Basketball games in the driveway of the Rhattigan family home in Naperville are played with furious, electric intensity.
Two years ago in August, after finishing taking photos of his older brothers TJ and Joey, Jon Rhattigan he pondered his next step in college.
“We didn’t even know if he was going to start his senior year,” TJ said. “I played guys from Penn State who were really good and I told Jon he was as good as any of them.”
Then, after playing primarily on special teams for his first three years, Jon had a memorable senior year at linebacker in Army.
He finished with 78 tackles, including nine for loss, with 1 1/2 sacks, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. He also had a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“Growing up, Jon was always looking at us and wanted to do what we were doing,” Joey said. “He was always very determined, persevering in difficult times.”
Two years after that grueling family basketball game, Jon Rhattigan’s story is marked by promise and possibility.
The Neuqua Valley graduate has gone national, preparing for the start of his second year as a special teams standout and situational linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks.
“It’s been a really surreal experience, something I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid,” he said. “My brothers were my role models. I was shaped into who I am because of your concern.
“They always came to my games and told me where I could be better.”
His solo path to the NFL highlights the benefits of toughness, discipline and drive. After going undrafted in the spring of 2021, Rhattigan signed with the Seahawks as a free agent.
He started camping out on the outer fringes of the 90-player roster. His standout performance in the Seahawks’ third preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers paved the way.
“Jon played really well, with a couple of tackles and a pass deflection,” Joey said. “When you’re sitting in the stands and you hear your last name over the loudspeaker in an NFL stadium, it’s pretty amazing to take in.”
As a rookie last year, Jon saw action in 14 games, mostly on special teams.
His alertness, speed, presence and ability to make tackles in the open field made him one of the most compelling stories for the Seahawks.
He finished with 10 tackles and a fumble recovery.
His dream took a slightly somber detour last December at the opening kickoff of the Seahawks’ game in the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams.
“I was doing a block, and when I put my body weight on my right knee planting down, it was coming at an angle,” Rhattigan said.
He suffered a torn ACL on the play and missed the remainder of the season.
“Football is a violent game,” he said. “That’s a risk I’ve been willing to take since I was 5 years old.”
Rhattigan, however, knows all about comebacks. In the fall of 2015, during his third year at Neuqua, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
He made a brilliant comeback as the 2016 Naperville Sun Soccer Player of the Yearleading the Wildcats to the Class 8A state playoffs.
Six months after his recent surgery, he is expected to start the new NFL season on the PUP (physically unable to play) list.
Rhattigan wants to be medically cleared to return to action midway through the season. He has already achieved a remarkable distinction.
“I was very grateful to put on an NFL uniform for 15 weeks straight,” he said.
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Their achievement has been a deeply shared family experience.
TJ, 30, and Joey, 28, each live in Chicago.
“For me, coming out of TJ’s shadow in Neuqua was something I felt, and I’m sure Jon felt it twice,” Joey said. “We were always looking to improve ourselves, but we always had that brotherhood and competitiveness and we encouraged each other.”
Despite the injury, Jon feels like he took the crucial first step last season as a rookie.
“Any season-ending injury is going to be tough,” Rhattigan said. “I certainly feel confident in myself and in the rehab process.
“I’ve done it before, and I know I can do it again.”
Patrick Z. McGavin is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.