ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — Harlem quarterback James Cooper Jr. will finish one of the greatest careers a NIC-10 football player has ever had this Friday night when Harlem plays East for the conference championship.
Cooper Jr. already holds almost every NIC-10 career passing record and several single season marks. This season through only five games he has passed for almsot 1500 yards with 18 touchdown passes. He’s also become an excellent runner rushing for seven touchdowns. And he’s been clutch in recent weeks leading Harlem to three straight comeback wins.
Cooper Jr. is an all-time NIC-10 great, but is he the greatest NIC-10 player to ever play that position? I got to thinking about that. I’ve seen 32 years of NIC-10 quarterbacks. I’m a huge Cooper Jr. fan, but he doesn’t top my list of most talented quarterbacks. He’s close at number three.
My second choice just ahead of him is former Belvidere quarterback Matt Barr. In 2005 he was the NIC-10’s MVP and he earned All-State honors. Barr was the perfect option quarterback. He made great decisions, was fast and he was elusive. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards that season. He was also an excellent passer. He completed 62 percent of his passes. Barr led Belidere to the Class 7A semifinals. He then went on to Western Illinois where he was a four-year starter and one of the best quarterbacks in Western Illinois history.
The most talented NIC-10 quarterback I’ve seen is Boylan’s Demry Croft. He also could hurt defenses with his arm and his legs. His junior season he passed for 1,879 yards while rushing for 685 yards. Croft accounted for 28 total touchdowns. His senior year he passed for 2,011 yards and 21 touchdowns while also rushing fo 845 yards. Croft was a Big Ten talent. He wound up at Minnesota where he started several games before things spiraled south and he eventually transferred.
My ‘Best of the Rest’ that I’ve seen at quarterback in the NIC-10 after those three guys are former Hononegah standout Chris Finlen who in 1996 led Hononegah to a 12-1 record and to the state semifinals. Finlen went on to become a starting quarterback for the NIU Huskies.
There’s also Matt Weber of Boylan. He had an excellent arm and good athleticism. His senior year he passed for 1,862 yards. He chose to use that strong arm though to pursue a pro baseball career as a pitcher rather than go play college football at Eastern Illinois.
Former Guilford quarterback Justin Martini ranks high on my list. His senior year was 1992. He had a rifle arm that caught the eyes of the coaches at NIU who recruited Martini to DeKalb.
There have been other quarterbacks in the NIC-10 who have put up big stats in recent seasons such as Belvidere’s Austin Revolinski and Colton Bahling, Belvidere North’s Jace Bankord, Hononegah’s Payton Mather and Freeport’s Alex Bennett and Kevin Flack…all great talents, but you can’t go just by the stats in rating these players. The NIC-10 has evolved into more of a passing league over the last decade with teams running spread offenses which boosts the passing stats.
I went by the eye test basing my picks on talent. You no doubt have your favorites, and you old-timers no doubt have yours from before 1989 when I arrived in Rockford and started following the NIC-10.