NORTHFIELD — Matt Little has all the physical tools to be a successful varsity quarterback. He stands 6-4, has excellent arm strength and his athleticism makes him a threat to run.
It took some time for the junior to settle in this year, however. He struggled in Evanston’s first two games of the season, as the Wildkits’ offense accounted for only one touchdown in each contest.
A first-year varsity quarterback, Little said he had to grow accustomed to the speed of the game, which includes the speed of varsity defenses, needing to move his feet faster and releasing the ball quicker.
Another aspect to his slow start was a lack of repetitions on Evanston’s sophomore team a year ago. Little began the season as the starter, but he punctured his left lung in the first game.
“That hurt his development a little bit,” Evanston coach Mike Burzawa said. “There’s no substitute for experience. He gained experience and he gained confidence [as a junior], and became more comfortable as the year progressed.”
The injury occurred when a Proviso West defender’s helmet hit him in the ribs. Little said he had trouble breathing after getting hit but didn’t think the injury was as serious as it turned out to be until he went to the hospital, where he learned he had a fractured rib and punctured lung.
The remedy for both was rest. Little did breathing exercises — simple things like taking deep breaths — to strengthen his lung before he returned to Evanston’s sophomore team about five or six weeks after the injury happened.
Little split time with Immanuel Woodberry at quarterback when he came back.
Despite a lack of repetitions as a sophomore, Little had a good summer, Burzawa said, and started for the Wildkits in all nine games this year. Little credits working with older brother Chris Little — a 2014 graduate who started at quarterback as a junior and senior for Evanston and now plays at South Dakota State — for preparing him for starting on varsity.
“I would have struggled a lot without him,” Matt Little said. “He really taught me how to throw the football, how to set my feet and all kinds of stuff like that — and what to expect on the varsity level.”
Matt Little improved as the year progressed. As a result, the Wildkits’ offense averaged 30 points per game against the Central Suburban South’s four Class 8A playoff qualifiers.
Matt Little excelled at getting the ball to Evanston senior wide receiver Brandon Hilliard during that stretch. The speedy 5-7 playmaker set a school record for most receiving yards in a game with 191 against New Trier on Friday, and he also caught four touchdowns against the Trevians. He had three touchdowns against Niles West.
Hilliard’s last two touchdowns against the Trevians were 34 and 51 yards, and Matt Little moved well behind the line of scrimmage and threw a beautiful deep ball on both.
Although Evanston lost 44-30 to New Trier to end its season with a 3-6 record, Matt Little’s performance (14-for-25, 299 yards) is something to build on heading into his senior year. He said there are a number of things he wants to work on during the offseason — his footwork, reading coverages and becoming better in the pocket.
“I played basketball last year, which was kind of a distraction to getting better in football,” Little said. “I think I’m not going to play this year, just to get better as a quarterback.”