Tim Heyse already has a new motto befitting a Hoffman Estates football program which finally emerged from some very tough times to end a 22-year playoff drought.
"We need to get tougher," said Heyse, who was named Wednesday to replace the retiring Mike Donatucci. "Our motto will be 'Tough People Win'.
"If you look at Palatine, they have talent, but they also have a lot of average kids who are mentally and physically tough. They are disciplined and they don't beat themselves."
Current and future Hoffman Estates players should also understand Heyse is not just talking tough.
The former four-year football, basketball and baseball player at neighborhood rival Conant exemplified it in a valiant effort to prevent Hoffman from making its last playoff appearance before this season.
"It's what I preach," Heyse said. "I tell them my junior year I weighed 130 pounds, but in high school football, it doesn't matter how big or small or how fast you are.
"It's what you have inside and if you're playing as a unit, know what you're doing out there and you are prepared, you can do anything."
Heyse was the junior quarterback for Conant in 1994 when a three-team race for the old Mid-Suburban South title came down to Week 9. One week earlier, Heyse suffered a severly sprained ankle as he was taken down with a horse-collar tackle and couldn't practice at all leading up to the finale against Hoffman.
But he started and gutted it out the entire way. Conant stayed in the game until the final minutes before Hoffman pulled away to win the title and playoff berth.
"That was probably one of the toughest losses I've ever had, because of that senior group," Heyse said. "I knew it was their last game. That was a rough one."
But the experiences he had at Conant, playing for some of the toughest and most successful coaches in MSL history such as Dave Pendergast in football and Tom McCormack in basketball, made him realize his calling was to be a physical education teacher and coach. After graduating from Western Illinois, he came to Hoffman to be a student teacher and "was in the right spot at the right time" when former baseball coach Ray Gawron got the opportunity to move into a position in the District 211 office.
Heyse said he was also fortunate to have the opportunity to spend his first five years working for Hall of Fame coach Jim Rucks at Hoffman. Then, when the head coaching job came open after the 2011 season, he thought he was ready for it and applied and interviewed.
He didn't get it -- which may ultimately have been a blessing in disguise.
Heyse had forged a strong relationship with Donatucci, who built Fremd into one of the most successful programs around before retiring there in 2011. They talked often and Heyse took up Donatucci on his offer to attend playoff practices whenever he wanted.
Then, after Hoffman went 0-9 for the sixth time in 11 seasons, the job opened up again. Donatucci came out of retirement and had a vision for what he wanted to accomplish at the school where he started his career as an assistant coach.
"Mike said, 'If I come there I'm going to be there for four years, I want a guy in-house to take over and you are one of the guys I have in mind,' " Heyse said. "That was the plan of his. Over the last four years, he wanted to create a culture that was set up right and to have the staff to sustain it."
It was an eye-opener to Heyse and the Hoffman players to see the total approach to building a program the way Donatucci had done it at Fremd. The dividends started to show with 2 wins the first year and 4 wins the second year.
Heyse said a win over Fremd that put the Hawks in the hunt for a playoff berth until the final week of Donatucci's third season was a difference-maker. Then it all clicked this fall with a 6-win season where they rallied from a 23-point deficit to force a tie before falling in the first round of the playoffs to eventual Class 7A semifinalist Benet.
Along the way, Heyse realized how a successful program is truly built.
"Five years ago when I sat in the room, I was still pretty young and in my head it was all Xs and Os," Heyse said of his first shot at getting the job. "Now my mindset has totally changed. Xs and Os are part of it but the culture you build sets the tone for everything.
"That's what Mike did, he came in and changed the culture. My main focus is continuing to build on our culture and that's character. The way you act in school, the way you act outside of school and building good men."
He has a solid staff that has been in place in Paul Moersch, Joe Garofalo, Brennan Carroll, Eric Gdowski, Jeff Mandel and J.P. Moore. Longtime former Fremd assistant Lew Miskowicz also played a big role the past four years.
And all-area quarterback Austin Coalson, who threw for 1,935 yards and 21 touchdowns, leads a solid core of 16 returning starters who now know what it takes to make the playoffs and be successful in the MSL West.
"We have a few spots to fill," Heyse said. "But if we stay healthy and keep improving we should be very good next year."
Before then, Heyse has another tough challenge, though. Coaching his son's second-grade basketball team.
"If I can do that with those kids," he said with a laugh, "that will make this one a lot easier."