Going into the season-opener against Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Evanston’s head coach Mike Burzawa evinced confidence that his football team was well prepared. This third season for Coach Burzawa is significant, because it will show if the Wildkits can improve every season. Last season, they just missed the playoffs with a 4-5 record.

“I really like the preparation they’ve all done in the off-season,” said Coach Burzawa two weeks ago. “To be a successful team it starts in December, when you put in the time in the weight room and make the commitment to work hard. We’re excited about turning the corner.

“At first it was a battle to get kids into the weight room, and persistence there has been a big key for us,” the coach continued. “We have a simple theme this year – ‘Effort Equals Excellence’ — and that means at home, in the classroom and on the field. You have to practice winning every day in your life.”

Evanston will depend on senior leadership from starting quarterback Byron Dawkins, lineman Josh Dabney and star running back Rendell Massie. Massie amassed 1,000 yards rushing last season and many are questioning whether he can match that same feat this year behind a new offensive line. Coach Burzawa says he has faith in his versatile back.

“He can play at a high level,” the coach said. “He has all the attributes you want in a running back. He has the ability to run and the ability to block, which makes him a rare breed. … [M]ost running backs don’t like to block. He catches the ball well out of the backfield, too. He’s one of the most gifted running backs I’ve ever coached, and he has the heart to match that ability. He has all the tools.”

While Massie will take the ground game, Dawkins is expected to air it out a lot this season. He has some speedy targets to throw to including senior James Brown, senior Andrew Hampton and junior Victor Bordo. Dawkins’ passing attack took a hit two weeks ago when senior Tommy Rorke broke his ankle; he will be sidelined for the season.

On Aug. 28, it was finally time for Evanston to take the field against the always tough Loyola squad. As the game progressed many wondered how prepared the Wildkits really were. The Ramblers are known by some as a powerhouse with strong play each year. They reached the semifinals of the Class 8A state playoffs last season, and if their first game against the Kits showed anything, it was that they have not changed much.

Loyola’s quarterback, junior Malcolm Weaver, picked apart Evanston’s defense for three touchdown passes in his varsity debut. The Ramblers’ running back, Willie Palivos, added touchdown runs of 12 and 11 yards. The Ramblers overwhelmed the Kits, 35-0.

Weaver, a resident of Evanston, completed 7 of 15 passes for 122 yards for Loyola. Palivos stepped in as running back for injured starting back Spencer Perry and racked up 151 yards on nine attempts.

Evanston’s defense was outplayed the whole game, and their offensive numbers were not much better. Massie was limited to 31 yards rushing on 18 attempts, an average of only 1.72 yards per carry. Dawkins seemed to be the bright spot for the Kits, completing 17 of 24 passes for 128 yards.

It was a rough start for the Wildkits, and they desperately want to turn their game around in time for their home-opener this Friday against Homewood-Flossmoor at Murney Lazier Field. They will take on Niles North on Sept. 10 at home as well. Hopefully some home cooking is what the Kits need to get them back into form.