Last season, the Evanston Township High School football team won six games and earned a berth in the IHSA Class 8A State playoffs, but they unfortunately were eliminated in the first round. Entering this season, the Wildkits eye another strong campaign and hope to get over that first round hurdle come playoff time.
In order to reach that goal, head coach Mike Burzawa feels the key is for the Kits to be ready to put the work in everyday and the results will follow. “We have a veteran senior class that understands what varsity football is all about. Every day I think our kids have the mindset of coming to work. That is what we put on the back of our practice jerseys is ‘come2work.’ We had a very good training camp. But it is really just doing the right thing everyday and having the mindset of coming to work and just focusing on knowing their job and doing their job and believe that success will follow,” said Coach Burzawa. “But on the field, the goal is always to win the Central Suburban League South Conference and put ourselves in the best position for the postseason.”
Coach Burzawa will certainly need his whole roster to contribute throughout the season, but he indicated several individuals will be counted on to carry the load this season. “My veterans coming back include Malik Ross, Michael Axelrood, Gerrad Lamour, tailback Quadre Nicholson and quarterback Ben Tarpey. Ben had a very productive offseason and his leadership has been second to none.”
The Coach continued, “But at the end of the day, it is going to come down to the offensive and defensive lines. We have some depth up front including [offensive linemen] Egan Schliesmann, Ulaiassi Logan, Sawyer Brown, and on the defensive line we have Collin Olla-Chatman, Troy Gallimore, Danny White, and a guy who I am expecting big things from is Amir Abdullah. He has made a big jump from last season and he will be playing the outside linebacker position, and Luke Jensen has also had an awesome offseason.”
As the Kits get set to begin their quest for their eighth playoff appearance in the last nine years, they know it will not be easy, especially since the schedule includes several tough teams, according to Coach Burzawa. “Wheaton North [who the Kits begin the season against on Aug. 24] has been a powerhouse, they play big boy football, they are well-coached, and the kids are sound, so it will be a huge challenge. They lost to Batavia, who won the State championship last year.
“We have to get off to a good start. We have our first three at home [against Wheaton North on Aug. 24, Taft on Aug. 31 and Conant on Sept. 7], then we go to top-ranked Barrington [Sept. 14], then top-ranked Maine South for our Homecoming [Sept. 21], then we are at New Trier [on Sept. 28]. So our schedule is a beast this year, no doubt about it, but [the important thing] is living in the moment and getting better every day.”
The Coach added, “We have made the playoffs in seven out of the last eight years, but we have had a 20 or 30 seed and had to play a top-seed on the road, and that has not worked well. So we are just treating every game like a playoff game. That is the bottom line. One of the great things about opening with Wheaton North is it has created a sense of urgency in training camp. But it is all about getting wins so you get better positioning. It is going to be a challenging year for us, but I love our seniors, and I love how our team has jelled together already.”
The Kits are set to open the season on Aug. 24 against the Wheaton North Falcons in the annual ETHS Athletic Hall of Fame game at Lazier Field in Evanston. In order for the Kits to come away with a victory, Coach Burzawa says, “One of the things we have to do is take care of the basics [including] alignment defensively, and execution offensively. We have to get five explosive plays to win that football game. Then there are just the general things. You have to protect the football, create some turnovers, and I think it will be important for us to get off to a good start. That will be important if we can get off to a good start then dictate our tempo versus them dictating their tempo.”
If all goes to plan, look for the Kits to be in position to qualify for yet another postseason berth come playoff time in late October.