Ian Whitaker, Central Catholic seniors ready to take next step, return to playoffs | high school football


BLOOMINGTON — When Ian Whitaker and current seniors were freshmen, Central Catholic High School’s football program started almost from scratch.

The Saints were coming off an 0-9 season in 2018. To say Kevin Braucht was understaffed when he took over as head coach after that season would be an understatement of understatements.

“There were 23 on the list (in 2018) and six were senior graduates,” he said.

Head coach Kevin Braucht speaks with his players during the first day of practice at Central Catholic.


Add to that the pandemic-interrupted 2020-21 season, and Central Catholic has been catching up since then in the Illini Prairie Conference competition. But Braucht believes the Saints — with 54 players on the roster and playing a freshman program for the first time in eight years — are at the point where the rebuilding has ended.

It’s time to start winning again for the school with four state championships. Whitaker, a standout linebacker/running back, couldn’t agree more.



“Our senior category, we have a group of guys who have experience, said Whitaker, with 15 seniors in the fold. “We have a good number of returning starters this year. Hopefully the senior leadership will take us to the next level.”

Central Catholic has eight returning starters on offense and seven on defense from a team that made a playoff push last season. However, a 15-0 loss to Prairie Central in the season finale left the Saints 4-5 and still chasing their first playoff spot since 2017.

“It was tough,” junior quarterback Colin Hayes said of getting so close. “It really helps us to work hard and push ourselves to get it this year.”

Although replacing standout full-back Jake Slaughter won’t be easy, Central Catholic have the potential for an explosive attack.


Colin Hayes is looking for an open receiver in a 2021 game against Tolono Unity. Hayes returns for his second year as the Saints’ starting quarterback.


It starts with the 6-foot-6 Hayes, who threw for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Hayes’ favorite target, 6-5 senior Ryan Hoeferle, also returns after catching 38 passes for 542 yards and five touchdowns while earning Pantagraph All-Area recognition.

“Usually any good quarterback I’ve had in his junior year is one where the light comes on and he feels I’m moving fast, but they (the defense) are slowing down,” Braucht said. .

Hayes feels a lot different now than a year ago.

“It helps your confidence a lot,” he said. “In nine games last year, I built trust with my other teammates and now they believe in me more.”


Center Catholic running back Ian Whitaker (34) is looking for a playing field against Tolono Unity last season at Bill Hundman Memorial Field.


Braucht believes Whitaker will be part of “an early committee” that will take Slaughter’s place. Whitaker got to see action in the backfield last season when Slaughter was injured.

“No one is going to replace him and we’re not asking any of these guys to replace him,” Braucht said. “We ask them to be themselves and do what they do well, and we will put them in a position to succeed.”

Hoeferle could also be fielded in the backfield on occasion, becoming the Saints’ version of NFL standout Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers.

“He needs to touch,” Braucht said. “Later in the year, he started to become not only a wide receiver, but also a runner. He’s 6-foot-5 and 215 (pounds). At our level, he’s a pretty intimidating kid.”

The biggest question mark is upfront after graduating three seniors on both sides of the ball.

Senior center Zander Tabb and junior tackle Dom McKibbin are the only starters returning to the offensive line.

“I’m confident we’ll get there,” Braucht said. “It’s a question of who on both sides and who will surprise us.”



Asked about the potential for the offense, Hayes was quick to respond.

“I think it’s through the roof,” he said. “We have all our starters back in addition to Jake, our line looks great and our passing game should be good.”

Whitaker is one of the defensive leaders from his inside linebacker spot. Braucht expected big things from John Rossi, who was the Saints’ fastest player after running a 4.59 40-yard dash in the spring and moving outside to inside linebacker .

However, Rossi broke his ankle in training and is out indefinitely.

Will Adams returns to outside linebacker while Hoeferle, Bo Moews, Logan Cox, Sam Keller and TJ Larson return to the secondary. McKibbin and Ricky Adelman have seen the time pass on the defensive line.

“Our defense, we’re going to be dogs there,” Whitaker said.

Jaylen Bischoff, a star of the Saints football team who finished third in last year’s Class 1A state tournament, returns to the fall double duty as a Central Catholic placekicker.

Braucht said the “Saints culture is completely established” with a senior class that has been with him since day one.

“It’s a tight group and a fun group and the most talented group we’ve had since we’ve been here, partly because of the work they’ve put in to make it happen,” he said. “Physically they are impressive. Mentally I feel we are well placed and we are confident. Now we are starting to talk about more results-oriented goals.”

Contact Jim Benson at (309) 820-3404. Follow him on Twitter: @Pg_Benson


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