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Aurora Christian's Joel Bouagnon scores against Winnebago during playoff action on Saturday Nov. 10, 2012. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Joel Bouagnon has always wanted to play in a state championship game.
Thanks to a change of scenery, he will. The two-way standout transferred from Burlington Central to Aurora Christian over the summer and has been one of the keys to the Eagles’ drive for a second consecutive Class 3A state championship.
Aurora Christian (12-1) will face Tolono Unity (12-1) at 4 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
“It’s really special for me,” Bouagnon said. “It’s cool that it’s actually happening.”
Bouagnon was an all-state player at Burlington Central last year, rushing for 1,446 yards and 11 touchdowns. But he struggled academically and got involved with a rough crowd, prompting the transfer.
Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe is naturally skeptical of transfers, especially players who have been stars elsewhere.
“I’m not big on transfers, only because at Aurora Christian about 95 percent have not fit in,” Beebe said. “Joel’s was a unique situation. He just needed someone to work with him.”
Bouagnon took summer classes at Aurora Christian and has gotten all As and Bs this semester. He also has made a seamless transition to his new team, so much so that he will room with fellow stars Chad Beebe and Brandon Mayes when all three play for Northern Illinois next fall.
“Once I got to know the kid, I was blown away with how quiet and humble he was,” Don Beebe said. “His biggest attribute is this: he is so unselfish. The first four games he wasn’t getting many touches in the offense at all, but I never heard him complain. He said, ‘Coach, I don’t care. I just want to win.’ ’’
“I was new to the team, so it’s not my team,” Bouagnon said. “There was so much to learn with all the schemes. I wanted to absorb everything.”
The 6-2, 227-pound Bouagnon has averaged 10.1 yards per carry, rushing for 1,380 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also leads the team with 108 tackles, including 43 solos, at linebacker. His play has gotten better as the games have gotten bigger, including a 212-yard, four-touchdown effort in a 49-14 quarterfinal win over Winnebago and 113 yards and a score in a 41-7 semifinal win over Sterling Newman.
“It’s my senior year now,” Bouagnon said. “Every play I’ve played with a purpose, like it’s my last.”