Maine South's Sajenko thrived in leading Hawks to state title game
Maine South has a pure thoroughbred.
And although he wasn't entered in the Kentucky Derby, Arlington Million or the Breeder's Cup, the Hawks were able to ride senior Mike Sajenko all the way to Class 8A state championship game.
Sajenko, a tough one to bring down during the regular season, was simply amazing in the Hawks' five state playoffs games.
He entered the playoffs with a 9-game total of 702 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns and 317 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns.
Amazingly, he nearly matched those totals against five of the best teams in the state. That included 15 touchdowns with 6 of those coming in the playoff opener against New Trier. Those 6 touchdowns in one game tied a school record.
Total in the playoffs, Sajenko rushed for 668 yards and 11 touchdowns with 190 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. That brings his season total to 1,370 rushing yards, 507 receiving yards and a staggering 30 touchdowns.
Those performances and his leadership have earned Sajenko the honor of being names Captain of the 2021 Daily Herald All-Area Football Team for the Northwest suburbs.
"I just knew we had to win," Sajenko said. "I wanted to go to the state championship. We got there, but we couldn't finish it off."
Maine South coach Dave Inserra, whose team fell to Lockport in the state title game, said Sajenko got stronger and stronger as the season went on.
"Not only did he have a great regular season, we rode him as hard as we could," Inserra said "But in the playoffs he became a different animal. He was so impressive -- he had six, three, five (TDs). Who does that in a playoff run? And obviously, teams were geared to stop him. It was just difficult to do that."
Sajenko said he knew he had to take on an extra burden in the state playoffs.
"I felt the pressure to do more, with (teammate) Chris (Petrucci) hurt," Sajenko said. "I don't think he was 100 percent in the entire playoffs and then he got hurt real bad and was out the last two games. That hurt our receiving factor. So I knew had to step it up there and do what I can."
According to Inserra. Hawks' offensive coordinator Charlie Bliss would come up to Sajenko before each playoff game to speak to him.
"Coach Bliss would come up to Mike before games and say 'Mike, we are going to ride you,' " Inserra said. "Before the Marist game, Mike looked at coach Bliss and before Charlie could say a work Mike said, 'I know. I know.' "
In that game, Sajenko would score 5 touchdowns. He would also pick up a key first down near the end of the game as the Hawks would win the semifinal thriller 35-33.
Inserra said Sajenko would never walk away from the extra workload.
"On the sideline with Charlie, he would say 'Hey coach, I can get this done' or 'Coach, get me the ball,' " Inserra said. "When a guy wants it in his hands, especially at the end of the game, you give it him. Some people want it at the beginning of the game. It is a totally different story than when the game is on the line. And that's what he wanted."
Sajenko thrived on getting the rock.
"I wanted the ball," Sajenko said. "Once you hit them hard, they aren't going to want to keep tackling you. I would just run as hard as I did and keep it up through the whole game until they didn't want it anymore."
Sajenko has been a three-time all-conference player in the Central Suburban South. In the last two seasons, he has been named the conference's offensive player of the year. He was also named to the Daily Herald's All-Area team last season.
But despite all that, the recruiting has been slow for Sajenko. He recently picked up a preferred walk-on offer to Eastern Illinois and has been drawing some interest from Division-II and D-III schools.
Inserra, who has seen more than his share of top-notch players in his 21 seasons, said Sajenko can easily play at the next level.
"He is a tough kid," Inserra said. "He is pretty self-reliant. He is not a flashy guy. This was probably not our most talented team or our biggest team. But when you have a horse, or I keep on calling him a horse, you ride him as far as you can. That was the game plan. He did beyond what we game-planned for. We could not expect for him to carry as much as he did. He was up for it and he wanted it."
NORTHWEST SUBURBS ALL-AREA TEAM
Trystan Anderson Buffalo Grove OL/DL Sr.
Dominik Ball Palatine RB Soph.
Josh Bontje Hersey RB/LB Sr.
Jimmy Brander LB Maine South Sr.
Archie Cox Fremd WR Sr.
Aidan Cyr Hoffman Estates QB Jr.
Giuseppe Dugo Conant QB Sr.
Carson Eggebraten St. Viator LB Sr.
Teddy Gianaris Maine South LB Sr.
Ethan Groark Rolling Meadows WR Sr.
Peter Hutchison Barrington OL Sr.
