St. Rita's Kaleb Brown runs the ball while Sterling's Tyree Kelly attempts to tackle Brown during the third quarter of Saturday's game in Sterling.
St. Rita's Kaleb Brown runs the ball while Sterling's Tyree Kelly attempts to tackle Brown during the third quarter of Saturday's game in Sterling. — Michael Krabbenhoeft/mkrabbenhoeft@saukvalley.com

St. Rita’s Kaleb Brown took a handoff early in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s second-round Class 5A playoff win over Sterling and raced up the middle, hurdling Sterling’s defensive line for a 5-yard gain.

That may have piqued the interest of St. Rita track and field coach Pierre Nealon, looking to replace the now-graduated Mick Doyle, who took sixth at the state meet last spring in the 300 hurdles. Mustangs football coach Todd Kuska, preferring his star running back plays things a bit more safe in a game that was by then well in hand, pulled Brown from the game and put in the subs.

That last leap gave Brown 245 rushing yards in the game. So far this season, on 194 carries, Brown has gained 1,683 yards, 8.7 yards every time he takes a handoff.

“He’s an explosive player,” Kuska said. “You never know what to expect out of him. I know he’s going to run hard, and physical and fast. And he did that [against Sterling]. He had a great game for us.”

Brown had three touchdowns in the 32-0 win over Sterling, and that explosiveness was on display on his second of the game, a play where he cut to the left, made his way through several would-be tacklers, then cut back toward the middle of the field for a 68-yard score.

His first touchdown Saturday came through the air as he was able to leak out of the backfield and catch a short pass from sophomore quarterback Tommy Ulatowski and race 46 yards to the end zone on St. Rita’s first play from scrimmage.

“We knew it was going to be the first play of the game,” Brown said. “Just knowing that’s their weak spot so we just stuck with it and came through.”

“He’s a weapon everywhere,” Kuska said. “He’s a great receiver. He’s a great runner. We want to use him everywhere and get him the ball. We’ve got a lot of different things that we can do and we like to spread the ball around. He’s a good one to spread it to.”

The 5-foot-11, 185-pound back has gotten stronger as the year has gone on. He had 163 rushing yards in a Week 8 win over Benet. A couple of weeks later, he kicked off the playoffs with a 227-yard rushing game in a win over Glenbard South.

Brown said the key to the last few weeks has been “just explosiveness, just getting to the edge and just making a move on the D-end, and even on the inside, picking holes and having a good IQ.”

Kuska agrees that Brown’s football IQ has served him well.

“He’s still a young guy, but he’s still explosive and he’s a lot more physical than I ever thought he would be,” Kuska said. “He runs like a 220-pound senior running back, but he’s elusive and he’s fast when he gets into the open field. He’s smart about things, very wise in the game, a very heady football player.”

But more important to him than his personal hot streak is the team’s. Saturday’s second-round win was St. Rita’s seventh in a row.

“We have all the confidence,” he said. “Just coming out here. We just made it worth the drive [to Sterling] and played together.”

His play has already drawn the interest of Michigan and Notre Dame, but he still has a couple of years of high school ball left, and perhaps a few more games left in his sophomore season at St. Rita. In the meantime, he said he would still like to work on “just being consistent in everything, making quicker cuts.”

And perhaps his track coach can think of some things for him to do in the spring. Brown already has a fourth-place showing in the 100 at state from last year, finishing .24 seconds behind state champion Finn Schirmer, and an eighth-place run in the 200.