After going 4-5 and just missing the playoffs by losing to Glenbrook South in the last game of the season last year, head coach Mike Burzawa wants to make sure his team does not fall a game short of their goal this year – he says he wants to get this his team back to the state playoffs for the first time in eight years.
Pre-season camp is under way this week and so are battles for positions, but there is one position the Wildkits appear to have some security in – the quarterback position. Last season Coach Burzawa had to use three different quarterbacks, and it was a tough way to make the playoffs. But senior Byron Dawkins, who began last season as a starter, has been showing a lot of progress at recent Central Suburban League vs. Mid-Suburban League 7-on-7 competitions and at other summer passing events. Dawkins has been showing he may have the leadership and skills to consistently get the Kits into the end zone throughout this coming season.
Because a quarterback does not have a defensive line charging him in 7-on-7 drills, some say those drills do not test a quarterback’s overall talent, but Dawkins’ progress may be enough to show what this team has been missing since Coach Burzawa took the helm two years ago.
Tommy Rork and Kevin Rosinski shared the quarterback job with Dawkins last season. Rosinski graduated in June, and Rork will probably see time at tight end or linebacker on defense. Dawkins has been developing since former Wildkit quarterback Ryan Healy joined the coaching staff and has been tutoring him. “Byron has really emerged through his off-season efforts and his leadership in the weight room. It’s a good feeling to have him as a starter,” said Coach Burzawa. “I’m really excited about how much he’s grown and matured for us over the last six months. Ryan Healy has done an excellent job working with him.”
Dawkins showed off his strong arm during last summer’s 7-on-7 drills and won the starting job. He was stalled however, when he suffered a concussion in the season- opener against Loyola, and he didn’t find his stride when he came back from the injury. Dawkins said he believes this year will be different.
“It will be different because of the experience I got last year that I can take into this year,” Dawkins said. “We were so close to making the playoffs last year. It’s like a fat cheeseburger out there, and you want to eat it. This is my last season and I want to go all out. Last year I felt I held back too much.
“When I got that concussion there were some people who thought I still wasn’t over it when I came back. But there are no excuses – I’m the quarterback and I’m supposed to make plays. To turn those losses into wins we have to pay attention to details, details, details. I think we’re definitely ahead of where we were last summer at this time. I’ve been working with my receivers every day and the timing is right between us. I know who can catch what” Ryan Healy’s decision to come back to Evanston as a coach reunited him with Dawkins every day. Healy graduated from ETHS in 1993 and later played quarterback for the College of DuPage and Illinois State. He has been tutoring quarterbacks for about ten years now and has known Dawkins for three of them.
Dawkins and Healy discused nonstop during the Maine West drills, as well as during scrimmages at Lyons, Hoffman Estates, Libertyville and Barrington. Healy said he has come to know Dawkins well and he raves about him when he gets the chance.
“The biggest thing about Byron is that he’s such a good listener,” Healy said. “His mom and dad have given him the discipline part, and now he has the experience and understands what we want out of him as a player. He has confidence now that he knows the position and he doesn’t have to over-think out there. Now that he has that, he can let the leadership portion of it happen, too.”
Coach Burzawa and his coaching staff met before the July 4 holiday and there is clearly some excitement about the direction their team is headed leading up to their Aug. 28 season-opener at Loyola.
“When we sat down and talked, we all felt like we’re really ahead of the game compared to the first couple of years,” said Coach Burzawa. “We’ve seen the improvement with the familiarity of the system and we’re definitely ahead of where we were a year ago at this time.”