Marist senior Dan Piko turned his attention to the sidelines amidst his team’s celebration Saturday after defeating Glenbard North to advance to the Class 8A state championship.
Standing near midfield, Piko extended his arms and pointed with both hands at his three older brothers — John, Joe and Matt. Piko then pumped his fists, yelled with excitement and began running toward them. They met him halfway, and all four joined together on the field for one large hug.
“They did a lot for me growing up,” Piko said. “They basically taught me the game of football ever since I was young. I grew up watching them play. They mean a lot to me. I’m a big family person. It meant a lot to celebrate with them.”
Piko’s play at wide receiver Saturday was a major reason he, his brothers and all of the past and present RedHawks were able to celebrate Marist’s first trip downstate since 1986. Piko caught 10 passes for 141 yards and one touchdown in the win.
“He’s a competitor,” Marist coach Pat Dunne said of Piko, ESPNChicago.com’s Prep Athlete of the Week. “He finds a way. He finds a way to get things done. He’s just an unbelievable competitor.”
Piko had a number of highlight catches against Glenbard North. Early in the game, he leaped for a ball over the middle, landed on his feet, stopped, avoided a tackler and ran for a few extra yards. There was the one where the right-handed Piko caught the ball with just his left hand.
“I didn’t even know it was one-handed until I watched the game again,” Piko said.
There was another where he beat the defensive back into the end zone and caught a 14-yard touchdown pass across the middle in the third quarter. He made a diving catch for a first down midway through the fourth quarter that was part of Marist’s game-tying drive.
To cap his performance, he pulled in an 11-yard reception near the sideline that put Marist into the red zone and helped set up the winning field goal.
“There was a lot of stuff going through my head,” Piko said of the last play. “I thought, ‘Make sure I catch the ball.’ ”
Piko’s big night was not much different than his season. He and quarterback Mike Perish worked together all summer on timing, and it paid off for both this season. Piko has been Perish’s favorite target, and they’ve connected for 85 receptions, 1,272 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
“He’s so consistent in what he does, in his effort and everything like that,” Dunne said of Piko. “He’s gone up and made big plays all year long. He just makes great catches.”
Piko hopes to play in college just like his three older brothers — Jim and Joe played at Butler, Matt at St. Ambrose — but he isn’t sure where yet. Wherever he ends up, he will be sure to take one lesson his brothers stressed to him.
“They were all pretty small,” said Piko, who is 6 foot 2 and 180 pounds. “They taught me always to work your hardest and to have a good work ethic. If you do that, something good will always come out of it. I like to pride myself on how hard I work.” Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at [email protected].