The symmetry of the situation was not lost on Joliet Catholic Academy’s Jake Jankowski.
“I feel like I’m going from one great championship program,” Jankowski said, “to another.”
At a ceremony in Heritage Hall, Jankowski was one of six football players and one soccer standout from JCA to formalize their college commitments on National Letter of Intent signing day.
A run-blocker extraordinaire, Jankowski will join a slew of former Hilltoppers — including wide receiver Alex Kolodziej, linebacker Zach Dolph and assistant coach Billy McKeon — at Saint Xavier University.
“Right when I visited the campus, I felt like I was at home there,” Jankowski said. “It’s like a brother school to JCA, and what excites me the most is to get to play for the defending NAIA national champs.”
“Jake ran-blocked better than most of the guys that I played with down at the (Semper Fidelis/Junior Rank All-American Bowl),” said Malin Jones, who was Northwestern’s top recruit. “We have some very talented guys here at JCA, they’re going to great schools, and they deserve what they’re getting today.”
Defensive ends Josh Falk and Matt Frolik decided on NCAA Division II power Northwest Missouri State and NAIA newcomer Robert Morris, respectively. Falk will major in political science, while Frolik will major in culinary arts and minor in business with hopes of becoming a chef and running a restaurant.
“For me, it was between Northwest Missouri and Grand Valley State and I just thought this was the place I’d be more successful,” said Falk, an Illinois State Scholar. “I know that, in my five years there, whatever weight I need to put on that I’ll be able to do it and I definitely think the best is ahead for me.”
“I fell in love with the campus,” Frolik said. “It’s in the city, I love going to Chicago, and it’s a few blocks from the beach. So I’m excited, but I’m going to miss my teammates. We’ve grown up together at JCA.”
Having verbally committed to Northwestern nearly 16 months ago, a lifetime in the recruiting process, the wait did not grow on Jones, however. He already is looking forward to suiting up in the Big Ten.
“It has been a long time coming,” Jones said. “When I committed, I realized that this day would be here. Now, summer will be coming soon, we’ll be reporting to camp, and I can’t wait to get back on the field.”
Locally, St. Francis has been fielding a stronger football team than ever before, and linebacker Mike Passo and defensive tackle Nick Collofello fit the bill for interim coach Joe Curry. Head coach Mike Uremovich left the Saints after seven years to be the special teams coordinator at Northern Illinois.
“It was a mind-blow at first, but I like Coach Curry,” Passo said. “He’s a good guy and he reminds me of Coach U. He’s a total, all-around great guy, and I’m still excited to be going to the St. Francis program.”
“St. Francis always has been my top choice,” Collofello said. “I have six brothers and sisters, so it works best for me to stay close to home. It’s great to be playing with Passo again, the football program at USF has been making progress, and the next few years, I can see us playing for the national championship.”
At JCA, these Hilltoppers played for the Class 5A state title. In college, Jankowski and Passo plan on majoring in business, Collofello in actuarial science and Jones sociology, although that could change.
“It’s a great day for our kids and our families,” JCA coach Dan Sharp said. “These young men put in the work and they’re going so many different places, from the Big Ten to an NAIA national champion to a successful St. Francis program and a brand-new program in Robert Morris. I think that says a lot.
“It shows our kids are the type coaches want in their programs. Our kids are winners, in the classroom and on the field, they work hard, and you can see the camaraderie and friendship. They have gone through everything together as student-athletes and this will prepare them for college and for life.”
Upper Iowa, an NCAA Division II soccer program, caught the attention of striker Cody Vercellotti. He attended a practice at the school and liked the style of play. He will major in information technology.
“It’s a great good day,” Vercellotti said. “I know there are guys who are worried about their college prospects, but I feel like I have nowhere to go but up. I can finish out my senior year stress-free.”
“On a team that wasn’t able to score a lot of goals, Cody was a bright spot,” JCA coach Tom Cranmer said. “He was a real leader on the field and he did the dirty work in front of the net to score goals. He was always working to help our younger forwards, and while we’re excited, we’re sad to see him go.”
Biographical information on the JCA signees:
NICK COLLOFELLO: Senior defensive tackle totaled 79 tackles on 32 solos and 47 assists … Added a team-best 7 sacks, 4 hurries and 3 fumble recoveries … Also played linebacker … State wrestling qualifier as a junior, currently ranked No. 9 in 1A by Illinois Matmen at 182 … Played at 5-foot-8, 190 pounds … Hometown is Joliet, grade school is St. Mary Nativity … The son of Nick and Amy … Committed to the University of St. Francis in Joliet.
JOSH FALK: Senior defensive end totaled 47 tackles on 21 solos and 26 assists … Added 4.5 sacks, 3 hurries and 3 pass breakups … Also recovered 2 fumbles … Special teams standout blocked a punt and recorded a safety … Played at 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds … Hometown is Joliet, grade school is Washington Junior High … The son of Colleen … Committed to Northwest Missouri State in Maryville, Missouri.
MATT FROLIK: Senior defensive end totaled 44 tackles on 15 solos and 29 assists … Added 2.5 sacks, 9 hurries and 5 pass breakups … Also recovered a fumble and recovered a JCA kickoff … A co-captain along with Passo and Jankowski … Listed on the roster at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds … Hometown is Plainfield, grade school Heritage Grove … The son of Peter and Deborah … Committed to Robert Morris University in Chicago.
JAKE JANKOWSKI: Senior offensive lineman was a mainstay at right tackle … Full-time starter and co-captain as a senior … Played at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds … Helped JCA to highest scoring season (666 points), best rushing season (5,273 yards) and most rushing TDs (79) in school history … Hometown is Joliet, grade school is St. Jude of Joliet … The son of Robert and Michelle … Committed to Saint Xavier University in Chicago.
MALIN JONES: Senior running back the first in JCA history to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons … Finished career third all-time in rushing with 4,087 yards on 460 carries, averaging 8.9 per rush, and second in rushing TDs with 57 … Rushed for 1,681 yards on 195 carries as a senior … Set JCA single-game school receiving yardage record with 220 on 6 catches against Marist … Team captain … Named Class 5A All-State by the Illinois Football Coaches Association … Named a Semper Fidelis/Junior Rank All-American and played in All-Star Game … Hometown is Naperville, grade school is Gregory Middle School … The son of Earl and Delores … Committed to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
MIKE PASSO: Senior linebacker totaled 84 tackles on 49 solos and 35 assists … Added 3 sacks, 1 hurry, 1 pass breakup and 1 interception … Led the Hilltoppers to the 5A state championship game with 3 forced fumbles, and also recovered a fumble … Played at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds … Hometown is Plainfield, grade school Drauden Point … The son of Chris and Daria … Committed to the University of St. Francis in Joliet.
CODY VERCELLOTTI: Senior forward led JCA soccer team with 7 goals … Also contributed an assist … Finished two-year varsity career with 10 goals and an assist … Described by coach Tom Cranmer as a natural forward, a nice target player, quick, smart on the ball and an accurate shooter … Hometown is Shorewood, grade school is St. Paul the Apostle … The son of Paul and Rebecca … Committed to Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Iowa.