Jashawn Johnson Hoffman Estates WR/DB Sr.
Mitch Larkin Palatine LB Sr.
Jimmy Makuh Hersey QB Sr.
Scott Murray Buffalo Grove RB/LB Sr.
Chris Petrucci Maine South TE/LB Sr.
Yashua Pettis-Taylor Hoffman Estates RB/DB Sr.
Ben Sahakian Prospect DL/K Sr.
*Mike Sajenko Maine South RB Sr.
Eli Shereshovech Buffalo Grove DL Sr.
Brady Tosteraud Elk Grove TE/LB Sr.
Sam Tsgalis Prospect OL Sr.
Owen Walter Prospect WR/QB Sr.
Bobby Widlowski Palatine RB/LB/K Sr.
Honorable MentionConnor Ahrendt, Conant, TE, Sr., Yaser Al-Awadi, Maine East, OL, Sr., Decker Anderson, Prospect, DB, Sr., Jack Armstrong, Hersey, LB, Jr., Fabian Baez, Schaumburg, WR, Sr., Frank Bartell, Maine South, WR/DB, Sr., Nick Benkler, Rolling Meadows, LB, Sr., Bryce Billingslea, Hoffman Estates, DL, Sr., Michael Brigham, Rolling Meadows, WR, Sr., Julian Bonilla, Hoffman Estates, HB/LB, Jr., Jacob Bostick, Palatine, WR, Sr., Nate Branch, Palatine, TE, Jr., Peyton Burgh, Prospect, LB, Sr. Donny Carl, Fremd, OL/Dl, Sr., Dylan Carlquist, Hersey, WR, Sr., Josh Cataldo, Hersey, HB, DL, Sr., Michael Cervantes, Buffalo Grove, QB, Jr., Cole Cichowski, Maine South, S, Sr., Ben Clawson, Hersey, RB/WR, Sr., Dane Cottrell, Buffalo Grove, OL/DL, Sr., Frank Covey, Prospect, QB. Jr. Frank Eleftheriou, Rolling Meadows, OL/DL, Sr., Collin Fennelly, Rolling Meadows, LB, Sr., PJ Ford, OL/DL. Sr., Rolling Meadows, Sr., Evan Grace, Rolling Meadows, QB, Jr., Nick Grassano, Prospect, DB, Sr., Lucas Greazel, Rolling Meadows, K, Sr., Jacob Greziak, Prospect, LB, Sr., Joshua Huelsman, Wheeling, WR/LB, Sr., Clayton Kamp, Prospect, OL, Sr., Rowan Keefe, Maine South, QB, Sr., Colin Kalinowicz, Elk Grove, OL, Sr., Andrew Kraus, Barrington, DL., Sr., Ryan Kutella, Conant, RB/DB, Sr., Edas Latanouskas, Hoffman Estates, OL/DL, Sr., Charlie Leach, Maine South, LB, Sr., Dominick Marrazzo, Buffalo Grove, LB, Sr., Jhermari, Mabry, Palatine, OL/DL. Sr., Dominic McKevitt, St. Viator, Wr/S, Sr., Joe Mitroi, Wheeling, WR/DB, Sr., Blake Mueller, Conant, OL, Sr., Michael Nix, St. Viator, WR., Jr., Daniel Sankiewicz, Maine West, OL/DL, Sr., Bruno Pallan, Barrington, DL, Sr., Evan Panesis, Barrington, RB, Sr., Gino Paredes, Prospect, DB, Sr., Jake Parisi Prospect, WR, Jr., Jacob Pond, Buffalo Grove, RB/LB, Sr., Eddie Resendez, Hoffman Estates, OL, Sr., Gracie Rodriguez, Conant, K, Sr., Stephon Sellers, Hoffman Estates, WR, Soph, George Shiakallis, Buffalo Grove, LB, Sr., Danny Sheedy, Barrington, DB, Sr., Bennett Smith, Maine South, OL, Sr., Breyden Smith, Hersey, WR, Sr., Fred Takumi, Schaumburg, RB/LB, Sr., Harley Thompson, Barrington, QB, Sr., Kachi Uwgu, Elk Grove, OL/DL, Jr., Alex Valdez, Conant, OL/DL, Sr., Joe Wagner, Palatine, LB, Sr., Kevin Wolf, Maine South, CB, Sr., Matt Wolverton, Buffalo Grove, OL, Sr.