Football: Evergreen Park hopes to build on success
By Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org July 22, 2013 8:44PM
Evergreen Park's Jacquet McClendon (21). | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 24, 2013 6:03AM
It’s been quite the turnaround for Evergreen Park’s football program.
The Mustangs missed the playoffs eight of nine seasons leading up to the 2011 campaign, including going 0-9 in 2007.
Those days are in the rear-view mirror.
Evergreen Park not only qualified for the playoffs the past two seasons, it enjoyed lengthy postseason runs.
In 2011, the Mustangs advanced to the Class 4A quarterfinals in finishing 8-4.
The 2012 Mustangs advanced further than any team in the program’s history — the 4A semifinals — and stood just one win away from advancing to the state championship game.
Though Evergreen Park suffered a 23-7 loss to Rock Island Alleman in the semis, it was a magical season that ended with a 9-4 record.
So what’s in store in 2013 for the Mustangs?
“I think skill-wise, we compare a lot to the last two years,” said Evergreen Park coach Dan Hartman, who’s entering his third season at the helm. “If we can get enough wins to get into the playoffs, I’m confident we can make a little run again. But our offensive line will determine how far we can go this year.”
The Mustangs return two O-linemen in seniors Nick Knieps and Dave Ziebarth. The three remaining spots on are up for grabs.
Having skill-position players such as wide receiver Jacquet McClendon and running back Keyshawn Carpenter should help overcome a lack of experience up front.
In 2012, Carpenter rushed for a team-leading 900 yards. He’s also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield.
“Keyshawn is multipurpose,” Hartman said. “We can the hand the ball off to him or we can throw him the ball. We’re expecting big things from him.”
McClendon is receiving plenty of looks from Division I programs, including Kansas, Central Michigan, Bowling Green and Miami (Ohio). At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, he has the size, strength and speed to produce nightmares for opponents.
“Jacquet has been working really hard in the weight room,” Hartman said. “He’s ready for a year with about 60 or 70 catches.”
It’s still uncertain as to who’ll throw McClendon the ball. A two-way battle between senior Jon Karstrand and junior Sean Ryan has yet to play itself out.
“Jon has pretty good control of the offense and can definitely run the show,” Hartman said. “Sean is trying to learn the offense. He has a real strong arm and is athletic.”
Hartman made it clear that whomever finishes second in the competition will be starting at wide receiver. In fact, Karstrand was a receiver last season.
Another receiver to keep an eye on is junior Kerron Brown. The tandem of McClendon and Brown should be fun to watch.
Defensively, the line boasts two impact players in seniors Tremane Holt and Alex Cheatham.
The secondary has plenty of experience with seniors Tim Walsh and brothers Dan and Don Oresky back in the fold.
McClendon will be penciled in at one of the linebacker spots, along with Dan Kholer, a transfer from St. Rita.
“We have a little bit more experience on defense,” Hartman said. “But overall, I think we’re a little ahead of where I expected us to be.”
If the potential for a third straight playoff appearance isn’t enough excitement, the installation of FieldTurf on the football field has caused quite a buzz. The new surface should not only benefit the Mustangs on the field, but help draw top prospects from the community.
“It’s right on schedule,” Hartman said of the FieldTurf installation. “It should be ready to go for the first day of practice. I think it will help us out with our team speed for sure. I also think it’s going to help us keep our own kids and make us comparable to the Catholic schools.”