It’s a numbers game at Niles North.
When Nikko Quiballo transferred from Evanston to Niles North, the senior found himself in a different situation.
Confined mostly to junior varsity football games for the Wildkits during his sophomore and junior seasons, Quiballo was on the field for the Vikings’ varsity squad in its 54-0 season-opening win over Amundsen on Friday night in Skokie.
“Evanston had around 70-plus guys and that put me around fifth string for the varsity and I didn’t really have to do much,” Quiballo said. “Niles North has around 40 guys and because I’m a senior now, I have more experience than the other players, so I have to step in on scout more and I actually got to play more in actual game situations.”
It was a similar story for Rey Else, a Vikings senior running back who quit the team following his freshman season. After spending two years away from the game, Else returned to notch five carries for 62 yards and a touchdown on Friday.
“After freshman year, I got lazy and I was just sitting in the stands during the games and I just missed the game, missed being a part of something like a football team and it just didn’t feel right,” Else said. “So senior year, I decided to get back on the team and they welcomed me with open arms.”
That welcoming atmosphere is a distinguishing feature of Niles North football, according to coach Mark Egofske.
“We have a lot of kids who have never played this game and I got kids this year that are playing for the first time in their life on the varsity,” Egofske said. “That’s the biggest challenge that you have when you coach Niles North High School.”
The welcome was felt by Quiballo, whose coach at Evanston got in touch with Egofske and told the Niles North coach about his new player.
“He said that he had heard about me from my coach at Evanston and he was excited for me to play,” Quiballo said. “I feel like the head coach really came alongside me and helped me bloom, I guess you could say. … Unlike Evanston where there are so many guys who are so talented that some people can go disregarded, but here, as a transfer, even though I might not be the best player, he came alongside me.”
Egofske hasn’t been afraid to put his newcomers on the field for Niles North, which plays host Saturday to Niles West.
“The key for us is you’ve got to throw them out there and one of two things is going to happen: They’re going to like it and they’re going to pick it up or they’re not going to like it and they’re going to avoid the whole situation,” Egofske said. “I’m thinking we have more kids that are going to like it and that’s what I’m seeing at practice.”
Quiballo played a little bit on both sides of the ball for the Vikings Friday and even recovered a fumble.
“I was able to get a fumble recovery, play some on defense, contribute to some tackles,” Quiballo said. “This is the most involved I’ve been in a varsity football game.”
After two years in the stands, Else had the same experience.
“I was speechless after the game,” Else said. “I was nervous at first going into it because I didn’t know if I was going to forget the plays and I had never been under the lights before so I thought that was going to be a factor. I just did my thing. I don’t know how to explain it.”