Kankakee Valley's tight end slipped out of the backfield to catch a play-action pass that he turned into a big gain against Wheeler.

About 25 years downfield, the Bearcats' Andrew Murray tracked him down to make the tackle. Oh, it's worth noting that Murray is a 220-pound defensive end.

"That's Andrew Murray in a nutshell right there," Bearcats coach Adam Hudak said after pulling up video of the play. "He doesn't quit. That stuff's hard to teach. It has nothing to do with coaching. He has an amazing motor. He's the type of kid who hates to lose more than he loves to win."

When Hudak became Wheeler's coach in the summer, Murray was the first player that then-Bearcats assistant Nick Testa talked to him about.

"He told me, you're going to fall in love with this kid," Hudak said. "The first scrimmage, I could tell. He's the type of kid you get into coaching for."

After taking over, Hudak related what it was like to have a new coach, having gone through it when he played basketball for Lowell. It's typically toughest on seniors, but as quickly as Hudak took to his senior captain, Murray took to his new coach.

"He really opened things up," Murray said. "The coaches have a much closer bond than there used to be."

It's easy for coaches to connect with players when they get after it like Murray. He has approached the game the same way from his Pop Warner days, when he was usually played in an older division due to his size.

"I'd have to strip down to make weight," he said.

His competitive nature developed at home with brother Brad, a junior middle linebacker for the Bearcats, the smaller, more outgoing Murray, compared to the bigger, laid-back Andrew.

"Whenever we'd do anything, I'd want to be better than him, and it just carried on," Murray said.

Murray tops the Bearcats' defense with 59 tackles, four sacks and four tackles for loss. On offense, he typically plays tight end, where he has two catches for 54 yards and a touchdown, but he shifted over to tackle last week out of necessity. With Wheeler's roster hovering around 30, Murray rarely leaves the field.

"He's got great hands," Hudak said. "He's also our best lineman. He's no-nonsense. He leads by example."

While he plays both sides of the ball, Murray clearly prefers defense for the hitting.

"I feel like I'm better with my hands, getting off blocks," he said. "I'm able to run guys down from behind."

The skill set and mindset both translate to Saturdays, though Murray is undecided on whether he wants to play in college or just be a student.

"Everybody tells me it's a different feeling than high school," he said.

Hudak hopes to convince Murray to keep playing.

"With his frame, he could put on 20 pounds in a heartbeat and turn it into 240," he said. "I think he could give D-II a run for its money. We could find him somewhere if he wants to go."

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Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.