Dylan Groff’s decision-making ability is something that Evanston’s football coaching staff members have praised ever since he was promoted to the varsity team at the end of his sophomore season.
But his passion for playing another sport led him to a decision that will take him down a different path once the 2022 season is over.
Last fall, Groff chose to commit to playing Big 10 lacrosse at Rutgers University, and he will only focus on that sport after trying to become the first ETHS quarterback in 20 years to win a state playoff game.
The combination of football and lacrosse is not entirely uncommon, although the high school multisport athlete is becoming a rarity. But there’s a certain irony in the fact that even Evanston Hall of Fame football coach Murney Lazier, who started the lacrosse program 60 years ago at the school to make sure his player stayed in shape in the off-season, probably never would. predicted that the football program would reach a point where the starting QB and team leader would be more proficient in the sport with a long bat.
Groff is certainly more than a replacement in the position and it’s definitely not a case where a struggling program only needs to plug in the best available athlete to play quarterback. After being promoted at the end of the 2020 season, he defeated incumbent Sean Cruz for the starting quarterback position and led the Wildkits to the Illinois High School Association Class 8A state playoffs as a junior.
As a junior, Groff completed 62% of his passing attempts for 1,359 yards, throwing 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions in nine games. He also finished second on the team in carries with 595 yards on 121 attempts.
He still has unfinished business on the football field, even with a lacrosse career looming. He split his time this summer between playing in club lacrosse tournaments and in 7v7 passing competitions for the Wildkit football team.
There’s unfinished business for the 6-foot-1, 190-pound veteran because he missed Evanston’s first-round state playoff loss to Plainfield North last year due to a case of mononucleosis.
“I always thought of myself as a football player first and I think most people think of me that way,” Groff said, despite the fact that he played varsity-level defense during his three years in lacrosse. “I didn’t think I wanted to play lacrosse in college. I wanted to play football. But towards the end of last summer, I started to take a lot of interest in a lot of top-notch college lacrosse programs, and I knew I would regret it if I missed this chance.
“I have now completely fallen in love with lacrosse. I really like the pace of play, going up and down the field, being very physical and using that along with the athleticism you need to play. It’s not uncommon for guys to play both lacrosse and football – but I know it’s not common for a quarterback.”
This is no ordinary quarterback, however. Groff, whose older brother Connor was a standout linebacker for ETHS, is one of those guys who prefers to run over – rather than run from – enemy defenders and will likely take on an even bigger role in football this fall for a Wildkit. team that should be more race-oriented than last year.
“I’ve been playing football since third grade, but I didn’t start playing quarterback until my freshman year here,” Groff noted. “I’ve been a linebacker my entire youth career and because of that, I don’t mind being physical and I don’t fear contact like some quarterbacks. I’m always confident that I’ll be back soon for the next move. I kind of embrace contact, I guess.”
He also had to embrace the challenge of trying to dedicate enough training time in the summer to satisfy his lacrosse and football coaches at the same time.
“I’ve never had a problem with coaches telling me I should choose one sport over another,” he said. “And I think if you play the same sport forever, you can burn yourself out. You will no longer have the same love for the game.
“Buzz Coach [ETHS head football coach Mike Burzawa] It’s fine with me going to lacrosse tournaments in the summer, and if I miss something because of football, the club’s coaches are fine with that. Last summer was actually a lot crazier for me because it’s so important for college recruiting before your freshman year. It was hard to get used to. There were many times when I would practice lacrosse from 12:30pm to 2pm, run home to get my football stuff, and then head out to football practice. I had to get used to flipping the switch.”
Burzawa has always encouraged multisport athletes on the show and doesn’t mind having the guy he calls “the general of our offense” missing in action at times.
“I truly believe that all of our children should play all the sports they love and should be involved in the different [athletic] cultures,” Burzawa said after the Wildkits concluded the summer portion of their schedule this week with a team camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Kankakee. “On the one hand, all things being equal, college coaches are going to recruit guys who play more than one sport.
“I always tell our freshmen that you need a passion to play football, so see exactly where your passion lies. Dylan’s heart is in football and lacrosse, and one of the unique things about him is his work ethic. He’s in the weight room every day, not just lifting, but working on his speed and agility as well. Nobody is working harder than he is.”
With rusher leader Gio Milam-Pryor’s graduation and a receiving corps led by All-Stater Kamau Ransom who also departed en masse, Burzawa knows Groff will be a marked man this fall starting with Evanston’s season opener against Indian Trails. of Wisconsin.
“The number one thing Dylan has brought to the table for us is his decision making,” Burzawa said, referring to Evanston. [run-pass option] attack. “He’s a dual threat that really gives us a lot of flexibility.
“He has a cool, calm demeanor and that’s what sets him apart from other quarterbacks. You have to have that on a QB because he’s got his hands on the ball with every play. He had a phenomenal year for us last year and I am very excited about what he will do for us this year.”
Groff spent the summer campaign trying to get on the same page with a new group of wide receivers that includes Mac Mettee, Preston Brown, Boaz Lieberman, Jacques Philippe, Myles Kye and Emmett Robinson. Evanston has only participated in a few 7v7 competitions this summer and Groff missed the first day of play in the Chicago Bears-led tournament at Fenton High School due to a lacrosse commitment.
But after the Wildkits struggled to score on day one with Groff absent, he led them to wins in two out of three games on day two.
In the most recent Central Suburban League passing event in Maine West, Groff completed 65% of his passes as the Wildkits beat Conant 21-7, Niles North 28-14 and Leyden 28-21 before losing to Mundelein 14 -7. Groff made four TD passes each in the Niles North and Leyden games.
“I think we’ve had some good 7-on-7s this summer. We have a group of really talented guys at the receiver,” Groff said. “But I also like to play strong football. Whatever it takes to win.
“I want to win the conference, but my real goal is to win a playoff game. I remember when I was in eighth grade watching my brother’s team lose to Edwardsville [in the first round] and I was devastated when it happened. I know it won’t be easy, but it’s a dream of mine to play football in November.”