AURORA – Eric Motisi is prepared to start in his second straight IHSA Class 3A state championship game at left guard for the Aurora Christian football team.
This time around, Motisi plans to zero in on opposing linemen with a steely glare, as opposed to a less imposing look, by his own description, last year.
After being thrust into a starting job during the 2011 playoffs because of injury, Motisi’s feet are planted more firmly in the trenches this season for the defending champion Eagles, who will take on Tolono Unity in today’s 4 p.m. title clash at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
Motisi, a senior, earned favorable reviews for his stand-in duty last November, but prefers the comfort of a season’s worth of starts under his belt.
“A lot better,” Motisi said. “I got stronger and bigger and played more physical. And less of a deer in the headlights look.”
Motisi, who had only played in mop-up action last year until all-state lineman R.J. Morris tore his ACL in the Eagles’ first-round playoff win, had to learn his responsibilities on the fly in games that grew more pressure-packed by the week as the Eagles closed in on the first state championship in program history.
“It was, wow, throw him in there – ‘Go get ’em, ‘Mo,’ ” Eagles coach Don Beebe said with a laugh. “And he responded so well.”
Beebe acknowledges having a special bond with Motisi – the Eagles’ coach helped counsel Motisi during his freshman year when Motisi’s father died of a heart attack – and has been delighted to see Motisi develop into a quality left guard as a senior.
Despite gaining almost 20 pounds since being plugged into the lineup at about 170 pounds last year, Motisi remains the smallest of the Eagles’ starting offensive linemen.
“This program is kind of centered around kids like Mo,” Beebe said. “We’re not 260 [pounds], we’re 190 at the most. We’ve been that way for years, except this year we’re starting to get pretty big, and then next year we’ll be the biggest we’ve ever had.”
Beebe said Motisi is expected to start today after missing last week’s semifinal win at Sterling Newman with a twisted ankle. The Eagles were also without right tackle Jackson Carpenter for the Newman game, but Carpenter is expected to be healthy enough to return after Jon Czerwinski filled in last week.
Senior left tackle Josh Kok, the only senior besides Motisi among the Eagles’ starting O-linemen, acknowledges that last year’s team had apprehension about Motisi’s postseason insertion.
“I think we were a little bit, but we knew Eric had an attitude about him that he wasn’t afraid of anybody or he wasn’t going to back down to anybody,” Kok said. “We were a little worried about having a smaller guy in there, but we knew it wasn’t going to be that big of a problem, and he stepped up big.”
But last year’s performances didn’t come without heavy-duty apprehension, especially in the state final. When Motisi helped spring former Eagles quarterback Anthony Maddie for a long touchdown run early in the game, the angst started to lift.
“I was nervous in the first quarter but then as the game went on, I just got in the zone,” Motisi said. “Near the end, I was just happy. So happy.”
This year, Motisi is comfortable enough that he might not have to wait until the fourth quarter to find happiness.