East Aurora still elated after snapping long skid

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The needle, sharp as ever, was out again this week at East Aurora’s football practice. Its sting, though, was much easier to take.

“Looks like 700 pounds of marshmallow,” said coach Kurt Becker, his voice dripping with sarcasm as two of his linemen prepared to go head-to-head in a drill.

“Boy, you could stick an Oreo cookie between ‘em and it would be in no danger of breaking.”

Even the combatants had to chuckle.

Winning makes life better for athletes at any level. And life was much better this week for the Tomcats, who beat Elgin 25-22 last Friday to end the long-suffering program’s 44-game losing streak.

“You never know, you always envision what it’d be like,” said Becker, a former NFL player who returned to his alma mater last season to try to resurrect the program. “[On Monday] it seemed like the whole school was walking on air.”

Running back Jamaria Littleton, who ran 35 times for 186 yards and two touchdowns, said coming to practice each day wasn’t that tough. “It’s just mentally frustrating to not get a win and think that you’ll go 0-9. It’s not tough if you’re dedicated and we have a lot of dedicated people.

“[Winning] was huge. Everybody went wild at the game. It was amazing.”

Littleton and his senior classmates won’t be the second straight group to go through without varsity win.

Winning hasn’t come easy for East football since Al Tamberelli’s 2000 team posted the last winning season (5-4). Since, the Tomcats are 7-107. This one came on the strength of a 28-yard field goal from backup kicker Richard Barajas with 54.5 seconds remaining. It was sealed by an interception from junior Michael Gonzales with 35 seconds left.

“Could you make sure to spell it with an ‘s’ at the end and not a ‘z’?” asked Gonzales, noting that online broadcasters of the game credited teammate Julian Ramos with the pick and so did a newspaper account. Another account got it right but spelled his name wrong.

One win does not a program make, but you have to start somewhere.

“It’s a soccer school. That, and basketball,” said junior lineman Fernando Corral. “If we had some of the numbers from the guys who don’t make the soccer team, we’d be fine.”

Gonzales agreed: “There’s a lot of guys in school who don’t bother to come out for any sport. I guess it’s just the area that’s we’re in.”

Corral added: “There’s some athletic people and some good-sized people who would be good linemen and they just don’t do anything.”

“Most of them,” noted Ramos, “are in the wrong place in life.”

Becker has made a difference, the four players agreed.

“I remember my freshman year,” said Corral. “There was a guy in the bleachers during the varsity game eating nachos. They called him down when it was his turn to go on the field. He was up there in his uniform, full pads.

“There’s a lot more discipline. We go a lot harder. It’s completely different.”

While the players respect Becker’s knowledge of the game and accomplishments as a player, that’s not what sold them on him.

“It was his style of coaching and being around us,” said Corral. “He’s always been honest. I think that’s one reason why we respect him a lot.”

As darkness descended, Becker gathered his players to close the practice.

“All of a sudden, football is fun, huh?” he asked, but then kept to his message. “Last week’s done and gone, let’s move on to another victory.

“Unfortunately, a couple guys are not eligible because they didn’t get their work done in school, which really hurts our team right now. It’s very selfish. We need every guy. Family. Team. Right? So don’t cheat us. Don’t cheat yourselves. Don’t cheat the team. I get one back, I lose one. How about we get everybody back?”

The Tomcats close with homecoming Friday night vs. Metea Valley, followed by powerhouse Waubonsie Valley at home and then a road date with winless West Chicago.

“Hopefully, we can get a win at home … anything’s possible,” said Littleton. “We ain’t scared of no opponent.”

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