Spoiling for a win


On a normal Friday, Nazareth senior LaSteven McKinney might have taken the day off from school after having a 100-degree temperature the night before.

This isn't a normal Friday, though.

McKinney, Nazareth's star running back, may be playing in his final high school football game. The Roadrunners enter tonight's game against East Suburban Catholic-leading Carmel with a 4-4 record and must win to qualify for the playoffs.

Plus, there is plenty of other drama, as McKinney explained.

"They're playing for a co-conference championship with Joliet Catholic," McKinney said. "We want to spoil that for them. It's their homecoming, too. We took offense to that as well, as they left their homecoming for their final game. We're also 4-4, and that adds more to the fire. We're definitely pumped and ready to spoil their night."

A major factor in Nazareth facing a must-win situation tonight is that McKinney hasn't been able to run all over opponents as he has the past two seasons. As a sophomore, he rushed for 1,431 yards and scored 22 touchdowns. As a junior, he had 1,126 yards and 23 touchdowns. This season, he's been held to 882 yards and 16 touchdowns.

It's not that McKinney has gotten worse -- he's quicker, faster, and stronger than ever -- it's just that defenses now focus their complete attention on him.

"If we put him the backfield, they put eight, nine in the box," Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. "If we spread him out wide, they're bracketing him with two or even three defensive backs. The thing I love most about him is he's never gotten once frustrated. He's been a complete team player."

McKinney has reflected on the fact that Friday could be his last game. His career will continue, as he's committed to Central Michigan, but he's not ready to give up high school football just yet.

His hope this evening he finds himself capable of pulling out a special flu performance.

"I hope it's something like Walter Payton against the Vikings or [Michael] Jordan," said McKinney of Chicago's former stars who had big games while sick. "Hopefully, it's a motivation. I can hopefully turn out 200, 300 yards."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at preps@espnchicago.com.