The football talk around the dinner table at the Dawkins household in Evanston got a lot more interesting this summer.
That’s the direct result of an unusual dynamic that’s taking place now between brothers Byron, Drew and Trey as Evanston’s football team completed an intensive summer schedule consisting of 7-on-7 competitions and the annual 5-week camp sessions for aspiring varsity players.
In a sport where it’s not unusual for a father to be coaching his own son, ETHS went outside the box even farther by naming the 23-year-old Byron Dawkins as an assistant coach this summer.
Dawkins will be coaching — among others — his junior-to-be brother Drew, the heir apparent as the starting quarterback after serving as a backup to graduated starter Matt Little last year.
Trey Dawkins returns as a starting lineman and will be part of a big and powerful veteran group in the trenches whose first duty will be to protect Drew.
But there have already been plenty of occasions already when former ETHS QB Byron is instructing younger brother Drew 1-on-1. Byron, who was head coach Mike Burzawa’s first starting quarterback back in 2009, is expected to tutor the quarterbacks at the freshmen, sophomore and varsity levels, a roving instructor who will spend most of his practices with the sophomores but will also join the varsity for sessions a couple of times a week per Burzawa’s plan.
So far, so good when it comes to keeping things all in the family.
“I do feel pretty comfortable with my brother as a coach. Sometimes he gets on my nerves, but I can live with it,” Drew Dawkins said. “He’s helped make it easier for me to read defenses with everything he’s taught me, and I’m glad to have him.
“At first we thought it wasn’t a good idea, but because people might think there’d be favoritism with two brothers there. I’ve actually been playing longer than he has — but he has more experience at the collegiate level, and I really trust him. I know he’s mostly right with whatever he tells me. One of the things he’s taught me is that every time I feel pressure, I should try to get out of the pocket because sometimes I can’t see downfield because of my size (5-foot 7, 150 pounds). That way I can keep the play going. He also had me working on my footwork a lot so I can get the ball out of there faster.”
Byron led the College of DuPage to a national championship in 2012 and also played at Robert Morris. He’s eager to take on his first challenge as a coach — making sure he and his brother are on the same page, both on and off the field.
“At first I didn’t ever really think about coaching, but after I graduated I couldn’t stay away from the game,” said the eldest Dawkins. “But I’ve had a chance to watch my brothers growing up in the program and both (former Evanston coaches) Ryan Healy and Steve King kept telling me I should get more involved.
“One day Coach Healy asked me to help out at practice and pretty soon he realized I knew what I was talking about. I think he and Coach King both saw a lot of coaching potential in me. I worked with Drew for the first time that summer (as a freshman-to-be who earned the starting job on the sophomore team) and, at first it was hard and we argued a lot. As we got older the relationship became easier, we got a lot of work in and the results showed it. To me the most important thing was that he’s gotten better.
“All 3 of us are really close and when practice is over we’re the Dawkins boys again, cracking jokes with each other. It’s family first for us. It’s a game we love and it will never break us up. It’s exciting and there’s no greater joy for me than seeing them both have the chance to have an even better experience than I did in high school.
“It’s going to be a special couple of years for us.”
Drew Dawkins only saw game action last year when Little was on the shelf because of injuries. Drew did throw 3 touchdown passes in his only start, a lopsided win over Waukegan, and overall he completed 14-of-27 passes for 52 yards, 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He also rushed 14 times for 87 yards.
He split snaps with Charlie Lindland and Ben Tarpey in the Central Suburban League 7-on-7 Invitational held July 12 at Maine West, where the Wildkits defeated Fremd and Vernon Hills while earning ties in matchups versus Warren and Grant. But after the Kits played 9 more games in their annual trip to the Illinois Wesleyan University team camp, there’s no doubt in Burzawa’s mind who his No. 1 signal caller will be when practice opens.
“Drew has proven that he’s head and shoulders above the others and that he should be the starting quarterback,” Burzawa said. “He’s gotten physically stronger in the off-season and he’s starting to understand what kind of offensive team we want to be. He has the toughness you’re looking for, too. He won’t be a pure dropback passer like we’ve had the past few years in the Littles (brothers Matt and Chris), so we’ve got to get him on the move and we’ve got to be very good at the play-action passing aspect of the game.
“One of his strengths is his athleticism and he’s clearly earned the job. His fundamentals are as solid as it gets. In the summer he spent at least 30 minutes a day talking with Byron about coverages. Byron is teaching the quarterbacks to be students of the game, not just go back there and come out throwing.”
Burzawa’s first introduction to Byron Dawkins came during his sophomore year — when the security department at ETHS made several calls to the new football coach’s office warning him about players led by quarterback Dawkins sneaking on to the new turf at Lazier Field for a chance to run pass patterns even during the middle of winter.
Dawkins’ desire to improve — along with that of his teammates — was something new for the program, where previously it was rare for a quarterback to attempt to develop that kind of relationship with his potential receivers in the off-season.
“I’d usually wait at least 30 minutes before I’d go back out on the field to chase them after I got the call from security,” Burzawa laughed. “I thought Byron’s leadership set the tone for us the next couple of years starting right there. He really didn’t hit his peak athletically until he got to college, but I’ve always been super-impressed with his knowledge of the game.
“Byron’s come home now and I think that’s great. Everything about him I’ve observed coaching these guys has been top-notch. I know he knows the game. It’s a unique situation for him to be coaching his brother and the main thing I want is for as much consistency as we can get at the quarterback position on all levels. We just saw a need to develop our most important position more. He’ll help out Coach (Kyle) Gessert a couple of days a week during the varsity practices.
“It’s a very unique role that we’ve put him in. He knows our community, he’s played college football and to me, this decision was a no-brainer.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.