Football star’s breakout season in question amid Division I recruitment


Photo by Michael Barthelemy

Eli Cohen, Executive Editor

Typically, when a team finishes 3-6, ‘excitement’ wouldn’t be the proper word to describe fans’ feelings about an upcoming season. However, for the 2020-2021 Evanston football season, there is no better way to put it. This is in large part because the Kits have one of the most talented players to ever step foot on Lazier Field: Sebastian Cheeks.

Cheeks is a junior linebacker who ranks as a top 100 player in the Class of 2022. He has already received nearly 20 Division I offers, despite the fact that he has yet to play a full season of varsity football.

Cheeks’ arrival to the varsity team was anticipated since his freshman year. Although he was a member of the varsity roster at the end of that year, he didn’t get a real chance to shine until last season, where he was a starter as a sophomore.

In the season opener, the 6’2” 205 lbs. linebacker was a huge part of the Wildkits 38-0 win over St. Patrick, catching two interceptions, returning them both for touchdowns, and forcing a fumble on a sack that also was returned for a touchdown. With Cheeks creating three of Evanston’s five touchdowns, he contributed more points to the Kits than the entire offensive unit.

“Honestly, I knew that I was ready for that stage, even in my freshman year,” Cheeks said. “Unfortunately, I got hurt in that game though, but I played a few games [while hurt] just to rack up a little bit more film [for recruiters].”

Although Cheeks never returned to full strength last season, the limited amount of tape, as well as workouts from the offseason, have earned him offers from top programs including Michigan, Notre Dame, Stanford, Texas and Wisconsin. Now, feeling better than ever, Cheeks attributes a successful recovery to never-ending hard work.

“A lot of my rehabilitation has been making sure that injury prevention is number one on my list. Right now, I’m the strongest, biggest and fastest I’ve ever been in my life, and that’s simply because of the hard work. It’s really underlooked,” Cheeks said. “I’m always going to be the one who is the first one there and the last one out, and that’s going to drive me for the rest of my life and what I plan to do going forward.”

Recruited primarily as an outside linebacker or an ‘athlete,’ Cheeks will also have the chance to play running back this season. Having star players play both ways isn’t new for head coach Mike Burzawa, as Cheeks’ fellow D-I caliber players Connor Groff and Zachary Myers play linebacker and defensive lineman respectively, as well as being members of the offensive line.

“Wherever they put me at, I feel like I can help the team,” Cheeks explained. “I feel like I can impact each side of the ball. Guys who have seen me play running back, they know that I’ve got juice on that side of the ball as well. I’m just going to do whatever I can do to contribute to our success. If that happens on that side of the ball, I’m all for it.”

For now, Cheeks’ focus on preparing for the season and bettering himself as a player. Despite this, much of the attention Cheeks is getting is in regards to his commitment. Although Cheeks doesn’t know where he will continue his career, he does have an idea of when that decision will be made.

The main goal for me is to commit before my senior year so that I can go into the season focusing on what I have to accomplish in my senior year and then again, just being a high school student,” Cheeks explained. “[another factor is] Do I want to leave early and graduate and get on to campus early. That’s also a big factor for me.”

Regardless of where he commits, when he commits and when he leaves Evanston, Cheeks does have a few goals: to improve as a football player and student, and eventually make it to the NFL, which would make him the first Wildkit to do so since 2003.

“For me, it’s a school that will develop me on the field as a player and in the classroom, a school that really embraces a winning culture and a brotherhood. Guys who you can call your brothers after your four years at the college. Relationships and alums that you can keep for the rest of your life,” Cheeks said. “Obviously the goal for a lot of people is to reach that end goal, which is the NFL. I want a school that will prepare me the right way to hopefully play in the league some day.”

No matter what position he is on the field, and where he decides to play, all eyes will be on Cheeks. Now, Illinois football fans can just sit back and hope that the season will eventually be played in the spring, and Evanstonians can expect to watch one of the best players to ever wear orange and blue.