QUINCY -- Rick Little knew it wasn't a fair fight, so he tried his best to lessen the blows.
He simply couldn't let Jirehl Brock throw haymaker after haymaker at his own teammates.
The Quincy High School football coach limited the number of touches the all-state senior running back got on a daily basis. It kept one of the state's best offensive weapons fresh deep into the season, and it eliminated the chance the QHS defenders felt deflated at the end of every practice after having to chase him.
"We were so controlled in practice that you didn't get to see all the crazy athletic plays he could make," Little said. "Then we'd get to Friday night and it was like, 'OK, we're going to let him go. It's full-go.' That's when you got to see how physical he is and just how many amazing things he could do."
He did it better than anyone in the Gem City ever has.
The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Iowa State commit's record-setting season drew major attention. Brock not only is being named the 2018 Herald-Whig Player of the Year, becoming the first repeat winner since Monroe City's Michael Washington was honored in 1988-89, but he was named the Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year and has been nominated for other national awards.
"He deserves every one of them," Little said. "Size, speed, strength, vision, agility. He checks all the boxes."
Add awe-inspiring moments to that list.
Sure, the videos of touchdown runs and helmet-jarring hits have gone viral, including one that ended up on ESPN SportsCenter. There were plays no one but his teammates saw, the one in practice that left them grasping at air as he ran away or left them standing there speechless because it was something they'd never seen before.
"I feel bad for guys on our team trying to stop him in practice, so I can't imagine what people on other teams think leading up to a game or during a game," QHS quarterback Donovan Prost said. "The things he would do in practice would have us saying, 'OK, Jirehl, save something for the game.' We knew he would, but you sit there and go, 'Holy cow, this kid is something else.'"
Little had to explain that to college coaches who made Brock a top priority during the recruiting period.
"The best way I can describe him is every day he does something that makes your jaw kind of drop," Little said. "Our coaches and players recognized it. There were even times in warm-ups this year where I'd watch the other side of the field and see other coaches watching him. I'd shake my head at them, and we'd both be like, 'Oh, my gosh, we're seeing this, and we can't believe it.'"
That's been an ongoing habit for as long as anyone can remember.
"In third grade flag football, we're at the YMCA, and he's bowling kids over, jumping over kids, taking the football and doing whatever he does," Prost said. "It's flag football, and you're like, 'This kid already is special.' He was just different than everybody else at every level we played."
That became apparent in his first varsity game.
Facing Edwardsville in the season opener in 2016, Brock rushed for 96 yards and had a 47-yard touchdown against a defense anchored by current University of Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa.
"When you saw him do some things with the jump cuts, it wowed you," Little said. "But the thing that impressed me the most, especially for a 15-year-old, was his strength. We've had really good kids who are quick and have moves. But to have the whole combination and to show it in his first game on that stage, that really impressed me. I knew his ceiling was unlimited."
It still is.
"The things he does on the football field just amaze you," Prost said. "You think you can be amazed only so many times until he does it again. I really haven't hit that point where he's stopped amazing me."
It may never happen.
Years from now, when Brock's football career is over, his legacy will linger. His numbers are astronomically better than anyone to ever play the position at QHS, and there is no guarantee another player of his caliber will come along.
"And I was the one who handed the ball off to him," Prost said.
He handed it to the greatest running back this city has ever seen.
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2018 -- Jirehl Brock, Quincy
2017 -- Jirehl Brock, Quincy
2016 -- Brodie Dunker, Unity
2015 -- Dylan Powell, Hannibal
2014 -- Trace Windsor, South Shelby
2013 -- Malik Bondon, Quincy
2012 -- Dalton Heubner, Central
2011 -- Nathan Knuffman, Central
2010 -- Daniel Weiman, QND
2009 -- Mat Sims, Hannibal
2008 -- Javis Vineyard, Clark County
2007 -- Ethan Harris, South Shelby
2006 -- Andrew Bergeson, Hannibal
2005 -- Tony Hall, South Shelby
2004 -- Trevor Frericks, QND
2003 -- Ashton Gronewold, Carthage
2002 -- Clint Carroz, Mark Twain
2001 -- Wentric Williams, Hannibal
2000 -- Wyatt Green, Carthage
1999 -- Kyle Venvertloh, QND
1998 -- Luke Wessel, Carthage
1997 -- Grant Thornburg, Palmyra
1996 -- Antonio McGruder, Hannibal
1995 -- Dan Griffard, QND
1994 -- Aaron Crowe, Monroe City
1993 -- Santee Nixon, Quincy
1992 -- Tom Hart, Pittsfield
1991 -- Rob Munson, Hamilton
1990 -- Larry McFall, Hannibal
1989 -- Mike Washington, Monroe City
1988 -- Mike Washington, Monroe City
1987 -- Jerry McBride, Hannibal
1986 -- Eric Bush, Quincy
1985 -- Paul Petty, Pittsfield
1984 -- Bill Hunter, Carthage
1983 -- Eric Kuhlman, QND
1982 -- Brian Noble, Pittsfield
1981 -- Scott Sanderson, Pittsfield
1980 -- Barry Moore, QND
1979 -- Brad Griffie, Hannibal
1978 -- Grant Smith, Pittsfield
1977 -- Jeff Wellman, QND
TOP HERALD-WHIG AREA SINGLE-SEASON TOUCHDOWN TOTALS
Player School TDs Year
1. Ashton Gronewald Carthage 44 2003
2. Javis Vineyard Clark County 43 2008
3-tie. Jirehl Brock Quincy 39 2018
3-tie. Shamar Griffith Hannibal 39 2015
5. Darrell Althide Warsaw 38 1963
6-tie. Tony Hall South Shelby 35 2005
6-tie. Wyatt Green Carthage 35 2000
6-tie. Wentric Williams Hannibal 35 2000
9-tie. Jake Owens North Shelby 34 1995
9-tie. Rob Munson Hamilton 34 1991
TOP HERALD-WHIG AREA CAREER SCORING TOTALS
Player School Points
1. Ashton Gronewold Carthage 614
2. Shamar Griffith Hannibal 544
3. Javis Vineyard Clark County 527
4. Jirehl Brock Quincy 520
5. Darrell Althide Warsaw 513
6. Wyatt Green Carthage 494
7. Ezra Law Carthage 474
8. Rob Munson Hamilton 470
9-tie. Brock Wood South Shelby 450
9-tie. Mike Washington Monroe City 450
TOP SINGLE-SEASON SCORING TOTALS
Player School Points Year
1. Ashton Gronewald Carthage 294 2003
2. Javis Vineyard Clark County 262 2008
3. Wyatt Green Carthage 256 2000
4. Darrell Althide Warsaw 237 1963
5-tie. Jirehl Brock Quincy 236 2018
5-tie. Shamar Griffith Hannibal 236 2005
7. Rob Munson Hamilton 222 1991
8. Jake Owens North Shelby 216 1995
9. Ashton Gronewold Carthage 212 2002
10-tie. Tony Hall South Shelby 210 2005
10-tie. Wentric Williams Hannibal 210 2000