After earning a spot in the IHSA State playoffs last season, the Evanston Township High School football team has a goal of getting there again and then advancing to at least the second round this season.
“This year we really want to turn a corner. It is always [a goal] to earn a spot in the state playoffs and then win and advance,” said head coach Mike Burzawa. “That is the goal and our kids have worked hard on that.”
The Coach added, “Our theme this year is ‘earn it.’ We teach our kids each year to earn it, but when it is a yearly theme for our program, it is something that is really emphasized on all levels. 60 out of our 70 players earned the jersey for the orange and blue game [the season opener] and more kids are working towards that.” The Coach continued, “It is just teaching them a life lesson that anything good in life you have to earn and they are slowly earning things within our program and we have to go out this year and earn respect and give it our best effort.”
When asked which players he will be counting on to carry the brunt of the load this season, Coach Burzawa said, “It will start with our quarterback, Drew Dawkins. Drew is 7-4 as a starter. He is the leader of our offense. He had a great offseason. He throws the ball real well and he has really improved his mobility and his speed.” The Coach continued, “[Drew’s brother] Trey Dawkins is a two-way starting lineman and we will be depending heavily on him, and key guys up front include senior defensive end Andre Hutchins. We are expecting big things from Andre, [along with] Charlie Gruner, Nathan Romero, Michael Axelrood, Malik Ross, and Trenton Bertrand.
“Offensively, Ross and Quadre Nicholson, and Cameron Powell will be in the backfield for us. They have each had a nice training camp. The receiver position is exciting as well as we have Axelrood, Ross, Roman Hunt. Fletcher Brown is returning, and another key junior will be Collin Olla-Chatmam. So those will be some of the key guys for us.”
This season, the Kits have one of their tougher schedules of the last several years, according to Coach Burzawa. The Wildkits begin the season with tough matchups against Hubbard on Aug. 25, then Taft the next week. Hubbard was 7-2 last season and Taft went 8-1. From there, 10th ranked Palatine comes to Lazier Field in week three. That matchup is followed by visits to Fremd and then Maine South, which is a top-five ranked opponent. After the Maine South matchup, the Kits take on archrival New Trier.
“So we have a meat grinder in terms of a football schedule, but it is just about doing the right things day in and day out and it is a process to get where you need to be and our kids are engaged in the process,” said the Coach. “It is a nine week grind, so I am looking forward to the entire season. We cannot look past anybody and we are going to be challenged week in and week out. We are going to be an underdog in a lot of football games this year, but I think we have a group that is going to thrive in that opportunity and in that role.”
In order for the Kits to reach one of their goals of making the playoffs, Coach Burzawa feels it is going to take a total team effort to accomplish that. “It is going to take discipline, hard work, execution and it is going to take the guys really coming together as a team, and ultimately, it is going to come down to leadership, our senior leadership and how we respond when things get difficult.”
The Kits are set to kick off the season on Aug. 25 against Hubbard in the season opener at Lazier Field as part of the Hall of Fame game in Evanston.
In order for the Kits to come out on top against Hubbard, Coach Burzawa said, “We have to stop their tailbacks. Last year they had a lot of success running the football. We have to stop the run and not give up a big play on defense.” The Coach continued, “We have to have a couple explosive plays in special teams, and we cannot turn the ball over on offense and our [offensive line] has to be able to communicate well, pick up blitzes and get off the ball so we can run the football.”
Overall, Coach Burzawa is pleased with how his team is coming together as the season is about to get underway. “On the field, we are going to lack some varsity playing experience but that is more at certain positions, but I think they will develop and things are really starting to shake themselves out and the effort and the attitude of the team has been very good. So I really like the pulse of the team so far and we just have to look at things one game at a time.”