Sebastian Cheeks poses with ETHS head football coach Mike Burzawa after selecting North Carolina for college. (Submitted photo)

At least 50 schools competed for the player Evanston Athletic Director Chris Livatino described as the most heavily recruited athlete in school history.

Wednesday, the University of North Carolina won the battle for Sebastian Cheeks’ services.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Cheeks made a verbal commitment to play for the Tar Heels and head coach Mack Brown Wednesday at Beardsley Gymnasium in front of about 30 friends, family members, teammates and coaches.

Cheeks chose North Carolina for the next phase of his football and academic career, achieving one of his goals, to make his college decision before the start of his senior year at ETHS.

Ranked as a four-star national recruit – on a scale of five – by most services, Cheeks also considered Michigan, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin. But after a whirlwind of visits to campuses across the country in June and July, the Wildkit linebacker found North Carolina to be the best fit.

He will sign the national letter of intent in December to make the decision official.

“I want to thank my family and the Evanston community because they’ve always had my back,” said Cheeks. “That’s been such a blessing and it’s meant a lot to me.

“It was really an easy decision because North Carolina has everything I wanted in a school. I think it’s like no other school, and it’s the perfect fit for me. It was an instant connection with the coaching staff there and it’s definitely a family atmosphere that I was looking for.

“It’s such a good feeling to make this decision. Now I want to finish out my senior year strong.”

“He really did his homework with 15 months of phone calls, emails and questions from college coaches, and only 30 days to make his college visits [due to pandemic restrictions],” said Evanston head football coach Mike Burzawa. “At the end of the day, when it came to making this decision, I told him to go with your gut, to follow your heart.

“He’s a high character young man who embodies what we want to be in a student-athlete at Evanston. He’s so dependable as a student, and as an athlete he’s a rare combination of size and speed and football IQ. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Sebastian puts that all together for his senior year.”

Since he took over at ETHS in 2007, Burzawa has produced Division I college players on a consistent basis, including Naquan Jones, who recently excelled for Michigan State.

The veteran coach believes that Cheeks’ potential is limitless, both on the field and off.

“ He’s a really versatile player,” Burzawa pointed out. “He started out as a defensive end as a freshman, and he really rushes the passer well. He’s got great instincts, he’s physical against the run, and he can cover [receivers] as a linebacker. I think he could fit into a lot of defensive schemes as a hybrid-type linebacker. He checks all the boxes.”

Cheeks’ actual playing resume only consists of about 10 varsity games. He put together one of the most impressive varsity debuts in program history as a sophomore, when he returned two interceptions for touchdowns in a single game against St. Patrick, then missed the second half of the season with an injury. As a junior, he ranked fourth on the team in total tackles in an abbreviated season that saw the Wildkits finish with a 3-3 record.

But his size, speed and athleticism were obvious to college coaches who saw him run a 4.59 40-yard dash in between his freshman and sophomore seasons at a summer camp/combine in Missouri. Iowa State actually offered him a full ride after that performance, and the recruiting race was on after that.

“I actually received that first offer as a running back,” Cheeks recalled, “but I knew I wanted to hit people instead. I wanted to be on the defensive side of the ball. I love to compete and I learned that from my two older brothers [Gabriel and Logan]. They’ve pushed me my whole life. There were times we played basketball in the backyard until 2 o’clock in the morning, and they never took it easy on me.

“Playing in the NFL is my ultimate goal. I want to earn my degree and just strive to be the best I can be.”