Rei Gaines, wide receiver

After finishing the 2013 season with an overall record of 5-5 and with a loss to Barrington in the first round of the IHSA Class 8A State playoffs, the Evanston Township High School football team hopes to avenge that loss with another solid season. Last season’s playoff berth marked the fourth consecutive season the Wildkits have played in the postseason, and they hope to make it five in a row come late October.

But the 2014 season will be more of a challenge. The Kits lost last season’s starting quarterback Chris Little, along with seniors Zach Smith, Sam Bordo, Maalik Todd, Michael Pope and Erik Brannon, due to graduation. Only four starters on offense are returning; none on defense. Those returning include senior offensive lineman Roger Bowen, senior wide receivers Rei Gaines and Brandon Hilliard, senior offensive lineman Bryan Brannon and senior punter Nate Brown.

The Kits will look to junior quarterbacks Immanuel Woodberry and Matt Little to fill the void. They began the battle for the starting job at the start of training camp on Aug. 11. The winner of that competition will be asked to carry much of the load on the offensive side of the ball. In addition to Woodberry and Little, Kits will count on junior running back and defensive back Travion Banks, junior tight end Naquan Jones, linebacker Jalan Jenkins and sophomore linemen Christian Neilsen and Morgan Brown to make major contributions as well.

The Kits begin their quest for a fifth consecutive playoff appearance on Aug. 29 against Proviso West, who the Kits beat 39-38 in overtime on opening night last season. From there, they take on Crete-Monee on Sept. 5 in the home-opener at Lazier Field in Evanston. Last season, Crete-Monee defeated the Kits 42-15 in the second week of the season on their way to an 8-2 overall record. The Kits will honor members of the ETHS Hall of Fame as part of the 20th annual Hall of Fame Game at Lazier Field.

Throughout this season, the Kits will also honor the memory of the late Steve King, who died this summer, and who, they say, will be in their hearts on and off the field. King joined the program as an assistant coach in 2005 and was promoted to assistant head coach and defensive coordinator in 2008. He had a major impact on the program during his time at Evanston.

Athletic Director Chris Livatino said in a statement that “[Coach King] helped transform the football program through his ‘wolf pack’ mentality on defense and the passion he brought to the players and coaching staff.  More importantly,” Livatino continued, “Steve King transformed the lives of hundreds of young men as an incredible role model and mentor to each and every football player he coached.”

After the Crete-Monee game, the Kits take on Highland Park on Sept. 12, Maine West on Sept. 19 and Niles West on Sept. 26 as part of the homecoming festivities. The second half of the schedule includes matchups with Glenbrook South on Oct. 2, Waukegan on Oct.11 and Maine South on Oct. 17 in the home finale as part of Senior Night at Lazier Field. The Kits will finish the regular season on Oct. 24 against archrival New Trier.

Heading into this season, if the young players on the roster play to their potentials, and the older players use their experience to lead the way, fans can look for the Kits to have another solid season – and be in the postseason discussion yet again come late October.