Brandon McIlwain ‘blows up’ big


Brandon McIlwain ‘blows up’ big

Council Rock North (Pa.) High School’s Adam Collachi has been coaching football for 16 years, and he has never seen a talent like Brandon McIlwain. “I’ve coached some kids that have played at some major Division I programs and made some practice squads at the NFL level, but nothing like Brandon,” said Collachi, who is entering his fifth season at the helm for Council Rock North. “His talents on the field, his work ethic in the off-season, his leadership qualities, he is a rare commodity for sure.”

Chip Bennett has been coaching quarterbacks for 26 years, and he’s never run across a talent like McIlwain, either. “Brandon will be the best 2016 (high school) quarterback in the nation,” Bennett proclaimed. “How do I know that? I said that two years ago when I saw his freshman film and nothing has changed my mind at all.”

McIlwain will be a junior next season at Council Rock North, and he already owns a resume impressive enough to warrant scholarship offers from powerhouse programs bmaclike Auburn, Ohio State, South Carolina, Clemson, UCLA, Florida and Penn State. “It’s really thrilling,” McIlwain said. “It’s almost surreal at this point. The whole recruiting process, it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve created relationships with the coaches and I’ve explored different options.”

More college offers figure to pour in (UPDATE: Miami (Fla.) offered on March 6) as McIlwain goes through his upcoming junior year with the Indians. As a sophomore this past season, the 6-foot-1, 208-pound dual threat quarterback completed 105 of 190 passes for 1,446 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also ran the football 104 times for 594 yards and 10 TDs.

“I think I grew a lot when it came to making decisions this season,” McIlwain said. “I got better going through my check-downs and I started making better decisions earlier. My footwork got a lot better from my freshman to my sophomore year and I learned to stay in the pocket a little more.”

An extremely gifted athlete, McIlwain also started for Council Rock North’s varsity team as a freshman and averaged 137 yards passing per game with 9 touchdowns while he ran for 715 yards and 11 more scores. Not only was he the youngest player on the field, McIlwain made it through the entire year despite tearing two ligaments in his throwing (right) thumb in a preseason scrimmage.

“You have to do if for your team,” McIlwain said of the injury. “For me, if I’m able to play, if I can do it, I’m going to play. I’m never going to sit out, especially if I don’t have to and I can wait until after the season to have surgery.”

Fierce competitor

Also a standout baseball player, McIlwain waited until the summer after his freshman year to have surgery and didn’t miss a beat as a sophomore QB. “He can throw the football and run the football, but I think even more, it’s his competitiveness,” Collachi said. “When it’s game-time, he just completely changes. It’s awesome to watch and see him warming up; he just accepts that responsibility as somebody that has to perform game in and game out. Just that competitive streak he has, it’s something you don’t see all the time.”

As the big-time college offers come rolling in, you’d understand if McIlwain’s ego began to swell and his attitude changed. That has hardly been the case. “My parents, my teammates and coaches, they’re a good influence,” McIlwain said. “I just keep doing what I need to do. I’m getting my schoolwork done and working out hard.”

There’s a great dual threat QB for you – skilled on the field and mature off. “Just a fantastic kid,” Bennett said. “I was talking to a coach at Navy, and Brandon is above that talent-wise. But I have a feeling that if he went to play football at Navy, just by the type of person he is, if he went there and graduated, he might be the Secretary of Defense one day. I don’t say that about anybody. You might be voting for this kid as President one day. That’s a big statement, but that’s just the impression that I get from him. Every time I talk to him, I’m in awe.”

Collachi hasn’t had one worry about McIlwain losing focus with all of the college attention at such an early stage. “He really is the same kid he’s always been, and I think that’s a testament to his mother and father,” Collachi said. “They’ve instilled great values in him. And our coaching staff has continued to work with him and try to develop him, not only as a football player but also as a person. I thing there’s a lot of good support in his life, all the positive role models and the positive people he has surrounded himself with. It’s a testament as to why he is the way he is.”

Considering his impressive list of accomplishments through two years of high school varsity football, is it possible McIlwain has peaked early? In a word, no. “I can always work on fundamentals,” he said. “I can keep getting better at reading defenses, taking the check downs, staying in the pocket for that extra second. You can always do something to make yourself a better player.”

‘NFA has been huge’

Toward that end, McIlwain has trained with NFA and Coach Will Hewlett for the past six years. “It’s been huge,” he said. “I would not be where I am right now without the influence of NFA, Coach Hewlett. Working with them has pushed me fundamentally; they’ve helped me with my mechanics, reading defenses, everything. NFA has been huge for me and like I said, I would not be where I am today without them.”

Brandon runAs for tomorrow, when he reaches the collegiate level, McIlwain is excited but keeping the recruiting frenzy in perspective. “Playing college football, it was always a dream of mine,” said McIlwain, who is cousins with former NFL linebacker Aaron Maybin and San Diego Padres center fielder Cameron Maybin. “I didn’t know exactly if it was going to happen or not, but it was always a dream and I’ve always tried to work as hard as I could to give myself an opportunity to be in this position. I’ve been enjoying meeting with the coaches and hearing what they have planned for their programs in the near future. I’ve enjoyed exploring different colleges and seeing what they have at their schools.”

Before McIlwain does head to the next level, Collachi is really going to enjoy the next two years of football at Council Rock North. “It’s a testament to how hard Brandon has worked to get himself to this level,” Collachi said. “It’s not a coincidence that someone who dedicates so much time and effort has such good things happen to him. It’s quite amazing to see the offers that are coming in and to see how he’s kind of blowing up this off-season. We’re proud of him here. He’s a great leader for our team and our program and we can’t wait to get started up in the fall.”

McIlwain is truly a classic case of an individual striving to reach a big goal and grasping it. “He has confidence and he’s humble,” Bennett said. “I can’t explain it. I don’t deal with too many kids like that. He’s appreciative of everything. He should be in this moment, this moment with all of the attention he’s getting. This is how it’s supposed to happen. This is where he’s supposed to be, at this level.”

McIlwain is already regarded as one of the top prep quarterbacks in the country, but he does much more on the football field. “He does everything for us,” Collachi said. “He punts and he also plays free safety. I think he could be an all-state free safety. He excels in all three phases of the game. He’s the total package, on and off the field.”

On the baseball field, McIlwain is already good enough to be considered a major-league prospect as a pitcher and second baseman. “He started as true freshman on varsity last season,” Collachi said. “Our baseball program has been very, very successful over the last 20 years or so. He is an integral part of that program.”

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Scot Gregor is an award-winning sportswriter for the Chicago Daily Herald. In addition to writing about Big 10 and Notre Dame football, Gregor has also covered the White Sox, Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls and college basketball. He grew up in Pittsburgh and watched the Steelers rise to prominence in the 1970s. Gregor has a B.S. degree in Journalism from Ohio University