High school football coaches and players in Illinois had to wait more than 500 days between games due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For Evanston — and especially for seniors like Jamari Jenkins — it proved to be worth the wait.
The Wildkits crushed Glenbrook North 48-6 Friday night in their 2021 season debut in Northbrook and may have discovered that they have more playmakers on the roster than any foe in the Central Suburban League South division might have expected.
Jenkins could be one of them. His first career reception was a 58-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Sean Cruz, and he also recovered a fumble in the end zone for the winners. In all, 5 different players scored for ETHS and Cruz tossed a career-high 4 TD passes in the romp.
Glenbrook North was limited to a single yard rushing and scored its only touchdown on a broken play in the second quarter, when quarterback Avery Burow barely avoided a sack, scrambled right and found Ryan Henschel for a 70-yard TD bomb.
After that? The hosts mustered a total of ONE first down.
ETHS head coach Mike Burzawa agreed that it was one of the best opening game performances in his tenure.
“I thought we really played complementary football tonight,” Burzawa said. “We’ve got the experience in key positions, and that really helps.
“As I’ve said before, the most important thing this year is that we wanted the opportunity for these kids to play the game they love. We got that opportunity, and we took full advantage of it tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of our effort. We executed at a high level on both sides of the ball.
“It’s great to be able to start off on the right foot like this.”
Jenkins’ impact as a junior came on the defensive side of the ball, as a lineman. He started working out at tight end when the Wildkits had blocking issues on the perimeter that year and went with more tight end sets over the last 3 games, but never caught a pass until Friday night.
His grab in traffic produced Evanston’s first score of the season, as he broke through some potential tacklers while simultaneously making the catch and completed a 58-yard scoring play. Later, he pounced on a loose football in the end zone when linemate Zach Myers sacked Burow and forced a fumble.
Jenkins began his playing career in the Kit program as a quarterback but outgrew that position and now weighs in at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. He wasn’t certain he’d have a position anywhere — on any field — once the pandemic took hold.
“Not knowing whether or not we’d have a season was hard, especially the first couple of months,” said the senior co-captain. “I ended up practicing my moves in the summer with my friends and family. This year I was looking to be an impact player on both sides of the ball, and now that we’ve got a season, I have a chance to show my skills.
“On the offensive side, I’ve worked on blocking and trying to be a better receiver for my quarterback (Cruz). There’s something different that I’ve seen in practice for us this year that I can’t explain. Anyone we put on the field will make plays.”
Jenkins helped the Wildkits build a 27-6 halftime lead and the running clock (or slaughter rule) was in effect by the fourth quarter. Junior Kamau Ransom caught a pair of TD passes, covering 70 and 3 yards, and Cruz also connected with Jeremiah Lasley for a 23-yard scoring strike.
On the ground, Sebastian Cheeks carried 8 times for 110 yards — including a 49-yard touchdown run where he went untouched by the defense — and Jamarhe Bowen hit paydirt on a 32-yard burst in the third quarter.
Evanston meets defending conference champion Maine South next Friday in the home opener at Lazier Field.
We got that opportunity, and we took full advantage of it tonight. “It’s great to be able to start off on the right foot like this.”
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