Time was winding down on a preseason football practice in August, and the varsity soccer team was about to take over at Lazier Field.
But there was still time for Tyler Tomasello’s big moment.
With head football coach Mike Burzawa counting down the clock on a fictional game-ending scenario — designed to show his new placekicker just what pressure could be like — Tomasello drilled a 30-yard field goal through the uprights.
“I ended up nailing it through and everyone was celebrating, both the football team and the soccer team,” said Tomasello. “It was really great. That’s something I’ll remember for awhile.”
“I had told our kids beforehand that if he made the kick, we’d charge the field and pick him up,” recalled Burzawa. “It happened at the end of one of our 2-minute drills and it was great to see.”
What makes Tomasello unique isn’t that practice kick, not even the fact that he is a perfect 13-for-13 converting extra point kicks through Evanston’s first two games of the 2017 season. The ETHS senior is getting his kicks playing two varsity sports at the same time — soccer and football — and excelling at both.
Tomasello, a starting forward for the Wildkit soccer team that ranks among the state’s elite this fall, is part of a three-way battle to replace graduated football star Owen Ennis. Ennis, now playing at Augustana, was one of the most successful kickers in school history, setting a career record for field goals with 9 and nailing 64-of-65 PAT boots while also punting and kicking off the past two seasons.
Tomasello, punter Ezra Yang and senior Charlie Lindland (kickoffs, long field goals) all want the responsibility of handling 100 percent of the kicking situations. It’s a battle that may last all fall.
Tomasello’s forte has been PATs, but he’s also kicked off a couple of times in the first two games. Lindland, a former quarterback, booted a 39-yard field goal in the Week 2 victory against Taft, and Yang should at least match the 36.8 punting average chalked up by Ennis as a senior.
Tomasello, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior, hasn’t played football since middle school but knew that there’d be an opportunity to try two sports at the same time once Ennis graduated. The pair worked out over the summer, and so far Tomasello is making the most of his opportunities.
“I wanted to try it last year, but it wasn’t the right timing because it was my first year on the varsity in soccer,” Tomasello said. “The opportunity just presented itself this year since the full-time kicker (Ennis) graduated. I used to play football and soccer in middle school, but there wasn’t a conflict in the schedule there. Really, I’ve always done both and this is something I’ve planned on all along.
“I talked to both coaches (Burzawa and soccer coach Franz Calixte) in the summer and I tried to work on it as much as I could all summer. I bought something to hold the ball — so I wouldn’t need a holder — and I usually practiced on my own after pickup soccer games. I’d always stay behind to kick a couple.”
“I encouraged him to try it,” said Calixte. “We just haven’t had many soccer players who have shown that kind of interest in the past. But I tell everyone there was a guy named Pat O’Neal who was a soccer player at Syracuse, started punting for the football team, got a scholarship and went on to play for the Chicago Bears. So if Tyler is good enough at it, and it opens a couple of more doors for him (as a potential scholarship athlete in college), I’m all for it.
“And if he can help get Evanston into the state football playoffs, there’ll be some extra guys (soccer teammates) watching him from the stands. I’m totally OK with his decision and that’s what I told Coach Buzz, too.”
“It’s a kinda crazy situation with 3 kickers to replace 1 guy,” Burzawa admitted. “Owen Ennis did a lot of great things for us the past 2 years, and he was so reliable. We did reach out to Coach Calixte because I knew Tyler had tried it some but the schedules (practice and games) didn’t work out. Tyler did have a relationship with our special teams coach (Kyle Gessert) in middle school, though, and he really shined with the PATs right from the first day of practice. He was able to work out his schedule and make it happen, and he’s been a great addition to our squad.
“The credit goes to Coach Calixte and to how he embraced this situation. We have 32 different sports here, but in the end it’s all about what’s best for Evanston athletics. He saw an opportunity for that young man to do something special.”
The improvement of Lindland and Yang gives the Kits options they haven’t had since Burzawa took over the program 10 years ago.
“Charlie Lindland has really exploded and shown us a huge leg and the kid who worked the hardest to improve was Ezra Yang. He’s really blossomed with the punting game, and it’s an ongoing competition for the three of them, “ said the coach.
“The timing just worked out for all of them. Some of the best things that happen in life are unplanned.”
“It’s been kinda tough (balancing 2 sports at the same time), but it’s been a good experience so far,” Tomasello said. “I like the football atmosphere, playing under the lights and I like the pressure of kicking. I’ve had a lot of chances to kick over the first couple of games and I’m confident the guys will continue to put up big numbers like they have been (combined 94 points in first two games).
“I’d like to have all of the kicking jobs by the end of the season, but the theme in football is that everything has to be earned this year, so I’ll have to work my way up. But the reason I’m doing this is mostly that I wanted to have fun my senior year, do the things I’m passionate about, and contribute as much as I can — to BOTH teams.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.