Prairie Ridge football coach Chris Schremp raised a legitimate question after the Wolves defeated Cary-Grove, 42-7, in Week 8 last season.
Schremp wondered if a defensive player/return man could be selected Northwest Herald Football Player of the Year. He was speaking of senior safety Kyle Koelblinger, who scored four times on returns (one interception, one fumble and two punts) and made all 83 of his extra-point attempts.
Koelblinger added to his résumé by stepping in at fullback for the final four playoff games after junior Carter Evans suffered a broken left fibula in the first-round playoff victory over Grayslake North.
Richmond-Burton’s two-way standout Dalton Wood, the Kishwaukee River Conference Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, grabbed Player of the Year honors after helping the Rockets to the Class 4A state championship.
But Koelblinger, who played a key role in Prairie Ridge’s Class 6A runner-up finish in football, then took fourth at 195 pounds in the Class 2A Wrestling State Tournament, edged out Wood this time.
The Northwest Herald sports staff voted Koelblinger as Male Athlete of the Year with 12 points, Wood had 11. Johnsburg's Justin Peake was third with three points, while Marian Central's Dylan Connell and Marengo's Finn Schirmer each had two points.
The Athlete of the Year winners earn $2,500 for their school from Dr. Steven Rochell, a Crystal Lake orthopedic surgeon. The Rochell Foundation began donating for the Male and Female Athlete of the Year winners in 1993, bringing the total donations after this year to $140,500.
This year, 2013 Male Athlete of the Year winner Tyler Crater, a Hampshire graduate, thanked Rochell by donating $500 to the winners, which Rochell matched, making the donation to each school $3,000 for this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out spring sports, which negated some potential big performances, like a potentially historic one from Schirmer, who won three Class 2A state track titles as a junior.
Koelblinger, who will play football at NCAA Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater next year, ran 30 times for 146 yards in the Wolves’ 43-21 loss to East St. Louis for the Class 6A state title.
Koelblinger finished with 65 carries for 582 yards and nine touchdowns. He led the Wolves with 124 tackles, six interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. He ran for 244 yards and five first-half touchdowns in Prairie Ridge’s 49-16 semifinal win at Deerfield.
In wrestling, Koelblinger finished 32-6 and was an All-Area second-team pick.
Koelblinger recently tackled these questions from Northwest Herald sports writer Joe Stevenson and also gave a shout-out to teammate George Concialdi, who recently went to the U.S. Marine Corps boot camp, saying his teammates are all proud of Concialdi and miss him.
Who was the toughest player to tackle in the Fox Valley Conference?
Koelblinger: Besides Carter Evans (in practice every day), it was Blake Skol because he’s a tough, downhill runner. In other words, a Cary-Grove fullback.
If you could play football anywhere in the nation, where would you go?
Koelblinger: UW-Whitewater. They’re winners.
What are your three favorite football movies?
Koelblinger: “Greater,” “The Blind Side” and “Remember the Titans.”
What do you usually have for breakfast?
Koelblinger: Eggs and a banana.
What is something good that actually happened to you during the pandemic?
Koelblinger: Spending extra time with my family. People take if for granted sometimes.
What is your dream job?
Koelblinger: It would be cool to do my favorite thing for a job, an NFL player.
What are a few good tunes for a pregame play list?
Koelblinger: Anything country. Luke Combs, Dierks Bentley and Jason Aldean are good ones.
What is the last really good book you read?
Koelblinger: “The Bourne Identity.”
Who is the most famous person among your cellphone contacts?
Koelblinger: Jeff Jenkins.
When is the last time you wore your state championship ring?
Koelblinger: I wore my sophomore year state championship ring a couple weeks ago to take graduation photos. I didn’t get one my freshman year because I wanted to get my own, that I felt I earned.
What is one of your biggest pet peeves?
Koelblinger: When people make fun of country music.
What sport are you just not good at?
Koelblinger: Baseball, I have a terrible arm.
Who is your favorite NFL player?
Koelblinger: Aaron Rodgers. He’s one of the most intelligent men in the NFL, he’s the most talented quarterback of all time and he plays for my favorite team.
How do you hope people will remember you?
Koelblinger: As the guy who brought it on every play of every game, and on every rep in practice. More importantly, I want my teammates to remember me as someone who would always have their back and keep fighting until the end, no matter what the score was, because we owed it to each other.
What is a movie quote you and your friends often use?
Koelblinger: “Run, Forrest, run!”
Northwest Herald Male Athlete of the Year Winners
2020: Kyle Koelblinger, Prairie Ridge, sr.
2019: Quinn Priester, Cary-Grove, sr.
2018: Eric Mooney, Huntley, sr.
2017: Tyler Pennington, Cary-Grove, Junior
2016: Tyler Pennington, Cary-Grove, Junior
2015: Jesse Reiser, McHenry
2014: Collin Ridout, Johnsburg
2013: Tyler Crater, Hampshire
2012: Jack Dechow, Richmond-Burton
2011: Michael Vilardo, Cary-Grove
2010: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Johnsburg
2009: Jordan Neukirch, Huntley
2008: Paul Rands, Cary-Grove
2007: Evan Jager, Jacobs
2006: Jake Goebbert, Hampshire
2005: Dan Haeflinger, Harvard
2004: Brad Kalsow, Huntley
2003: Donovan Moore, Richmond-Burton
2002: Justin Duhai, Woodstock
2001: Brady Noll, McHenry
2000: Steve Nulle, Harvard
1999: Kevin Kaplan, Cary-Grove
1998: Matt Huebner, Woodstock
1997: Joe Rockers, Marian Central
1996: Jason Liska, Marian Central
1995: Brian Gosnell, Crystal Lake Central
1994: Paul Vandeven, Cary-Grove
1993: Scott Fischer, Marengo
1992: Steve Beard, Woodstock
1991: Mike Leyden, Harvard
1990: John Hartlieb, Marian Central
1989: Chris Steadman, Richmond-Burton
1988: Jim Hartlieb, Marian Central
1987: Rich Powers, Marian Central