The football program at Hoffman Estates began its turnaround some four years ago, with the hiring of Mike Donatucci as its head coach.
Next came the hiring of assistants such as Tim Heyse, Paul Moersch, J.P. Moore and Jeff Mendel, who aided Donatucci in the all-important area of player development. All of which led to a big payoff last fall, as the Hawks earned their first winning season in 16 years, plus its first playoff berth in 22 years last fall in a 6-4 campaign.
Now, with the return of 18 starters as part of a 77-man varsity roster, the Hawks entered the 2017 season in a role that the program hasn't encountered in a quarter-century: divisional frontrunner and playoff contender.
The program took another successful step as the hosts blanked Elk Grove 42-0 at Garber Stadium on Friday night in what was the first season-opening meeting between two Mid-Suburban League squads in the conference's 54-year history.
Hoffman Estates got its offense in full flight as a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was tacked on to an 11-yard run by senior Trevon Hall that placed the Hawks on the Grenadier 40. From there, senior Jaylin Johnson (7 carries, 50 yards) took over as he accounted for 20 of the remaining 40 yards in the drive, including a TD from the 1.
On Hoffman's next series from its own 33, it took just a pair of completions from senior signal-caller Austin Coalson (14-for-22, 234 yards) to extend the home team's lead. First came a 42-yard connection to Will Nunne (3 receptions, 81 yards) that put the ball on the Elk Grove 25. Then followed a strike to Jaylan Alexander that added 6 more points as the Hawks led 14-0 late in the first quarter.
Next, Coalson found Alexander on a 57-yard bomb, and the Hawks took a 21-0 lead to halftime.
Hoffman Estates, which finished with 363 yards of total offense, followed a similarly business-like approach on its first two possessions of the second half as a 25-yard Coalson-to-Nunne finished a three-play drive that starter after a Hall intetception.
Tyae Grace's 5-yard run some four minutes later capped a 4-play drive that began at the Elk Grove 23 when a punt bounced backward after hitting a Grens player.
Senior fullback Mike Eppenbaugh's 3-yard burst through the Elk Grove line closed out the scoring at 42-0 and commenced the running clock for the final 8:21 of the contest.
"Ever since last year's playoff loss at Benet, our seniors have really showed tremendous leadership. There was a feeling coming out of that game that they let one slip away," Heyse said. "From having seen them as sophomores to where they are today, it's like seeing boys growing into men. I can't remember a bad practice we had leading into tonight."
"We really feel like we owe it to 'Tucc,' " Alexander said. "He laid a foundation here and we want to keep it going. We know that foundations are built on hard work and we realize that it will take more hard work to get us to where we want to go."
Alexander (5 catches, 106 yards) helped lead a Hawk defense that kept Elk Grove out of the scoring column by stiffening twice inside the Hoffman 10, and twice more inside the Hawk 30 while limiting the Grens to 209 yards of total offense. Hoffman Estates had 5 quarterback sacks and a pair of interceptions.
"In practice we run every day," Alexander said. "One of the great strengths that we possess is our conditioning. We know that the competition is only going to get tougher, so this is something that we know going in we have to do in order to be successful."
Heyse gives credit to Moersch, the former Conant and Western Michigan defensive standout, for the success of the program's conditioning regimen.
"What Paul has been able to do with our team goes back to something we've been talking about since day one that in the past we were the ones sneaking up on people," Heyse said. "Now we'll be facing teams that will be trying to do the same thing to us. In a way, we're developing a different mentality as to how we approach things."
For visiting Elk Grove, which plays host to Barrington in its home opener in Friday's MSL crossover, first-year coach Miles Osei was able to look into the program's possible future as sophomore QB Charlie Janczak took the reins in his first start by going 5 of 11 for 61 yards through the air while running for another 48 yards on 18 carries.
For Hoffman Estates, an MSL crossover back at Garber awaits against Hersey. That game will feature Donatucci as the Huskies' new defensive coordinator.
"He's like a father figure to me," Heyse said. "He's one of my best friends. There's no doubt that it will be exciting here next Friday."