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Ottawa junior Cyrano Rayfield is the 2012 NewsTribune Defensive Football Player of the Year. Rayfield was named the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division Defensive MVP and was an honorable mention all-state pick by the Illinois Coaches Association. NewsTribune photo/Anthony Soufflé
OTTAWA — Making his varsity debut on defense against Streator last year, Cyrano Rayfield performed his first — and what he says will be his only — victory dance over a sacked quarterback.
Looking back it’s easy to forgive his momentary expression of jubilation — after all, the Ottawa junior defensive lineman simply loves to play defense.
Rayfield started his varsity career off as a sophomore on the offensive side of the ball sending out snaps at center.
But the young linemen didn’t take too long to convince the Pirate coaching staff he should be playing both ways.
“I don’t think there was a day that didn’t go by (where he asked) ‘Coach, can I play defense? Coach, can I play defense?’” chuckled Ottawa coach Trent Swords, who wanted to make sure his young standout was ready for the grind of playing both ways in the trenches before he had Rayfield suit up on defense.
Once inserted into the defensive mix for Week 5 of his sophomore season, Rayfield made an immediate impression with the sack.
Now, after a breakout junior campaign this year, he’s sure to leave a lasting impression on Pirates’ fans.
This season Rayfield blossomed into a premier talent at defensive end, registering 34 solo tackles, 33 assisted tackles, two sacks and one fumble recovery for the Pirates defense, which allowed just 15.2 points per game en route to an 11-1 record and a state quarterfinal appearance.
For his contributions to a historic OTHS squad, Rayfield is the 2012 NewsTribune Defensive Football Player of the Year.
Rayfield, an Illinois Coaches Association Honorable Mention All-State selection, said “words can’t describe” how he felt when he got the call-up to play defense with the Pirates.
Ever since, the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division Defensive MVP has funneled that love of defense to fuel a non-stop motor on the gridiron.
“I’d rather play defense any day over offense. You can be more aggressive,” Rayfield said. “I like hitting people. On offense it’s just (a short distance) hitting. On defense it can be a lot longer — at full speed. I like that more.”
An accomplished prep wrestler who qualified for sectionals on the mat last winter, Rayfield said there’s no doubt football is his favorite sport — though he’s drawn valuable lessons, both physical and mental from his grappling career.
“I’ve been playing tackle football since I was four. Football is my life. Wrestling is a part of my life, but to me football is the one that I like more,” Rayfield said. Rayfield’s love of the game shows on the field.
“He’s a hard worker, and as a defensive player you have to have a motor that never ends. I think he gets that not only from his love of football but I think he also gets that ‘never stop’ attitude fostered during wrestling. That’s a tough, tough, tough individual sport,” Swords said.
“There’s no stop in his motor. That and his physical ability make him a real tough defensive player, and I think that’s what other coaches saw and had to game plan for. … He just has that personality to just keep going and keep going and keep going — and those are the special ones.”
Ottawa all-state running back/defensive back Michael Hermosillo said Rayfield’s acceleration and strength led to opponents shying away from the junior standout.
“There’s definitely times where the play would be run opposite of him — because obviously they didn’t like running toward him — and he’d be able to shoot down the line and be able to make a play on the back side just by his speed and his strength to break away from the offensive lineman who was trying to block him,” Hermosillo said. “Cyrano’s definitely a very hard worker, and he’s got a lot of energy —a high motor.
“He was definitely important. He was almost able to take away one side of the line. There were times where people were definitely not running Cyrano’s way. Even when I saw (fellow all-state pick and Normal Community tackle) Randy Heiderman, he was impressed with him, too, and that’s a Division I left tackle (recruit for Miami, Ohio.) Cyrano’s definitely a really great player.”
Chris Yucus can be reached at 220-6995, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.
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