With a full summer of 7-on-7 football competition on the schedule, Mike Burzawa recognized that even a Division I quarterback recruit like Matt Little would require some backup in June and July — and beyond that.
So the Evanston head coach put in a call to the Dawkins family asking if sophomore-to-be Drew Dawkins would be willing to move up a level and serve as insurance at the position instead of asking Little the almost impossible task of taking every repetition in the summer heat.
It wasn’t a call that Burzawa took lightly. He knew the 5-foot-5, 135-pound Dawkins might not be ready for varsity competition after leading the Wildkit sophomore squad to a 3-6 record as a freshman.
“We’ve brought sophomores up for the varsity stuff in the summer in the past, but only guys I thought could start for us as sophomores,” said the ETHS coach. “It’s a very unique situation because in 19 years of coaching high school football, I haven’t had a situation where we didn’t have another senior or junior quarterback.
“So I had a talk with his Dad (former ETHS head baseball coach Tony Dawkins) and he agreed to the idea. I think Drew and his family are very comfortable with the situation. Drew’s had to mature a lot quicker this summer — and he has. And now he’s going to stay with us.”
With Little on the sidelines after suffering a freak dorm room injury — his throwing hand got caught in a door on the first night of the team camp at Illinois Wesleyan University — Dawkins stepped up and delivered 12 touchdown passes in Evanston’s final five games over the four-day camp that concluded the Wildkit summer schedule on Wednesday.
Showing the polish of a varsity veteran, Dawkins proved to skeptics that he might follow in the footsteps of older brother Byron one day. The elder Dawkins started at QB for the Wildkits in 2009 and 2010.
Evanston’s program doesn’t lack for quarterback candidates overall, with three other sophomores besides Dawkins and a pair of promising incoming freshmen manning the position. But senior Immanuel Woodberry, who started some games as a sophomore, is now at strong safety as the linchpin of Evanston’s defense and the coaching staff is reluctant to add to those responsibilities by having Woodberry calling the signals, too.
A junior, Luke Masini, has some prior experience at quarterback but is also a candidate to play linebacker this season.
Of course, 7-on-7 passing league duels aren’t “real” football with no blocking or tackling allowed. Still, Dawkins made a big impression after completing 51 percent of his passes for more than 800 yards and 7 TDs in 8 games as a freshman.
“A lot of the coaches on the Wesleyan staff (including head coach Norm Eash) were really impressed with the maturity Drew showed them, and with his fundamentals,” said Burzawa. “It’s a process and I think this summer was a great experience for him. You never see him without a ball in his hands and he’s such a hard worker. He’s extremely coachable, and he really wants to get better.
“We’re always telling our kids that you’ve got to be ready when it’s your turn, because this is a game of attrition and everyone has a role on this team. You never know when your opportunity will come. I’m very proud of the way Drew stepped up for us. Obviously, he did a very good job for us.”
Of the 35 players who made the trip to central Illinois for Evanston, Dawkins may be the one who gets the fewest snaps once the regular season starts. But that doesn’t mean he’ll look on this as a wasted summer — or fall.
“Right from the start there was an awareness that I probably wouldn’t get many reps this summer or get in many games,” Dawkins said. “But I really thought I could get better in practice if I played up.
“I’ve always been a quarterback since I started playing back in fourth grade. And I lot of people say I can’t play quarterback because I’m so short. I just tried to show what I can do this week and that it doesn’t matter how tall you are.
“I thought I did a pretty good job (at Wesleyan). I missed some throws I should’ve made, but I’m starting to read the defenses better, and it’s a lot easier when you can read defenses and you know who’s going to be open. I thought I did pretty well putting the ball where it’s supposed to be, and I knew I had to step up and be a leader, too. Some of the (older) receivers were asking ME what their routes were supposed to be on some of the plays.”
The eight-team IWU camp included squads from Chatham-Glenwood, Glenbrook North, Immaculate Concepcion, Galesburg, Downers Grove South, Triad and Nazareth Academy. The Wildkits compiled a 5-4 won-loss record matched against every team except GBN, because the two Central Suburban League schools will meet in a crossover game the third week of the upcoming regular season.
Dawkins tossed four TD passes in Monday’s session-ending win over Galesburg, then added five more scores in Tuesday losses to IC and Chatham and a win over Downers South. His showing was even more impressive because the Evanston receiving corps was depleted by the loss of two players who figure to be among the leading pass-catchers, Travian Banks and Chris Morrow.
Banks, a Miami of Ohio recruit, was only available for Sunday’s games before returning home to complete some summer school obligations. And Morrow, a speedy transfer from St. Joseph in Westchester who didn’t play last year, missed most of the camp action with a minor knee injury.
“Drew Dawkins understands our system and he knows what his role will be behind a returning starter. He clearly understands that Matt Little will be the starter,” Burzawa added. “To me, the biggest jump in high school sports is from sophomore to varsity football because the speed of the game is so different at the two levels.
“I thought the other kids did a good job of rallying behind Drew when he was in there. He’s already done a lot of extra film work in the off-season and you want your quarterback to be a fly on the wall like that. This will be kinda like a redshirt year in college for him, but he wants to be ready if the phone does ring for him again. I think this experience will be good for Drew, and good for our program.”
Source: ETHS Sports Information