Kits QB’s true passion: lacrosse

Dylan Groff’s decision-making ability is something members of Evanston’s football coaching staff have raved about ever since he was promoted to college at the end of his sophomore season.

But his passion for playing another sport led him to make a decision that will send him down a different path once the 2022 season is over.

Last fall, Groff chose to commit to playing Big 10 lacrosse at Rutgers University, and he will focus solely on the sport after making his first attempt at becoming the first quarterback in the ETHS in 20 years to win a state playoff game.

The combination of football and lacrosse isn’t entirely unusual, although the high school multi-sport athlete is becoming a rarity himself. But there’s a certain irony that even Evanston’s Hall of Fame football coach Murney Lazier, who started the lacrosse program 60 years ago at school to ensure that his player staying fit in the offseason, probably never anticipated that the football program would reach a point where the starting QB and team manager would be more proficient in the sport with a long stick.

Groff is certainly more than a placeholder for the position and this is certainly not a case of a struggling program simply having to plug in the best athlete available to play quarterback. After being promoted at the end of the 2020 season, he defeated incumbent Sean Cruz for the starting quarterback position and led the Wildkits to the Illinois High School Association Class 8A playoffs as a junior.

As a junior, Groff completed 62% of his passing attempts for 1,359 yards, throwing 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions in nine games. He also finished second on the team on the ground with 595 yards on 121 attempts.

He still has unfinished business on the football pitch, even with a lacrosse career looming. He split his time this summer between playing in club lacrosse tournaments and in 7-on-7 passing competitions for the Wildkit football team.

There is unfinished business for the 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior because he missed Evanston’s first-round playoff loss to Plainfield North last year due to a case of mono.

“I’ve always thought of myself as a football player first and I think most people think of me that way,” Groff said, despite playing college-level defense for the three years in lacrosse. “I didn’t think I wanted to play lacrosse in college. I wanted to play football. But late last summer, I started getting a lot of interest from a lot of top Division I collegiate lacrosse programs, and I knew I would regret it if I passed up that chance. .

“Now I completely fell in love with lacrosse. I really like the pace of the game, going up and down the court, being really physical and using it with the athleticism you need to play. It’s not uncommon for guys to play both lacrosse and football, but I know that’s not common for a quarterback.

He’s not a common quarterback, though. Groff, whose older brother Connor was a standout linebacker for ETHS, is one of those guys who prefers to crush – rather than run away from – enemy defenders and is likely to play an even bigger role in running the game. football this fall for a Wildkit team that should be more racing-focused than last year.

“I’ve been playing football since I was in third grade, but I didn’t start quarterbacking until my freshman year here,” Groff noted. “I was a linebacker my entire youth career and because of that, I don’t mind being physical and I don’t shy away from contact like some quarterbacks do. I’m still confident that I’ll pick myself up for the next game. I’m embracing the touch a bit, I think.

He also faced the challenge of trying to dedicate enough time to training in the summer to satisfy his lacrosse and football coaches at the same time.

“I never really had a problem with coaches telling me I should choose one sport over another,” he said. “And I think if you play the same sport forever, eventually you might burn out. You won’t have the same love for the game.

“Coach Buzz [ETHS head football coach Mike Burzawa] is ok with me going to lacrosse tournaments in the summer, and if I miss something because of football, the club coaches are ok. Last summer was actually a lot crazier for me because it’s so important for college recruiting before your freshman year. It was hard to get used to. There were plenty of times I practiced lacrosse from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., ran home to get my football stuff, and then went out to football practice. I had to get used to flipping the switch.

Burzawa has always encouraged multi-sport athletes in the program and doesn’t mind the guy he calls “our attacking general” sometimes missing action.

“I really believe that all of our children should play all the sports they love and they should be involved in the different [athletic] cultures,” Burzawa said after the Wildkits concluded the summer portion of their schedule this week with a team camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Kankakee. “On the one hand, if all things are equal, college coaches will recruit guys who play more than one sport.

“I always tell our new freshmen that you need a passion to play football, so see where your passion lies. Dylan’s heart is in football and lacrosse, and one of the unique things about him is his work ethic. He’s in the weight room every day, not only lifting, but also working on his speed and agility. No one works harder than him.

With the graduation of debut rusher Gio Milam-Pryor and a receiving corps led by All-Stater Kamau Ransom also gone in droves, Burzawa knows Groff will be a marked man this fall starting with the season opener. of Evanston against Indian Trails of Wisconsin.

“The No. 1 thing Dylan brought to the table for us was his decision making,” Burzawa said, referring to Evanston. [run-pass option] offensive. “It’s a dual threat that really gives us a lot of flexibility.

“He’s got a cool, calm demeanor and that’s what sets him apart from other quarterbacks. You have to have that in a QB because he has his hands on the ball every play. He had a phenomenal year for us last year and I’m really excited about what he’s going to do for us this year.

Groff has spent the summer campaign trying to get on the same page with a new group of receivers that includes Mac Mettee, Preston Brown, Boaz Lieberman, Jacques Philippe, Myles Kye and Emmett Robinson. Evanston has only participated in a few 7-on-7 competitions this summer and Groff missed the first day of play at the Chicago Bears-hosted tournament at Fenton High School due to a lacrosse commitment.

But after the Wildkits struggled to score on day one in Groff’s absence, he led them to wins in two of three games on day two.

In the last Central Suburban League passing event at Maine West, Groff completed 65% of his passes as the Wildkits beat Conant 21-7, Niles North 28-14 and Leyden 28-21 before losing to Mundelein 14- 7. Groff had four TD passes apiece in Niles North and Leyden games.

“I think we had a pretty solid 7v7 this summer. We have a really talented group of guys at receiver,” Groff said. “But I also like to play power football. Whatever it takes to win.

“I want to win the conference, but my real goal is to win a playoff game. I remember when I was in eighth grade watching my brother’s team lose to Edwardsville [in the first round] and I was devastated when it happened. I know it won’t be easy, but it’s one of my dreams to play football in November.