The Stevenson and Vernon Hills high school football teams won't meet on the field for another few months, but players jump-started the competition Saturday at a sandwich-eating contest sponsored by Real Urban Barbecue in Vernon Hills.
At stake was a $500 donation from restaurant owner Jeff Shapiro to the athletic department of the school whose players consumed, in the shortest amount of time, Real Urban Barbecue's signature Hungry Home Wrecker.
The seven-pound sandwich is composed of a two-pound bun, two pounds of pulled pork, 1½ pounds of andouille sausage, six ounces of pickles and a pint of coleslaw topped by Texas Sauce.
After 35 minutes, the very focused, surprisingly tidy Stevenson High team of Zach Novoselsky, 17, and Blake Drazner, 16, prevailed after one of their opponents suffered what's called a "reversal" in competitive eating parlance.
Champion competitive eater Jamie McDonald, the reigning Hungry Home Wrecker champ who has twice downed the sandwich within the required 40 minutes, declared the Stevenson players the winners.
"Right now, I can't look at food," said Novoselsky, of Buffalo Grove.
"It was rough," said Drazner, adding they applied the same focus to eating as they do to playing football.
"We talked before about how we'd go after it, the same as we do on the field," Novoselsky said. "It's really good food but after a couple of bites, it's a struggle."
The teens were natural choices to represent Stevenson, said 16-year-old James Mahoney, one of about a half-dozen Stevenson players on hand to offer encouragement and the occasional water refill.
At team dinners, "they go back for fourths," Mahoney said.
Joe Blitstein, 16, and Jake Campbell, 16, represented Vernon Hills High.
Blitstein was a shoe-in, said Josh Harris, 17, who was among more than a dozen Vernon Hills players cheering on their teammates.
"Joe was a lock. After a team vote, Jake got the nod," said Harris, of Vernon Hills.
Undeterred by his team's loss, Blitstein vowed to return next year.
"I'm going to practice for it," the Vernon Hills resident joked.
Shapiro said the donation is a way of giving back to the students who patronize his restaurant.
Vernon Hills football coach Bill Bellecomo praised Shapiro and other area business owners for their commitment to the players and the program.
"We're a tight-knit community," he said. "Businesses do a lot to support the players."