The script was almost beyond belief.
First, the star athlete suffers an injury and starts his senior year of football on the shelf, watching, waiting and cheering on his teammates.
When he does return, he runs rampant, putting up video game-like numbers and leading his team to the state championship game. Although his team loses, he sets the title game rushing record for that class.
Then, in wrestling, after back-to-back runner-up finishes at state, he bowls through his weight class with only one match that went the distance, finishing with a perfect record after pinning his opponent in 1:53 for the championship.
In his entire senior year, he lost once in competition.
Richmond-Burton graduate Jack Dechow was a Northwest Herald All-Area first-team selection in football and wrestling. He was considered for Player of the Year honors in both those sports, but now he goes one better.
For his near-perfect year, Dechow is the Northwest Herald Male Athlete of the Year, voted on by the sports staff with nominations from area athletic directors. Only seniors are eligible for the honor. Richmond-Burton will receive a donation of $2,500 from the Rochell Foundation in Dechow’s honor. Dr. Steven Rochell, a Crystal Lake orthopedic surgeon, has given that amount to the athletic departments of the respective female and male winners since 1993.
Dechow was first on all five ballots from the staff. Crystal Lake Central’s Gage Harrah, who edged Dechow for Northwest Herald Wrestler of the Year, was second in the voting. Dechow is R-B’s first Male Athlete of the Year winner since Donovan Moore in 2003.
“That was an awesome year for me,” Dechow said. “Going to state in football was amazing. Everything was amazing at (the University of) Illinois. It was a new, exciting thing. I still get goosebumps to this day thinking about it. After almost getting it, you look at your teammates differently.”
Although R-B lost the Class 4A state championship game to Rochester, 42-39, it earned high respect around the state as a heavy underdog that almost pulled off the upset. Dechow, who did not carry the ball until Week 7 of the season, rushed around, past and over Rochester for 244 yards.
“He had that rare combination of speed and power,” Rockets football coach Pat Elder said. “He’s a great teammate. He’s an incredibly humble kid for someone who’s had so much success.
“That group really enjoyed playing together. When they got him back, that lifted them all up.”
Dechow suffered a broken right ankle while wrestling during the summer and missed R-B’s first four games.
He returned in Week 5 and played linebacker only that game and in Week 6, then returned to fullback in Week 7 and finished with 1,339 yards and 16 touchdowns in eight games. Dechow was second in the area to Prairie Ridge’s Jordan Getzelman (1,371) in rushing.
R-B lost its opener to Oregon, 7-0, without Dechow and did not lose again until the state title game. It was particularly gratifying for the Rockets when they defeated Stillman Valley, 40-28, in the semifinals. R-B had reached the semifinals twice and quarterfinals one other time, in the three previous season and finally had broken through.
“When we got home, coach [Elder] turned on the lights [at R-B’s field] and about 12 guys and some of the coaches threw the ball around and listened to Jason Aldean,” Dechow said. “It was good playing for those coaches, they gave us a heck of a year.”
Dechow also had a slow start in wrestling with what Rockets wrestling coach Bret Wojcik termed “a collarbone issue from football.” Once Dechow returned, there was no stopping him.
Dechow lost to Yorkville’s A.J. Messenger, 6-5, in the Class 2A 171-pound title match at the 2011 IHSA Wrestling State Tournament, one of the toughest losses of his career. He also had lost the Class 2A 160-pound state title match as a sophomore.
“My junior year, I felt like I should have won it,” Dechow said. “Maybe, I didn’t do all the things I could to get mentally and physically prepared. I needed better mental preparation. Going into this season, I was more mentally and physically tough. It was perfect.”
Dechow rolled through the state tournament with only one fairly close match and pinned Bloomington’s Stephon Rudicil in 1:53 for the Class 2A state championship at 182 pounds. He finished his season 34-0 and joined cousin Jordan Blanton (2005, 2006, 2008), Anthony Pasquesi (1997) and Chris Steadman (1989) as R-B state wrestling champions.
“He really put the time in and focused on the little things,” Wojcik said. “He didn’t slack at all. He didn’t want that [runner-up] to happen again. He set his goals high and had a great year.”
Wojcik appreciated that Dechow did not question his coaching. When Wojcik wanted to move Dechow up to 195 to wrestle Grayslake Central’s Joey Valdivia and Warren’s Shakhiem Chapman, Dechow did it and beat both wrestlers. Dechow’s win against Chapman, 5-3, was one of his toughest matches of the season.
Chapman wound up finishing third in Class 3A at 195 pounds. Valdivia lost to Harrah, who is close friends with Dechow, in the Class 2A state championship match.
Dechow currently is in Virginia training with his college team, Old Dominion. He will red-shirt his freshman year, but will be able to compete in most tournaments unattached. His goal will be to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in his second year at either 174 or 184 pounds, whichever class the coaches decide upon.
“It was really cool to see him take off and get rolling,” Wojcik said. “He’s going to have a really great future with the work ethic and attitude he brings to everything.”