Daily Herald's 2017 Season Coverage
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updated: 4/4/2014 9:12 PM

Washington aims to start winning with North Park

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  • Round Lake senior Chris Washington plans to continue his football career and education at North Park University.

      Round Lake senior Chris Washington plans to continue his football career and education at North Park University.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Anthony Burton

    Anthony Burton

  • Matt Novak

    Matt Novak


Trading his Round Lake blue for the blue of North Park U. wouldn't seem like a winning football move for Chris Washington.

Round Lake's Panthers captured 2 wins in the athletic senior's three varsity seasons.

North Park's Vikings have been a perennial losing program in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin.

But Washington is confident winning days are ahead for him on the football field.

Hey, Anthony Burton and Matt Novak didn't win a lot either when they played for Round Lake. And yet, last season, the two former Panthers were members of a North Park team that was one of the biggest -- and most pleasant -- surprises in NCAA Division III.

"It's a program that's on the rise," Washington said. "The (head) coach has brought in a whole new coaching staff, and they're all really good guys."

So, Washington has decided to join Burton and Novak at NPU, where the football pride is back after so many dismal seasons. Under first-year head coach Mike Conway, the Vikings broke an 89-game CCIW losing streak with a 22-20 win over Carthage on homecoming weekend last Oct. 5. And they weren't done. They then beat Augustana in Rock Island for the first time ever.

They still weren't done.

By breaking a 42-game losing streak against Milliken, North Park had 3 conference wins in a season for the first time since 1979.

So guess who was named CCIW coach of the year?

Conway. All the way.

No North Park coach had ever won the award.

"At first, I really wasn't interested in North Park," Washington said. "But then one day I just decided to go up there for a visit. I had a really great time, and then I got to sit down with the coaches. They showed me so much compassion. They were real with me. That was a big part of it."

Burton and Novak also influenced Washington. Never mind the so few wins Burton and Novak experienced on the field when they played for Round Lake. Those two guys, like Washington, have Panther Pride. Burton, a Daily Herald all-area player in 2011, is a backup quarterback for North Park. Novak is listed as a defensive back.

"The thing about it is, those are guys that I honestly really looked up to when they were at Round Lake," Washington said. "So that's really cool."

Washington was an all-area and all-conference player himself last fall. A 6-foot, 190-pound wide receiver/linebacker for Round Lake, he says North Park will play him at safety.

It was late January when he took a visit to NPU's campus on Chicago's North Side.

"I've gone there at least five times to stay with Anthony," Washington said. "(He and Novak) introduced me to the whole football team. I've made a lot of friends already."

Washington is interested in earning a degree in exercise science and minor in creative writing. When North Park plays football games, Washington hopes to catch up with other old high school friends. If needed, he'll hit them hard in the shoulder pads. No offense, of course.

Washington says Jalen Young, who played wide receiver for Round Lake last fall, has committed to Elmhurst College.

"So I'll be going against him next year," Washington said.

Another former Round Lake Panther, Danny Cleveland, plays offensive line for Concordia in Wisconsin.

"I'll be going against him, too," Washington said.

An ex-RL Panther is guaranteed to win a football game.

Consider it well-deserved. And a testament to perseverance.

• Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeAguilar64

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