Last season, the Evanston Township High School football team went 7-3 overall and advanced to the IHSA State playoffs for the fourth straight year. Unfortunately, the Wildkits suffered a first round loss to end the season, which has been the case in each of the last four years. This year, head coach Mike Burzawa’s squad is hoping to take the “next step “ not only in the overall development of the program but ultimately advance in the playoffs.

“We have high expectations every year. We really want to take the next step as a program. We want each and every member of our program to take the next step in their own personal journey and to become the best we can be individually as people and as football players,” said Coach Burzawa. “Ultimately, we are trying to build boys into men and prepare them for life. So we have high expectations every day from what we do in the classroom to how we conduct ourselves off the field and how we play the game of football. We want a well-disciplined fine oiled machine when we are playing football out there.”

The coach continued, “We are just trying to take the next step in every game on the field and take the next step off the field and take the next step as a program. So that is our theme this year and I think our kids are buying in and I am excited with what I am seeing so far.”

To achieve his goal, Coach Burzawa is counting on a number of players to step up and help carry the load this season, especially with the amount of young talent on the roster as a result of losing 42 seniors to graduation.

“We are going to be a very young football team. We are going to be very inexperienced as we lost 42 seniors last year and a handful of those were three year starters. So it takes time to replace that,” explained the coach. “A lot of our guys were on varsity last year but did not see a lot of playing time because of that senior class we had. But I am very excited about the crop of young talent and the commitment these kids have shown so far and it is just [a matter of] developing them.”

This year’s squad will feature a sophomore signal caller in Sean Cruz. Regarding his new quarterback, Coach Burzawa said, “We have had a battle all summer long and right now sophomore quarterback Sean Cruz has separated himself from the pack. Sean has really tried to get better and improve each day and [quarterback coach Ryan] Healy has been really impressed with his development. But he is still a sophomore and the big change in football is from lower level to varsity. That is where the speed gets accelerated. But he is adapting and improving every day and that is all we can ask for.

“[Individually] we [also] have our returning tailback Quadre Nicholson. It is his fourth year on varsity, so we are counting on him to carry the load at the running back position. We have also developed some depth at that position, which is very good,” said Coach Burzawa. “We also have three returners on the offensive line that also played defensive line in Zach Myers, Connor Gruff and Quintin Ivory. Those three guys all played significant time for us last year. Zach and Connor started as sophomores and they contributed on both sides of the ball, and Quintin was on the offensive side of the ball for us. So we are trying to fill in the pieces around them and get some depth. In addition, on the defensive side of the ball, Devon Bell is a leader for us and he will be contributing on both sides of the ball for us, like Malik Ross did for us last year.”

Coach Burzawa also mentioned several other key players that will need to step up, including free safety Darius Hunt, defensive end and running back Vijudel Zilus, safety James Martin and Sebastian Cheeks on defense. On the offensive side of the ball, some other skilled players the coach mentioned are wide receiver Zach Henderson and Peter Braithwaite.

After going 7-3 overall and earning a playoff game on their home field last year, Coach Burzawa says the keys to getting to that point again or further will come down to the emergence of leadership, staying healthy and the team’s ability to battle adversity. “That was great last year [winning seven games, etc.], but I told the kids, that is over. They have to prove what they can do on the field. But I think the keys are just our leadership. Football depends on leaders to emerge. We need our leaders to emerge,” the coach explained. “We obviously need to stay healthy in the critical areas and you have to find a way to get better and be able to handle the grind. But it is also staying positive, believing in each other and keeping the faith because there is going to be struggle, there is going to be adversity. So we will see how things shake out.”

The Kits are set to open the season on Aug. 30 against St. Patrick as part of the annual Hall of Fame game at Lazier Field in Evanston. Regarding that matchup, Coach Burzawa said, “They play in a great football conference [the East Suburban Catholic Conference], so we know they are going to be a hardnosed, disciplined and well-coached football team. So we are looking forward to the Hall of Fame game.” The coach added, “[The key to victory will be to] limit penalties, execute on offense, swarm to the football defensively and just execute. Limit our turnovers and it is going to come down to the little things. They have a very talented team coming back. So it should be a great week one football game.”

From there, the Kits travel to Lincoln Way West on Sept. 6, visit Palatine on Sept. 13, then return to Lazier Field on Sept. 20 to take on Fremd.