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Football ready to prove doubters wrong against Maine South

Collin+Olla-Chatman+catches+a+pass+before+the+Palatine+game
Collin Olla-Chatman catches a pass before the Palatine game

Collin Olla-Chatman catches a pass before the Palatine game

Jesse Bond

Jesse Bond

Collin Olla-Chatman catches a pass before the Palatine game

Eli Hartman-Seeskin, Sports Editor

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Evanston football has long struggled to dispel negative perceptions of the team, but a win tonight against reigning state champions Maine South in the CSL South opener could prove all the doubters wrong.

“We’re playing the state champions, they get everyone’s best week in and week out, so a win would obviously be a huge statement for us,” head coach Mike Burzawa said. “There is no doubt when you are playing a state champion team you have to raise the level of intensity and preparation.”

The players are certainly ready to make a statement. The team, now 3-1, is coming off of a big win in an away game against highly-touted Fremd after being ranked 80 in the state by MaxPreps.com in the preseason. The players have taken their low ranking as a challenge and have been playing with a chip on their shoulder.

“This is a chance to prove wrong everyone who counted Evanston out,” senior quarterback and co-captain Drew Dawkins said.

But it is not just the captains who are ready to shock the world tonight. Starting linebacker Nathan “Sleepy” Romero embraces the role of the underdog.

“Maine South is a great chance for us to show who we are. If we beat them, it could have a huge impact in changing how people see Evanston Football,” Romero said.

Romero’s sentiment was repeated by other players– the goal is not to simply pull of an upset, but to force skeptics to recognize the culture change for Evanston football.

The biggest obstacle for the team is not the game against Maine South, but rather the gauntlet of games that started two weeks ago against state semi-finalist Palatine and will continue through next week’s game against New Trier.

“We always seem to get packaged with Maine South and New Trier back to back, it’s been that way for a long time,” coach Burzawa said. “It’s tough to play a strong opponent, then come back for the longest rivalry in high school football. It’s a lot of energy you need to draw from the team in a six day period.”

Fortunately for the team and its fans, the players know what they need to do in order to be ready for what Burzawa called the “meat grinder” segment of the schedule.

“Some people think you need a different mentality, but I think we need to go into every game like we are playing a good opponent,” co-captain Trey Dawkins (Drew’s twin brother and the starting left tackle) said. “Then when we play a good team we are prepared.”

Unfortunately, for over a decade and a half, Evanston’s preparation has not been enough. Evanston has not beaten Maine South in football since 2001.

Maine South will be ready too. They, also, enter with a 3-1 record, including a win over a Palatine team last week who decisively beat the Wildkits two weeks ago. Despite their historic dominance of the matchup, head coach David Inserra knows not to count Evanston out.

“Evanston has always been one of the toughest CSL games so we need to be playing at our best and healthy,” Inserra said. “It starts with preparation in practice for this specific opponent and then playing our best come Friday night.”

This year, though, Burzawa and the players see a different makeup in the team compared to previous seasons that could lead to greater success.

“This year we have a lot more talent I think. Both squads are very talented, but our skills are a bigger focus this year while our line was stronger last year,” Trey Dawkins said.

“This years team, we’ve got a lot more athletes,” Drew Dawkins said. “We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder because of the offensive linemen we’ve lost this year.”

Burzawa seemed to agree with the sentiment of the Dawkins brothers, but he was also quick to mention his mobile quarterback as a strong asset for the team, as well as the depth of the offensive and defensive lines (despite their inexperience).

“The game starts up front, guys like Trey Dawkins, who has been a three year starting lineman, Andrew Primous, Henry Canafax, Sawyer Brown, all those guys have had time to develop and now it’s their turn to play,” Burzawa said. “We are also expecting big things from Terence Gibson-Scott and Andre Hutchins, the addition of Danny White coming to play football, a wrestler, has really helped out, so we have a lot of guys.”

Burzawa said the team has as many as 17 or 18 lineman they utilize, allowing them to keep their starters fresh and playing at their best.

With the massive turnover, as both Dawkins were quick to point out, it may be the skill players who set the team apart. Players like Michael Axelrood, who nabbed two interceptions and two receiving touchdowns through three games, and co-captain Fletcher Brown makeup just a fraction of a deep receiver corp. Malik Ross, who scored six touchdowns in the first two games, and co-captain Charlie Gruner, the team’s fullback are the top dogs in the running game.

On the defensive side of the ball, having another year in coach Eddie Conley’s attacking scheme is paying dividends. Already, the team has more than matched the three total interceptions forced all of last season, and their average points allowed has dropped as well.

The team’s mentality and improvements will mean nothing if they cannot bring it all together on the field tonight.

“We just have to stay focused and do what we do,” junior receiver/safety Michael Axelrood said. “We just need to play disciplined, smart, focused football.”

“You have to have a mindset to finish,” Burzawa said. “Our theme this year is ‘earn it,’ that’s something we’ve really focused on with the team. It’s a decal on their helmets, and it is what we are fighting for– to win games and earn a playoff berth.”

“As a team we have to prepare ourselves for a dogfight and seize the moment,” co-captain Fletcher Brown said. “We have to be disciplined and focused all week and hope that translates to the game.”

You can see if the hard work will pay off tonight. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Maine South.

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