I try to study the little things on an opponent. He does such a great job with the little things that you can’t tell what he’s going to do on each play.”
O’Toole’s maturation as a quarterback this season was dramatic. A year ago, he led the Tigers to the Class 7A state championship, but he had his ups and downs. Even in the state title game, Glenbard West was able to rattle him, and he was 10 of 21 with two interceptions.
When Glenbard West pressured him again this season, O’Toole lit up the Hilltoppers for a 40-20 win. He was 15 of 21 for 263 yards and two touchdowns, and he rushed for two more scores.
It was the type of performance Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch saw from Week 1 to Week 13 this season.
“What impressed me about Reilly this season was his consistency,” Muhitch said. “His consistency has been evident in how he makes decisions with the football as a quarterback, and he’s always been consistent in making the plays as an athlete himself.
“With all of his talent throwing the ball, which is very evident to everybody, he’s also expanded his ability in the running game, ability to throw the ball with a little more touch at times and he’s had a tremendous ability to avoid sacks and avoid pressure and still get passes off.”
Opposing coaches were just as complimentary even though O’Toole defeated all them by 20 or more points.
“Reilly is a mature leader with poise and confidence. He has talent around him that he uses so well. His game smarts and leadership have made this very good Wheaton team a great one.” -- Maine South coach David Inserra
“Reilly is a fantastic player. Not only does he have a rather strong command of the offense, when he is on the field, there is no question who the leader of coach Muhitch’s offense is. He has that ‘thing’ that can’t be taught.” -- Hinsdale Central coach Mike DiMatteo
“It is obvious that he is a great leader the way he carries himself and his field presence is the best I have seen in a high school quarterback. The only one I can remember that is close, but not as good in my opinion, was Kent Graham for Wheaton North.” -- Belleville East coach Tim Funk
“Reilly is a great competitor. That is what separates him from other athletes.” -- Glenbard East coach Dennis Lueck
“The Reilly O’Toole kid is just … his vision is good. I knew we were going to pressure them. We did pressure them like nobody else has this year. He just made a lot of plays with his feet. He’s a special kid.” -- Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet
“Reilly is the most complete high school quarterback I have seen in 10 years. He is smart, has good feet and can make all the throws.” -- Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski
“He is a very special player. One of the best that’s played around here in a long time. He is a very smart player with great leadership skills. He has the ability to turn a bad play into a touchdown. He has great playmaking ability.” -- Naperville Central coach Mike Stine
Stine did suggeste one way of containing O’Toole.
“The only way to stop him is to not let him on the field,” Stine said.
Opponents probably considered that, too.