NORTHFIELD — On Sunday afternoons in the fall, Oliver Katz usually is on his family’s home computer.
Instead of checking on how many touchdowns Jay Cutler threw or how many passes the Bears intercepted, Katz, a New Trier senior receiver, is online reading stories about the latest world news. These days, that means articles relating to the conflict in Syria.
“Instead of managing a fantasy football team, I read about terrorists and national security. It’s not normal,” joked Katz, who is 18 years old.
Spencer Cotten has known Katz since seventh grade when the two attended Washburne in Winnetka. Cotten said Katz always has been a curious person and passionate about his country.
“He’s very patriotic,” said Cotten, a senior receiver on the Trevians. “But he knows exactly why he believes in what he believes. He has a reason for everything.”
A second-year varsity player, the 6-foot-1, 160-pound Katz has no catches in five games for the Trevians, who are 3-2 overall (1-0 CSL South) and play host to Maine South on Friday. In fact, the only real action he’s seen on the field this season was in the second half of a lost game against Warren in Week 2.
While Katz said he loves football — a sport he’s been playing since fourth grade — Katz knows the game isn’t going to take him far. He has designs on a future that involves keeping the United States safe.
Katz has been a member of New Trier’s Model United Nations club since his junior year. To the best of his knowledge, he’s the only varsity athlete in the club. He said he’s planning on participating in the Chicago International Model UN conference in January.
“I am probably more conservative than most of the others in the club, but we have educated debates on a lot of issues,” he said. “They can get very spirited.”
For one week in July, Katz attended Georgetown’s National Security and CounterIntelligence Institute. There, he listened to lectures by professors and international-relations experts about the role different government organizations such as the CIA and NSA play in protecting America.
Katz said his time in Washington D.C. only strengthened his resolve to someday work for the government.
“It all started for me on 9/11,” said Katz, a precocious 6-year-old on that infamous day in 2001. “I was in bed, and my mom woke me up. I kept asking why did that happen. I wanted to know everything, and I didn’t want to be babied.
“I think, right then, I wanted to be involved in our national security.”
Megan Garton taught Katz for the first time last school year in her Advanced Placement Language and Composition class. She said Katz had an insatiable appetite for learning.
“He is very self-directed and motivated,” said Garton, now in her ninth year as a teacher at New Trier. “He is very articulate and comfortable knowing what he does know. But he’s equally comfortable asking questions about what he doesn’t know.
“That is a hallmark of a great student, one with intellectual humility.”
Garton is one person who believes Katz will accomplish whatever he sets his mind to. That was evident to her as she watched him work on his research paper last school year about what role the United States should play in Syria. Each student was required to establish a claim on a subject of his or her choosing and craft a convincing argument to support the position.
“At first, I was concerned about his topic,” she said. “It’s an area that is constantly in flux and always changing, but he invested the time and became an authority on it. He did not shy away from the work. He didn’t seem to struggle with his initial stage of uncertainty. That is unique.”
Katz’s paper, which spanned several thousand words, earned him an A, something he still is proud of to this day.
“It was a fun project,” he said. “I liked that it was relevant. I have opinions, but they all come from a place of substance.”
Katz said he is looking to attend a college that offers a strong program in international policy. He said he also wants to learn foreign languages, specifically Arabic and possibly Mandarin. He’s considering Georgetown, Notre Dame and Harvard, where his sister, Catherine, earned her undergraduate degree.
“He’s persistent,” Garton said. “He always follows through with things. He has a genuine interest in his work, and he has a clear idea of what he wants to do.
“I have no doubt he will do whatever he wants to do.”