Playing in its first national title game, North Central (14-1) quickly took control behind senior quarterback Broc Rutter, a Neuqua Valley graduate, and sophomore running back Ethan Greenfield, who helped the Cardinals take a 34-0 lead in the third quarter.
Rutter, who set a national Division III record for career passing yards, was one of many local players who contributed to North Central’s success. North Central coach Jeff Thorne, who played high school football at Wheaton Central, likes to recruit players from the Chicago area and develop them.
“At North Central it’s a lot about building the young guys,” Taviani said. “[The starting lineup] is definitely senior and junior heavy.
“[The focus is on] teaching the young kids the culture and building them up so when they are juniors and seniors, they can make the big plays.”
Taviani already is making some plays. He made 24 tackles, including 16 solo efforts, and broke up three passes. After beginning the season at cornerback, Taviani made six starts at nickel linebacker.
“That was awesome,” Taviani said. “I expected to play more this year just because of all the work I did in the offseason. I thought I was a perfect fit to be on that field.”
North Central is proving to be a perfect fit for Taviani. He meshes well with the coaching staff, including linebackers coach Matt Sinclair, who had a five-year pro career that included stints with the Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins.
“All of the coaches are really enthusiastic,” Taviani said. “I remember during the playoffs most of them would get four hours of sleep a night, if that, because they’d just be in the office grinding because that’s how badly they wanted to win.”
Win they did. Taviani, who is believed to be the first Downers North player to win a collegiate national championship at any level, will never forget the feeling.
“I’d say [the highlight was] at the end, taking a picture with all of my teammates and the seniors,” Taviani said. “We all got to hold the trophy at the end and I got a picture of it in the locker room.
“Then [wearing championship] hats and T-shirts was awesome, and just seeing how happy our coaches were and how accomplished they felt.”