New Trier's Nykaza ready to make mark at quarterback
Senior switched to running back for good of team last season
New Trier senior Jack Nykaza has already competed at national quarterback combine’s for football players hoping to earn Division I scholarships this summer and has plans for stops at Northwestern and Navy.
Yet he hasn’t even taken a varsity snap under center.
A broken hand last summer hampered Nykaza’s bid to start at quarterback, and projected starting running back Josh Perlmutter came down with mononucleosis. So when New Trier coach Dan Starkey and offensive coordinator Mike Napoleon approached Nykaza about switching to running back, there wasn’t much hesitation.
“We were a running back team last year so when Perlmutter was down our coaches asked me if I’d play running back for the first game,” Nykaza said. “We didn’t have anyone else so I said all right and played there the first game and just stuck there the rest of the season. It wasn’t a big deal because I was already a running quarterback before and it was good for the team.”
As a junior, Nykaza rushed for 769 yards and 10 touchdowns and also added 123 receiving yards and a touchdown catch as the Trevians finished 5-5 and reached the Class 8A playoffs.
Starkey, who took over as Trevians coach last season, hasn’t gotten to see Nykaza play quarterback much, but seeing him stick with his new position last year told him a lot.
“To me, it really showed what type of character Jack has,” Starkey said. “That he was willing to make that position switch for the betterment of the team just demonstrates the type of unselfish leadership that we would like all of our players to emulate.”
Added Napoleon: “This year it’s not like we’ll forget about him being quarterback because he’s a heck of an athlete. I’m really, really excited for this football season because who we have back there as a quarterback. He was taking a pounding in some of those games last year and he just kept on coming. He showed me a lot as far as his run ability and ability to bounce back on Monday coming back to practice after carrying the ball 30 times on Friday night.”
Nykaza definitely held his own – and then some – at running back last year, but playing quarterback is the position he likes most. With aspirations of playing quarterback in college, Nykaza is behind the eight ball because potential college suitors don’t have any highlights to evaluate.
However, he still has garnered interest from his workouts at various summer camps and is hopeful to stay on college coaches’ radars with a strong start for New Trier this fall.
“A couple coaches have come in from Navy, Northwestern, Air Force, Army, Central Michigan and those types of schools,” Nykaza said. “They want a running quarterback so what they said to me since I don’t have junior quarterback film is they want to see my first three games of the season before they talk to me about playing for them or anything serious like an offer.
“Obviously, I don’t have the same advantages as a lot of people do with their junior film because that’s probably the biggest part of the recruiting process. But I think it will all work out in the end.”
Besides reestablishing himself as a quarterback prospect, Nykaza also has had to shake the rust off of playing the position, which proved to be difficult at first. But after a good showing at the Nike Combine in Columbus, Ohio, Nykaza has shown he’s back on the right track.
“Coming off this season, I was pretty off after throwing because I hadn’t done it in a while,” Nykaza said. “I was with my quarterback coach who I’ve been with for three years and we’ve thrown two times a week up until now. I’ve been getting back into it and got invited to some camps and did pretty well at them.
“The hardest part is getting your timing down with your receivers. Everyone is different and there are a lot of routes that we in particular run that are timing routes. They’re not watching until someone gets open, they’re throwing to a certain spot. That’s probably the toughest part about coming back. I missed a year of quarterback experience last year so reading defenses is going to be a new thing I have to get back into. I’m going to be watching a lot of film.”
While Nykaza will replace graduated Connor DeLoach at quarterback, the Trevians also will have to replace several starters on both sides of the ball. But Nykaza has plenty of confidence in his classmates who will step into starting roles and hopes the Trevians can give three-time defending Class 8A state champion Maine South a battle in the Central Suburban League South.
Nykaza even has begun to talk some smack to his training buddy – Maine South starting quarterback Matt Alviti.
“I tell him we’re going to beat them every time I see him,” Nykaza said. “There were a lot of juniors on the sidelines (last season) that definitely could have been starting. There is a lot of talent that we’ll have on our team because the grade under us is also pretty good. Both our year and the year under us beat Maine South freshman and sophomore year. So that’s what we’re going for next year, to beat Maine South.”