'Compete Every Day': Team leaders bolster Maine East
This is Bob Winkel's fourth year coaching Maine East football. It gives him some perspective.
"This group -- the guys who are seniors this year -- I've had them since they were freshmen, and it's like watching your kids grow," Winkel said.
"It's kind of cool to see them go from freshmen to seniors, guys like Idarius (Walton) and Yaser (Al Awadi) and Hasan (Omari). You watch them grow, and they've taught other kids to start competing, be dedicated. If they didn't play one game this year, they'd be leaving the program better than they found it. That's all I can ask for as a coach."
Winkel has a good number of these players, seven returning offensive starters and five on the defensive side, with Walton and Omari joining Dejan Petricevic as two-way starters entering the Blue Demons' season opener Friday against Niles West in Park Ridge.
The one many people will be looking at, including representatives of the nine Division I programs that have offered him a scholarship according to 247Sports, is the huge senior left tackle, Al Awadi.
Petricevic, Sharv Patel and Johnny Sliwa also return to the offensive line.
Though Maine East (0-5 overall and in the Central Suburban League North) has lost 31 straight games since it beat Schurz to start the 2017 season, in the shortened 2021 spring season the 6-foot-8, 315-pound Al Awadi was named Class 7A all-state honorable-mention by the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association.
Winkel, who graduated from Marmion one season before it won the 2011 Class 6A title, likes the big man's ability to read defenses, diagnose the blitz and get to the second level to pick up another block.
Al Awadi, who has started on varsity since midway through his sophomore season, is a team leader, his coach said.
"He's focused on technique, on running things the right way, kind of guiding the other players to follow his lead and run things the way that we like," Winkel said.
What the Blue Demons would like to do in their spread offense is get a balance between Omari running the ball and Elijah Hall and Walton, an all-conference performer, catching it.
Sophomore Tim Kato also looks to contribute at receiver and defensive back, one of the newcomers Winkel's looking at as well as promising defensive end Demontae Wingate.
At 5-foot-7, junior quarterback Yusef Awad may have to sprint outside of Al Awadi for a clear shot downfield, but Winkel likes Awad's mobility and ability to throw outside the pocket.
"He has good command of the huddle and has the will to learn," Winkel said. "He's a true student of the game and fully engaged, and really wanting to lead his teammates."
Defensively Petricevic and Omari return to linebacker positions in the 4-3 scheme, as well as 238-pound defensive tackle Christian "Bubba" Cabrales, plus defensive backs Walton and senior Chris Kish. Al Awadi will take some reps on the defensive line as well.
Winkel is emphasizing improved tackling, which merges with the slogan the team has printed right on its T-shirts -- Compete Every Day.
"That's something that I think in the past just hasn't been present, whether it's in practice or in games," Winkel said. "I think this year so far in practice the kids are competing with one another. The kids are fighting for starting spots and every day they're outworking one another."