Excitement is high for the Hoffman Estates High School football team this year, considering Mike Donatucci, one of the best coaches in the suburbs, has taken over as the team's leader.
Fans hope Donatucci will be able to pull the team out of its losing streak -- fewer than a dozen wins in the past 10 years -- and many of his former players from the school's undefeated 1988 team are showing their support and encouragement through a new group called Friends of Hoffman Estates Football.
Chris Nelson, of the 1988 team, said Donatucci, an assistant coach on the team, reached out to him to ask if members of the winning team could attend the school's first home football game on Sept. 6. About half the players made it to the game, he said.
"We acted as a family," Nelson said of the team that a quarter-century ago wracked up the school's best football record ever. "We supported one another and we worked hard and we accomplished a lot of things. I think he wanted to draw that connection for his current athletes."
Thinking back on how much the financial demographics of the school have changed since the late 1980s -- Nelson said the winning team "always had the newest and the best in terms of equipment" -- the former players decided to work on getting funding for the current team before the season began.
"We thought it would be nice to do something that would last a little bit beyond our appearance at a game," Nelson said. "I think it's almost incumbent upon us to give a little bit back to put those students in a position that we were in."
The group reached out to Rep. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates asking for help in securing funding for the team. With his assistance, support came in quickly from two local organizations: St. Alexius Hospital of Hoffman Estates agreed to commit $7,500, and Hoffman Estates Community Bank is providing $1,600.
The donations will be used to purchase wellness and monitoring equipment including knee and ankle braces, an end-zone video monitoring system, a blocking sled, radio headsets for the coaching staff and pregame dinners.
Nelson described the first home game of the season, which Hoffman won with a 2-point conversion in overtime, was extraordinarily exciting.
"I think they haven't started 2 and 0 in over a decade," he said. "This is a good thing. They've already succeeded and I was really happy to see how many students had turned out to support their fellow classmates."
The team lost against Elk Grove on Thursday night, but that doesn't mean supporters are less enthusiastic.
Mike Owsley of the 1988 football team said regardless of what this year's record is, Donatucci -- who as the longtime head coach at Fremd High School in Palatine has the most wins in Mid-Suburban League history -- will teach the players many valuable lessons about teamwork and character.
"It's kind of amazing the effect he has on people," Owsley said. "He makes the job that you have to do as a football player very simple and easy."
Friends of Hoffman Estates High School Football hope to continue working the team in the coming months and weeks and St. Alexius Hospital is also exploring ways to continue and build on the partnership, Nelson said.