No joke: Jubilant Hjorth ready to jump in at Stevenson
"H" no. Heck no.
There's no need for that "H" leading off Josh Hjorth's last name. It's like an offense going up against his Stevenson defense: It's silent.
That tidbit about Stevenson's new head football coach (You're welcome, radio and TV guys) is easy to remember because all is "J"-OK in his life.
"I try to make life simple," Hjorth joked.
So for that reason, he explains, Josh's young sons are Jack, Joe and Jon.
Geez, that's fun.
Hjorth has a not-so-simple task: Taking over a high school football program that has been nothing short of excellent for decades. Fortunately for Hjorth, who replaces Bill McNamara, he knows he has great in-house support. Christine is the mother of Jack, 6, Joe, 4, and Jon, 1.
"I have a loving and very patient wife to deal with all four of us," Hjorth said of Christine, a middle school teacher in Wauconda. "I always joke around that I was fortunate enough to find one of the few football wives out there. She's all in and probably more excited than I am."
Long considered the heir apparent to McNamara -- unless another school gobbled him up first, and there were those that tried -- Hjorth finally gets a chance to run a varsity football program. Stevenson named him its fourth head coach in school history this week. For the last seven seasons, he was McNamara's defensive coordinator and the Patriots' assistant head coach. Hjorth's defenses allowed an average of 16 points in 83 games.
How big are those shoes he'll be asked to fill? Think King Kong's flip-flops. Tom Bauman was the Patriots' first head coach way back in 1965 and guided the program for 17 years. After Bill Mitz won 197 games in 28 seasons, McNamara took over and in seven seasons coached the Patriots to 67 victories and the Class 8A state championship in 2014.
McNamara stepped down a couple of weeks ago.
"The three (head) coaches that have been here are all legendary and have done unbelievable jobs with the program," Hjorth said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Adding that he's "ecstatic" and "pumped up" about his new gig, Hjorth got to work Wednesday, as coaches from Northern Illinois visited to learn more about players in Stevenson's program. Hosting college coaches at school is one of the approximately one million responsibilities of a varsity head football coach.
Said Hjorth: "Bill (McNamara) emailed me and said, 'NIU's coming in today. It's yours now.' "
The Patriots have made the state playoffs every year since 1989 (28 seasons). So no pressure, Josh, who, no joshing, embraces it.
"I work with some of our leaders and one of the big things that we talk about is facing adversity," Hjorth said. "Adversity can be expectations, pressure, things like that. When you choose to meet that head-on and choose to have that as a positive thing in your life and not a negative, you can really go out there and do some great things."
A graduate of football powerhouse Glenbard West (Class of 1998) and Illinois State (2002), Hjorth pursued head-coaching positions at other schools in the past, but in his heart, he knew he already had a good thing going at Stevenson. After a four-year stint at Wheaton North, he's in his 11th year at the Lincolnshire school as a coach (Mitz hired him) and special education teacher.
"I've talked to other schools about positions, but my ultimate goal was to stay at Stevenson and take over whenever Bill (McNamara) chose to be done," Hjorth said. "It's a wonderful place. The academics are obviously top-notch. The athletics are top-notch.
"I have three boys and maybe one day they'll go here," he added. "You want your child to go to a school like this. This is what high school is all about. A great community, a great administration, great teachers, great students. That's one of the things that has really kept me at Stevenson."
Expect Stevenson football under Hjorth to remain the same. Mostly. Winners don't stay stagnant. And at 36, Hjorth is at an age where he's not too old to change and still savvy enough to, if needed, adapt.
"It's like a software update. Hopefully it's 'Stevenson 4.0,' " Hjorth said with a laugh. "We'll make some changes or adjustments, but when all is said and done, we're going to play fast, we're going to play physical, and we're going to be a very aggressive football team that our community and school can be proud of. We're going to have a high-class, high-character program."
• Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeAguilar64