While his final game didn’t end with the result that he wanted, Althoff Crusaders senior defensive end Christian Wills definitely left with a flourish.
By the time the final seconds clicked off on Rochester’s 48-47 quarterfinal victory over the Crusaders in the Class 4A quarterfinals, Wills had piled up six quarterback sacks and 12 tackles.
The six sacks tied him for second all-time for a single game in Illinois history, according to Illinois High School Association records.
“I really want to dig down deep and win the game, help out my teammates,” said Wills, who was voted by area coaches as the Belleville News-Democrat’s Small-School (Class 1A-4A) Defensive Player of the Year. “A lot of things we did this season as a team were amazing. It was crazy. We did a lot of good things.
“I’m proud of it. I’m proud of everybody.”
The 6-foot-1, 264-pound senior had six of his team-leading 15 sacks this season in his final game. He also finished the season with a whopping 115 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Wills has offers from Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois and interest from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Illinois, and other schools.
“Christian is a monster,” said Althoff running back Jaylon Bester, the BND’s Small-School Offensive Player of the Year. “He’s always been the strongest person on our team and he’s always put in the work. I’m glad he’s getting the recognition he deserves now.”
Wills credited his coaches, too. That includes defensive assistant Austin Frazier, who coached him for all four years, plus former St. Louis Rams linebacker Tommy Polley, who trained Wills previously and coached him this season as a defensive assistant at Althoff.
“Coach Frazier always pushed me,” Wills said. “The first day I remember walking into the room and he said ‘Man, you’re big, but we need to get you bigger and faster.’ It was kind of hard playing as a freshman, but you adapt real quick when you’re playing against seniors and you’re fighting out there. They helped me become a man.
“Tommy Polley coached me up and took me under his wing, showed me how to play the game and look at the game in a different way. I felt like I was at college practice.”
Turner said he saw a marked difference in Wills, who had already becoming a solid force on the defensive line as a junior.
“The years before he was dominant, but he wasn’t as dominant as he was this year,” Turner said. “He’s tough to block and he’s tough to double-team because he’s very quick and strong. He had all those sacks against Rochester and we’re not even adding in the hurries all the times he got there or forced (the quarterback) out of the pocket.
“He’s done that all year. If he’s taller, then he’s getting bigger offers. Then again I know how good he is, how big he is and how strong he is, too.”
It didn’t hurt Wills to be playing alongside another first-team All-Area defensive linemen in big junior Devyn Nash. Both occupied a lot of blockers and were elusive playmakers.
“That’s two big boys you’ve got to block,” Turner said. “Nash has learned from Christian and vice versa. Those guys have really good moves off the line for guy that play defense, they’re both quick and they’re athletic.”
One of Wills’ favorite moments was scoring his first career touchdown on a blocked punt that helped the Crusaders beat Jefferson City (Mo.) Helias 51-20 at East St. Louis’ Clyde C. Jordan Stadium.
Wills has seen a lot of games there growing up and among his cousins from the area was former East St. Louis Flyers all-state receiver Kraig Appleton.
“I saw that team go to state and have two All-Americans at the same position,” Wills said, mentioning Appleton and former University of Illinois receiver Terry Hawthorne. “Playing down there at East Side and scoring that touchdown really helped make my season.”
Belleville News-Democrat Small-School Football Players of the Year
2016 (Offense) - Jaylon Bester, Althoff
2016 (Defense) - Christian Wills, Althoff
2015 - Jordan Augustine, Althoff
2014 - Jacob Hill, Columbia; Bret Silvestri, Althoff
2013 - Eric Mertens, Althoff
2012 - Erik Furmanek, Althoff
2011 - Cody Ratermann, Mater Dei
2010 - Tyler Detmer, Mater Dei
2009 - Tyler Detmer, Mater Dei; Matt Milton, Mascoutah
2008 - Justin VonderHaar, Mater Dei
2007 - Chris Montgomery, Mascoutah
2006 - Colin Detmer, Mater Dei; Brock Pflasterer, Mascoutah
2005 - Ryan Meyer, Central
2004 - Joe Beimfohr, Nashville
2003 - Steve Moravec, Dupo
2002 - Kyle Eversgerd, Mater Dei; Brent Gerstner, Mater Dei
1999 - Justin Morris, Nashville; Nick Friederich, Central
1998 - Kelly Cruser, Nashville
1997 - Dean Boeckmann, Mater Dei