Wolfe has ties with Wildcat quarterback

By Sean Ostruszka

Where was the defense?

More than 400 yards passing and more than 300 yards on the ground.

Tack on seven touchdowns and these are stats you’d expect in a video game on rookie setting.

So, where was the defense?

“There wasn’t any,” laughed NIU running back Garrett Wolfe.

When River Grove Holy Cross High School squared off against St. Viator in 2001, two of Illinois’ front runners for Player of the Year met for the first time.

On River Grove’s sidelines stood Wolfe, a junior who would eventually hold 11 school records and score 56 touchdowns. Across the field was future Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez. A senior then, Basanez went on to hold every passing record at his school and was named USA Today Illinois Player of the Year.

Of course neither knew what the other would become. Each of them just knew the other was competition.

Saturday, it will be the same scene. Wolfe and Basanez standing on opposite sidelines. Both wanting to win. But after being competitors at one time, these two now call each other by a different name.

A WEEK AGO Wolfe’s cell phone went off on the ride back from NIU’s game at Michigan. Sitting in his seat amongst his teammates, Wolfe picked it up and found himself talking to his old competitor. Then he was talking to his competitor’s little brother, Kyle, and he even got in a few words with their parents.

As the Huskie bus rumbled back home to DeKalb, Wolfe shared some laughs about the Fourth of July he spent at Basanez’s house in Mount Prospect this summer. He even got to talk a little football with his friend. At that time Saturday’s game seemed years away.

“We talked about my game against Michigan,” Wolfe said. “And we talked about how he did in his game (Basanez threw for 353 yards and two touchdowns). There’s never any smack talk. He just congratulated me on how I did.”

Now, most competitors don’t converse with the enemy. Especially not a week before they face each other. But Basanez and Wolfe aren’t just competitors anymore.

The same goes for many other players on NIU’s squad, said NIU coach Joe Novak.

“[Northwestern] is right in our back door,” Novak said. “We have 68 kids from Chicago so the kids know each other and have played against guys in high school.”

Along with Basanez, Wolfe also got a chance to see Northwestern linebacker Tim McGarigle back in their prep days.

“I know a lot of the guys on that team,” Wolfe said. “And the one thing about them is that they are all great.”

IN THEIR FIRST matchup, Wolfe and Basanez kept the scorekeepers busy. But in the end, Basanez’s four touchdown passes couldn’t garner a win. River Grove went on to win 37-36 with a last-second field goal.

The two shook hands after the game and left it at that, but when Wolfe sat down at the same table as Basanez at the High School Player of the Year Awards Banquet, the two hit it off.

Wolfe and Basanez’s little brother became good friends and their families became friends as well.

“Brett’s parents always say they hope I have a great game every game,” Wolfe said. “Every game except against Northwestern.”

In their first meeting the two put on an offensive show, one that Wolfe would like to imitate. But more than the stats, Wolfe wants one thing Saturday afternoon: A win over his friend, just like in high school.