"Experience" and "Hoffman Estates football" have not been used in the same sentence for a long time. But this year, coach Mike Donatucci is seeing that factor working in favor for his Hawks.
Hoffman Estates won its first two games of the season last year before injuries began to take their toll as the Hawks lost their final contests. But according to Donatucci, all those games were building blocks to this season.
"We platooned last year and played a lot of kids," said Donatucci, who is in his second year at Hoffman Estates. "So we come into this year with kids who have had plenty of game experience."
The offense, which scored just 99 points last year, figures to increase that number with nine starters back.
Jeff Mayes, who was injured the last part of the season, will be back at the helm for the Hawks. Mayes, a senior, threw for 458 yards and rushed for another 359 yards before being injured for the last two games.
Running back Connor McCreary, who started at tailback in the final two games of last year, also returns to give the Hawks a solid running game.
Dante Cleveland, who filled in for Mayes at quarterback, will be at tight end while Andrew Vesper will play H-back. Mike Baureis, who had 31 receptions last year, also returns. Newcomer Brandon Hall stands 6-fee-5 and makes and interesting target.
The offensive line looks solid as well. Brad Willis (5-9, 195), Zack Clark (6-3, 265) and Nathan Edwards (6-1, 245) all started every game for the Hawks while Josh Bost (6-1, 200) started five games and Thomas Krawiecz (6-2, 240) started two games as sophomore last year.
"Offensively we have a boatload of experience," Donatucci said. "It should make us dangerous."
Defensively, the Hawks also have plenty of talent coming back as well, with nine starters back.
Vesper and Javonte Brownlee return to play defensive end, while Cleveland will also be counted on at times there. Sean Henry and Edwards return to play defensive line along with junior Antonio Vargas.
"Defensive line-wise we are at least one and a half deep," Donatucci said. "And with plenty of experience to go along with it."
Gil Alicia, who played outside linebacker last year, will slide over to the middle this year for the Hawks. Byron Williams, who started one game last year, will play on the outside along with Will Cage, who will move from the safety spot he played last year to strong side linebacker.
Ibrahim Arowarade and Corey Riley return at the corners while Baureis will be back at safety for a defense that yielded nearly 30 points per game last year.
"We have a group of guys that know and trust each other," Donatucci said. "It shows itself in how they carry themselves on and off the field.
"It shows itself when things go wrong, and how they respond to it. They know how to respond as opposed to, ‘What do we do now?' The maturity and the football IQ has definitely gone up."