There's a major difference between playoff eligible and playoff qualifier.
Hinsdale South's football team learned that difference the hard way last season when its 5-4 record failed to break a drought of six straight years without a postseason appearance.
Fourteen starters return this season intent on shattering the drought. All of them have a full year of experience under coach Mike Barry.
"They're not starting from square one," Barry said. "Now they've got a year under their belt. Some of the games we lost last year were because of lack of strength, and hopefully we got that fixed."
A dedication to off-season work was the first step in Hinsdale South's quest to not sweat out playoff pairings night in October.
Six-foot-3, 290-pound third-year starter Zach Guritz is one of four returning linemen ready to help quarterback D.J. Deolitsis and the offense master the no-huddle option offense. Deolitsis accounted for 1,400 yards of offense last season and will benefit most from his junior experience.
"I'm so impressed with D.J. right now," Barry said. "He's stronger, he's more athletic. He's looking great right now."
While Justin Ward returns at receiver, the Hornets will rely on running back by committee with as many as four backs competing for carries. Deolitsis, of course, remains an integral part of the ground game.
The defense brings back five starters. Fewer than the offense but plenty for improvement. Stephen O'Neill is among the top linebackers in the West Suburban Gold while safety Tavaris Binion is the reigning state champion in the 100 meters.
It's an interesting mix of talent with the potential to challenge for the Gold title. The Hornets plan on leaving the sweating to someone else on pairings night.
"We feel we can be in the mix, no question," Barry said. "We have the character and ability to compete on a championship level."
-- Kevin Schmit
Coach: Mike Barry (second year; fifth year overall, 14-22).
2011 record: 5-4, 4-2, third in West Suburban Gold.
Top players: D.J. Deolitsis (QB, 5-10, 170, sr.); Justin Ward (WR, 6-0, 180, sr.); Zach Guritz (OL, 6-3, 265, sr.); Abreon Starks (WR-DB, 5-10, 160, sr.); Stephen O'Neill (LB, 5-10, 180, sr.); Matt Dangles (DL, 6-3, 225, sr.); Tavaris Binion (DB-WR, 5-9, 160, sr.); Lironn Downing (DL, 5-11, 265, jr.); Frank Cabrera (OL, 6-3, 290, jr.); Shaun Dulleck (WR, 6-3, 190, jr.); Anthony Riskus (DL, 6-4, 210, jr.).
Fri, 8/24, Romeoville at Hinsdale South, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 8/31, York at Hinsdale South, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/7, Proviso East at Hinsdale South, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/14, Hinsdale South at Addison Trail, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/21, Leyden at Hinsdale South, 7:30 p.m.
Sat, 9/29, Hinsdale South at Hinsdale Central, Noon
Fri, 10/5, Hinsdale South at Morton, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/12, Downers Grove South at Hinsdale South, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/19, Hinsdale South at Willowbrook, 7:30 p.m.