Aurora balling out for Beebe

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Jacolby Maxwell and the rest of the Aurora offense have certainly benefitted from the tutelage of a former NFL wide receiver as their head coach.
Photo for Aurora athletics by Steve Woltmann

By Brian Lester

Don Beebe wasn’t sure what to expect from an offensive standpoint in 2019 as he watched film after being hired at Aurora last winter.

“When I first watched the film, I thought to myself I felt we could improve at quarterback. I knew we had pretty good running backs in Connor (Olson) and Tyran (Bailey), but I wasn’t sure about receiver,” Beebe said.

Then spring ball rolled around. It became clear to Beebe, the former star wide receiver of the Buffalo Bills, that the Spartans had the potential to be dangerous on offense.

“You see a guy like Colton Jewell, who has great size and runs well, and guys like Matthew Evert and Matt Pisasecki, two possession type receivers who are really good route runners," Beebe said." And then watching the quarterback (Gavin Zimbelman), after one day, I said this kid as an arm. He looked a lot different than what I saw on film.”

Of course, throw in Jacolby Maxwell, a transfer from Monmouth who played for Beebe when he was the head coach at Aurora Christian, and the potential of the offense rises even more.

“I’ve been coaching wideouts for 21 years and when it comes to running routes, Jacolby is one of the best," Beebe said. "He’s very explosive and very modest, but he makes us all look good.”

It all adds up to an offense that is already breaking records and is on its way to matching and exceeding the totals of a year ago when the Spartans finished 5-5. Aurora is 2-1, averaging 43.3 points per game and rolling up 1,580 yards. 

Last season, the Spartans put up just 24.9 points per outing and managed just 3,611 yards the entire year.

The Spartans scored 30 or more just three times in 2018. They’ve already hit that total three times, including hanging 50 on the board in a 10-point win over then No. 25 St. Norbert, which had beaten Aurora 16-7 the year before.

Maxwell has been an integral part of that. He already has eight touchdowns, including a school-record four in a 48-22 win over Elmhurst, the same team that edged Aurora 21-20 in 2018.

Maxwell caught a total of 13 passes that day and his touchdown total ties the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference single-game mark.

“I’ll say this, I’ve never had so much fun playing football,” Maxwell said. “We’re getting different guys involved, and when you watch the film, you can tell we are having fun. Everyone is running around, and you never know who is going to touch the ball. We all want it. We all work hard.”

Ten receivers have at least three catches, with Maxwell leading the way (25 receptions).

Bailey and Travys Davis have both rushed for more than 100 yards and Zimbelman, the guy Beebe once wasn’t sure about, has been nothing short of impressive.

Against St. Norbert, Zimbelman set a single-game home record for passing yards (497), completing 33 of his 52 passes while throwing for seven touchdowns, which also happens to be a single-game record at home.

The 5-foot-10 junior signal caller has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of his first three games and has hit the seven-touchdown mark twice. He’s only been picked off twice.

“Our quarterback is playing at such a high level, just with the decision making and the timing of his throws,” Beebe said. “He’s extremely accurate and has a great arm. The only knock on him is his size. You look at him and you would think he was a DB or a slot receiver, but you watch him throw, and he makes great throws.”

Don Beebe, his staff and his players have had a lot to smile about so far this season.
Photo by David Malamut, d3photography.com

Maxwell has certainly benefitted from having Zimbelman at quarterback. He’s also gained a great deal from his head coach. After all, Beebe played in six Super Bowls in his nine-year career.

“I have learned a lot from him, especially with running routes, and I’ve learned a lot outside football,” Maxwell said. “Coach is a great role model and a man of God. He’s also taught me a lot about being a leader.”

Maxwell always knew this Aurora team had a chance to be special, especially on offense. He is confident the team is only beginning to scratch the surface of its potential.

“That first day of practice, I felt like we were going to be a pretty good team,” Maxwell said. “We are really deep at the skill positions and we have a lot of speed.”

But the success of the Spartans goes beyond the skill players. Beebe decided to hire Mike Tosaw to coach the offensive line. Tosaw worked with Beebe at his House of Speed and at Aurora Christian.

“He was one of the first hires I made,” Beebe said. “I knew we had to have a good offensive line to be successful and he’s done a wonderful job with it. Those guys are playing at a very high level, picking up blitzes and stunts, and technically, they are very sound. It all starts with those guys up front. We couldn’t have success without them.”

Yet as good as Aurora has been in the early going, improvement is still in this team’s vocabulary. The Spartans lost their last game, falling 34-32 to Hope after trailing 20-0 at halftime. Their next game is a big one. The Spartans face reigning conference champ Eureka Oct. 5.

“You can always get better,” Beebe said. “I remember as a pro watching film on Monday and coming out of it feeling like I had never played before. I don’t ever want our guys to be satisfied with what they’ve done, good or bad.

“No one is every going to play the perfect game, and even though we put up good numbers against Hope, we still lost,” Beebe continued. “We have tough games coming up and we have high expectations. We want to achieve those.”

Maxwell agrees.

“It means a lot to be here, to be on a team that is having success, but we want to continue to compete and continue to improve,” Maxwell said. “We are taking it game by game and working toward achieving all of our goals.”

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