By Jeff Vorva
The last time Shepard had won a conference championship in football, Rudy Bajorek was patrolling the sidelines as an assistant coach.
Fittingly, the Astros won the South Suburban Conference Red championship outright after a 42-15 victory over Reavis on April 24 in Burbank.
Bajorek, who coached 30 years at Shepard and 10 years at Reavis, died May 26 of cardiac arrest and was memorialized before the showdown between his two former schools.
The Astros had already clinched at least a share of the Red, and the victory over the Rams gave them their first South Suburban Conference title. It is their first league championship of any kind since 1993, when they were in the South Inter Conference Association North. Shepard also won league awards in 1978, 1990 and 1992.
Astros sophomore quarterback Quran McClellan threw three touchdown passes and ran for another. Sophomore Elijah Tyson returned a kickoff 64 yards for a touchdown, and added scores receiving and rushing. Wide receivers Jamari McGee and Julian Carmona also scored for Shepard in the historic win.
“It’s amazing,” Tyson said. “To be a sophomore on the varsity — not many people get to do that.”
The Astros played without their most explosive weapon, junior running back Kendrick Washington, who served a one-game suspension after officials ejected him from the Week 5 win over Oak Lawn for targeting.
That put a little more pressure on the young offense, but McClellan was ready.
“I was confident, but anything can happen,” McCellan said. “Everybody always has a nervous gut feeling, but when the game started it just sent away.”
The Astros finished the season 5-1, their only loss coming to Lemont in an SSC crossover in Week 1. Because of COVID-19 wiping out the fall season and the IHSA setting up a six-week spring season with no postseason, they will never know how they stack up against teams from the rest of the state.
But with so much firepower returning — McCellan, Washington, Tyson, McGee and Carmona are just several players expected to return in the fall, if there is a normal season in the fall — they will have targets on their back.
“I like that,” McClellan said. “Now we have to step up to the challenge.”
Because of the pandemic, players do not share water or Gatorade out of a large container, so Astros coach John Rone was doused with bottles of water instead.
“This team represents everything we’ve tried to teach since I got here a few years ago,” Rone said. “Obviously, the pandemic hit and there were challenges for everybody in the world, and these are high school-aged kids. But they bought in and found a way to keep working out and doing things together.”
Reavis, which finished 2-2 overall and had two games canceled because of COVID, picked up a rushing touchdown from Robert Jennings, and quarterback Brendan Keane hit Rashaad Boles for 28-yard scoring connection.
“We got some solid games in,” Reavis coach Tim Zasada said. “We’re proud of our performance for the time that we had. Our kids did great.”
The pregame honoring of Bajorek, who played football at Richards, was emotional for his fiancé, Sherri Celeste. Bajorek, who died at age 64, was a colorful man who sported long hair, a long beard and a huge sense of humor.
“What you saw of him and knew of him — he never wavered,” she said. “That who he was. He was a good man.”
Celeste said they had planned to be married this July 4 after eight years together.
“Living without him is like breathing without air,” she said. “It’s so hard.”