Daniel Kowaleski.
Daniel Kowaleski.

ST. CHARLES – Daniel Kowaleski found out he was making his first varsity start the day before St. Charles North's quarterfinal game against Wheaton Warrenville South.

Kowaleski, a sophomore, understandably battled nerves playing in place of injured linebacker Dan Daley.

"I knew they were going to be bigger than me," Kowaleski said from practice Thursday. "But, the whole week, I trained for that. I thought the coaches really trained us well and taught us how to handle that."

Kowaleski is now slated to make his third career start Saturday in the Class 7A championship game against Nazareth. Daley was injured during the first round of the playoffs, and Kowaleski took over from the quarterfinals on.

"It just doesn't feel real," Kowaleski said. "I go from [a] sophomore [team] linebacker to starting varsity linebacker. It's insane how fast it happened."

Kowaleski spent the season on the sophomore team until this point.

He has five varsity tackles to his name, but now joins a linebackers corps that has a combined 174 from Ben Furtney and Billy Durocher alone. In 10 games, Daley had 75.

Kowaleski remembers his introduction to varsity game speed quite well.

"It was in the first quarter, when a lineman just came up and clocked me," Kowaleski said.

Welcome to varsity.

The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Kowaleski wasn't on sophomore team anymore.

"Definitely the size of the players," Kowaleski said of the adjustment to varsity. "There's 300-pound, 6-foot-6 people coming at me."

Daley has done his part, even while injured, to help Kowaleski get ready.

"Obviously, he's a great linebacker, like all-state, all conference," Kowaleski said of Daley. "I knew that he could mentor me and I had to follow what he was doing. I knew that I had big shoes to fill."

He'll be ready for whatever Nazareth brings at him and the defense.

"Obviously, they have a great passing game, but we just need to shut that down and make them run," Kowaleski said. "I feel like our D-line is really, really good and we can stop their run."