It’s been 15 years since Tom Schillo donned the green and gray uniform of the Evergreen Park High School football team.
But Schillo still has Mustang pride and he’s thrilled about the success the 2013 team has experienced.
“They score a lot of points. They’re fast. They move the ball,” Schillo said.
The Mustangs also win games—all of them, in fact. The Mustangs were undefeated this year—the fourth time in school history they achieved that lofty goal.
The last three years have been amazing,” Schillo said.
Indeed they have. The team made the state playoffs the past two years, reaching the quarterfinals in 2011 and the semifinals last year. This year’s team has a No. 1 seed in the Class 4A pairings and some big expectations as they get set to host Richmond-Burton in the first round at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Schillo’s brother, Luke, who was a running back for Evergreen Park about a decade ago, said an undefeated record is no easy achievement.
“It’s hard work,” he said. “A lot of those games were won Monday through Thursday.”
Like his brother, Luke played football for St. Xavier University. Luke had played one season at the Air Force Academy before coming home to play for the Cougars. He no longer lives in the village, but plans to attend playoff games.
So will most of school’s 800 students, who’ve supported the team since the season began in August on new synthetic turf installed over the summer.
“The kids are genuinely excited,” said EP Principal Bill Sanderson. “There’s a buzz throughout the building.”
Sanderson credits head coach Dan Hartman for much of the team’s success.
“He has a great rapport with the kids,” Sanderson said.
Additionally, Hartman has worked diligently to involve the student body, alums and the community in the team’s success while also stressing the importance of academic accomplishments, Sanderson said.
The school has stricter eligibility for its athletes than required by the IHSA, Sanderson said.
The team’s success has helped build the program for the long-term achievement, Sanderson said.
The small school has long watched Evergreen Park athletes choose to play for private high schools with extensive reputations as football powerhouses.
“We lose kids from the village,” said Tom Schillo, who’s hosting a party at his Evergreen Park home before the first-round game.
But the team’s winning tradition coupled with the relationships it’s built with the Evergreen Stallions youth football program and area Catholic grade school teams has helped turned things around, Sanderson said.
The success even has the village’s boss impressed.
Mayor James Sexton, who has been seen sitting in a chair on the sidelines and cheering the troops on, praised the team’s achievements and said that winning is contagious.
“People want to be around winners,” Sexton said. “You want to form a tradition. I think it’s tremendously exciting.”
He added that the team’s success is good for business, as more people attend games. “People come back and see the neighborhood.”
Despite a 9-0 mark, the Mustangs have given their fans a rollercoaster ride several times this year.
After winning a forfeit game against Little Village to open the season, the team had to scramble to beat Phillips, 35-32. Phillips could be a second-round opponent for the Mustangs.
The Mustangs beat Oak Lawn 21-10 but were trailing 10-0 at halftime. They narrowly beat Tinley Park 24-22 in week 4 when Matt Schulte booted a 22-year field goal in the closing seconds.
In what some would consider the signature victory of the year, EP beat Richards 35-34 in Oak Lawn. Star player Jacquet McClendon’s interception with three seconds to go at the end of the game helped preserve the win in Week 5. Quarterback Jonathan O’Brien suffered an injury and Sean Ryan took over.
The nailbiting trend continued the following week in Summit when the Mustangs pulled off a wild 45-44 victory over Argo. Linebacker Don Oresky stripped the ball from an Argo player and ran 30 yards for a TD for what turned out to be the winning score in the final eight minutes.
They beat Eisenhower 21-13 in weed 7 with McClendon making another game-saving interception in the final minute of the contest.