DENISE CROSBY: Taste of victory sweet for East football players
By Denise Crosby email@example.com October 10, 2013 5:48PM
East Aurora punter Julian Ramos runs a muffed punt for a first down against Elgin. Ramos' interception late in the game sealed the Tomcats' first win in 45 games. | Jeff Krage/For Sun-Times Media
Celebrating the big win
To watch the team sing the fight song after its victory, go to
Updated: November 12, 2013 6:23AM
Kurt Becker was one hoarse but very happy coach this week.
Check out the highlights of last Friday’s game against Elgin that snapped the East Aurora Tomcats’ 44-game losing streak, and you can see why.
Or check out the 7,000-plus “likes” on the school’s Facebook page to get an idea just how big a deal that game was … not only for the team but the entire community.
East Aurora student representative Angel Chavez even made a comment at the School Board meeting this week about the social media buzz surrounding that win and how students were saying they’ve never felt so proud to be a Tomcat.
That win is more than a check in the left hand column for the team, too. It’s affirmation that instilling character and moral discipline also results in football discipline: a mantra Becker and his staff have proclaimed since taking over the beleaguered program last year.
“If we can change the culture of the program,” the head coach told me earlier this week, “then the football will get better.”
Obviously that philosophy is working. Trailing 22-8 in the third quarter, the Tomcats roared back to tie the game up, then forged ahead with less than a minute on the clock with a field goal from a nervous but excited second string kicker Richard Barajas.
Watching those game highlights, with players and coaches erupting in celebration along the sidelines, can’t help but bring a smile to your face. Winning was such a foreign concept to this team, the players ran straight back into the locker room right after the game. And it wasn’t until Becker reminded them victors traditionally sing the fight song that the boys jogged back onto the field to celebrate with their equally joyous fans — a small group mostly comprised of family members and coaches’ wives.
There were tears, yes, especially a few minuets later when Becker gathered his team in the end zone to tell them how proud he was of each and every one of them.
“The coach got pretty emotional,” said Trect Phillips, whose son Qahira is a senior player. “It was almost like we’d won a championship.”
Speaking of …. Becker, a member of the ’85 Chicago Bears, admitted it’s hard to compare this win to Super Bowl XX. He was a player then, he’s a coach now. Plus, the Bears were heavily favored that season, unlike the perennial underdog Tomcats.
“The situations were so different,” he said of the two big wins. “This was such a special moment.”
Becker took over Tomcat football last year, bringing with him Steve Kenyon, who had coached Becker at East and eventually retired from Naperville Central. Both alums decided to return to the program for one reason: They believed they could build something special.
Friday’s game confirmed that belief.
“You tell these kids things over and over, but unless you actually accomplish something, it starts to get old,” said Becker. “That’s why that win was so important.”
That was evident when I visited with the players after Wednesday’s practice, where they were gearing up for tonight’s Homecoming game against Metea Valley. About 58 boys came out for football at the beginning of the season, and now the team is down to 26.
“It’s not easy,” Becker admitted. “But the ones who remain are quality young men who want to play football.”
That was also obvious. These young athletes talked with excitement — and big grins — about that 25-22 win against the Maroons last Friday, about how much their coaches have taught them about life, and yes, how the students treated them with newfound respect this week after that come-from-behind victory.
As they walked off the practice field toward the school, two players even began debating whether, with only three games left in the regular season, they still had a shot at the playoffs.
Didn’t matter they had just one win under their helmets. Didn’t matter they still had to face powerhouse Waubonsie Valley. The 2013 Tomcats have tasted success. And now they knew they were winners.