For years, the Hoffman Estates football program just couldn't seem to get out of its own way.
But the Hawks are definitely in other people's way this season.
With 18 starters back, including the starting backfield and offensive line, Hoffman Estates is poised to not only challenge for the Mid-Suburban West title but also a deep run in the state playoffs. Not bad for a team that qualified for the playoffs last year for the first time in 22 years.
"The vibe here is awesome," said first-year head coach Tim Heyse, who took over from Mike Donatucci. "I was here for the bad years. The mindset and the attitude have all changed."
Heyse says things have been going in the right direction for the last few years.
"It is very similar to what we have been doing here the last four years under Mike," Heyse said. "The few seniors that did graduate; this year's juniors and seniors this year have stepped up to fill those spots."
Austin Coalson, an all-area pick last year, returns to quarterback a team that averaged nearly 30 points. Coalson, who finished 140-of-208 passing for 1,935 yards and 21 touchdowns, has a plethora of targets to throw to, including all-area wide receivers Jaylan Alexander (58 receptions for 763 yards and 8 touchdowns) and Jayvon Blissett (31 catches, 522 yards and 9 touchdowns).
Jordan Lane, who was in the backfield last year, has been moved to a slot receiver. Trevon Hall and Will Nunne will work at the other slot receiver spots.
Running backs Jaylan Johnson, Mike Eppenbaugh and Tyae Grace, who all shared time in the backfield last season, will do so again this year.
That trio will get to work behind an experienced and talented offensive line. Brandon Sheppard, Javi Hutardo, Angel Fernandez, Ryan Edwards and Baily Hurd all are back and should be a crucial to the offense.
"They are so smart, too," Heyse said. "That will help us in key situations."
The Hawks also are experienced on the defensive side with a secondary that figures to be tough for foes to throw against.
"The defense is the brightest spot of the summer," Heyse said. "If you can find a better secondary in the state, I would like to see it."
Hall, Clevontae Jackson and Anijel Jones, all three-year starters, will be cracking down on opponents wide receivers. Nilay Siram is the fourth member of that group, while Blissett will give them an extra back when needed.
The defensive line has just one returnee in Shawn Brown, while Ben Cotton, who saw some time last season, also returns. Feml Oginni, Alan Sanchez and a rotation of offensive linemen will give the Hawks some depth there.
The linebacking corps looks very strong with Jimmy Burks in the middle. Alexander will return at one the outside spots with Brandon Frymire, Marcell Boclair and Christian Fernandez.
While most coaches worry about injuries, Heyse is no different. But with 77 players on the roster, the Hawks have more depth than in recent years.
"We feel we are the deepest in years," Heyse. "Last year we had 25 kids who saw the field. This year we are comfortable at 40 kids."