Athletics at Westminster Christian climb to a higher level this fall with the debut of the school's varsity football team.
Two years in the making, the Class 1A Warriors played a middle school schedule in 2011 and a junior varsity slate last year. Already a member of the Northeastern Athletic Conference in other sports, the addition of Westminster swells that league's football ranks to 10 members. The Warriors will also play a junior varsity schedule.
The fledgling program may lack tradition at this point, but an inaugural roster of 30 players drawn from all four classes is dotted with enough notable athletes to create some lasting memories.
"Everyone at the school is excited," said coach John Davis, who previously coached the South Elgin Patriots of the Bill George Youth Football League. "We're even finding that people in the surrounding community are pretty stoked."
A player sure to have an impact is Isaac Hawn, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound, two-way lineman previously home schooled. Davis said Hawn is probably the fastest, strongest, most intelligent athlete on the team.
Another key figure will be junior quarterback Max Tucker (6-0, 160). He becomes eligible this fall after transferring to Westminster last August from Wheaton Academy. Tucker has a strong arm, knows the position well and "takes the game really seriously," according to his coach. Tucker will hand off to tailback DeShawn Bloom, a strong, 5-10, 185-pound senior Davis calls "the real deal."
The defense is led by senior outside linebacker William Rathjen (5-11, 170) and also features multisport athlete Clay DeHaan (6-0, 150) at safety.
Among the many freshmen on the team, two stand out: sure-handed wide receiver Scotty Graziano (5-9, 135) and lineman John Davis (5-9, 160), the coach's son. Davis is among the top long snappers in the nation in his age group. He was the only player from Illinois selected to play last January in the 2013 JuniorRank 14-U Academic all-American Game in Carson, Calif.
"I think the strength of our team is that we've got a handful of skilled players who are pretty good and we have two or three good-sized offensive and defensive lineman who are relatively experienced," Davis said. "We're just going to take our time and try not to get too greedy. We will try to be very patient and, hopefully, the scoreboard reflects that."
The schedule maker did youthful Westminster (three seniors, one junior, 26 underclassmen) no favors. The Warriors play four playoff teams in the season's first five weeks. They open at Luther North (5-5), host the first on-campus football game in school history against Mooseheart (9-2) in Week 2, travel in Week 3 to defending NAC champion Ottawa Marquette (10-1), and play a Week 5 game at Alden-Hebron (6-4). The Warriors will face a fifth playoff qualifier in Week 9 at North Shore Country Day (7-3).
According to athletic director Rick Palmer, Westminster Christian's varsity roster of 30 players ranks as the third-highest participation number of the 10 small schools in the conference. Do they have enough to compete for a playoff berth in their inaugural varsity season?
"I know we can, I know we can," Davis said. "I am definitely a great believer that God has some great things like that in store for our football team, on the scoreboard and off the field."