White, McClendon spark Evergreen Park
By Taylor Bell
Evergreen Park is a Class 4A school (enrollment: 838) in a conference filled with larger schools representing Class 6A and 7A. But college recruiters don't need a road map to find Jaquet McClendon. They always seem to know where talent is.
McClendon, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior wide receiver and outside linebacker, is a rising star in the class of 2014. Northwestern, Northern Illinois and other MAC schools have contacted him. But his stock figures to keep climbing and more Division I schools will join the hunt.
"He is the best player I've coached," Evergreen Park coach Dan Hartman said. "He is being recruited as a receiver and outside linebacker. But he is best at receiver. He has 4.5 speed. He also is a basketball player. He doesn't have much football experience. He is still developing."
In a recent game, McClendon caught four passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. He has rushed for 300 yards and amassed 500 yards via pass receiving.
His close friend, quarterback Brandon White, offers a comprehensive scouting report:
"How good is he? Pretty good if he has the right mind. Sometimes he gets down on himself if things aren't going well. But he was in a good mood last night (in Evergreen Park's 23-7 victory over North Chicago in the first round of the Class 4A playoff).
"We're real close friends. We live a block away from each other. I try to put him in the right state of mind if he has a negative attitude toward things. If he drops a pass he gets down on himself and then he'll shut down unless I talk to him. He realizes how good he can be. I tell him if he stays focused he can be a real great athlete and go to a nice Division I school. He wants to go to Northwestern. He's a real smart kid."
As good as McClendon is, however, the key to Evergreen Park's success is White, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior. The three-year starter has passed for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 600 yards and 10 touchdowns in Hartman's spread option offense.
"Our quarterback will carry us," Hartman said. "Going into this season, we felt we could do some damage if our quarterback and receivers and defensive ends stepped up and became our leaders."
Last year, Evergreen Park finished 8-4 and lost to Richmond-Burton in the state quarterfinals. Ironically, the Mustangs will play at Richmond-Burton on Saturday in the second round of the Class 4A playoff.
"Last year was a new experience for our kids. They hadn't been to the playoff since 2006 and hadn't won a game in the playoff since the late 1990s. It was something to hang our hats on. That positive experience has helped us to prepare for the playoff this year," Hartman said.
The turning point was the Tinley Park game in Week 8. Evergreen Park was 4-3 and everybody understood that they needed to win two of their last three games to qualify for the playoff.
"We were at a crossroads in the season," Hartman said. "We had our ups and downs. We had injuries. We had battled through them and against the bigger teams in our conference each week. We had been in physical games before. We beat them (26-14) on our home field."
Hartman counts on White, McClendon, 6-foot-1, 280-pound senior wide receiver Mike Reuter, 5-foot-10, 165-pound junior running back Keyshawn Carpenter, 5-foot-11, 230-pound senior tackle Andy Piet, 6-foot-1, 295-pound senior linebacker DaQua Gatewood and 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior defensive end Kyle Ven Huizen.
Reuter has caught 27 passes for 500 yards and eight touchdowns. Carpenter has rushed for 650 yards. Gatewood is the team's leading tackler.
White was a basketball player before he fell in love with football as a sixth grader. "I loved the contact of the sport. I like to make big plays to win big games," he said.
He played cornerback and wide receiver in grammar school. As a freshman, he was moved to quarterback because coaches knew he was a pitcher and had a strong arm.
"I liked the idea. I like to be in charge," White said.
He quarterbacked the freshman team to a 5-4 record. After two games on the sophomore squad, he was promoted to the varsity. He started at linebacker, then started the last three games at quarterback. Last year, he guided Evergreen Park to an 8-4 record, most wins since 1994.
"We had a good team last year but it was more of a running team. We are more balanced this year," White said. "This is a better team. We have more players who contribute off the bench. What is our edge? We are focused on getting to the state final."
With White throwing and McClendon and Reuter catching, Evergreen Park's passing game has picked up this season.
"We didn't have that kind of a threat last year," White said.
He attended three passing camps last summer to improve his mechanics. He has become more accurate and more proficient at reading defenses. "I wanted to improve my game. Now I stay on top of the ball and use my legs. I used to throw with just my arm. Now I feel I'm much better at what I'm doing," he said.