AURORA – Joel Bouagnon's Aurora Christian football helmet popped off late in the third quarter of Saturday's Class 3A semifinal against Winnebago.
Hollering about his tackle for a loss on the previous play, Bouagnon was required to sit out the next one, per IHSA rules.
By night's end, the Indians would have appreciated further regulations limiting the senior running back/linebacker, preferably for longer stretches. Bouagnon scored four touchdowns and starred on defense during the Eagles' 49-14 rout, and he isn't thinking of slowing down.
"I just play angry every play," he said. "I have a purpose for what I"m doing. I've just got to harness my own energy and just use it against them."
Bouagnon easily looked the part while striking for 214 yards and four touchdowns on 13 carries and playing a quick and aggressive middle linebacker in the Eagles' 3-5 scheme.
Indians running back Jake Hickey absorbed the brunt of Bouagnon's backfield hit late in the third quarter, but the expression on Bouagnon's freshly exposed face revealed he had much more power in reserve.
His demeanor reset with the game over and the defending state champion Eagles pondering their trip to Sterling Newman Central Catholic for a state semifinal at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Teammates and fans were giddy to engulf him, but the growing population on the field ultimately transformed Bouagnon into his soft-spoken, non-football self.
"His humility is his biggest thing," linebacker Ryan Suttle said. "He could go out there and have a 250-yard game and not say a word or not care if he doesn't get the ball. He stays humble through everything, and that's awesome. It's just great to watch."
Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe suggests he "hid" Bouagnon for the first four games of the season while working to bolster the confidence of first-year starting quarterback Ryan McQuade.
A transfer from Burlington Central, Bouagnon rushed for 1,439 yards as a junior, helping the Rockets snap a three-year playoff drought. Despite his emerging stardom – and a welcome volume of carries in Central's ground-oriented attack – Bouagnon left the school in a search for better stability.
"It just wasn't a very good environment to continue on to get a college education and everything," he said.
Already present on some of his new teammates' radars from his time with Beebe's House of Speed training program, Bouagnon quickly adapted to his new surroundings.
Just as swiftly, he registered as a hit with a program. He's one of the anchors on a defense Beebe calls the best in his nine seasons and has been a boon in the running game now that he's out of the bubble wrap.
Bouagnon has collected 1,111 of his 1,266 rushing yards and 14 of his 18 rushing touchdowns after Week 4. Saturday's effort marked a season high in both categories and left the Eagles patiently waiting for the next act.
"He never surprises me," center Tristin Withrow said. "I expect that from him every game. He's just a good running back and tears it up."
Bouagnon is set to join teammates Chad Beebe and Brandon Mayes at Northern Illinois next season, but has a further itinerary as he winds down his ACS career.
With his family and much of the student body within earshot – not in the stands – and his helmet safely in hand, Bouagnon calmly spoke for the Eagles and himself.
"We just stay hungry and humble, that's our thing," Bouagnon said. "Always wanting more, but always staying humble."