August 23, 2007
By Bill Stone | SPORTS WRITER
With Mike DiMatteo starting his second season as the Hinsdale Central football team's head coach, there are few surprises anymore.
"I think the biggest thing is the guys know what to expect from me and we know what to expect out of them," DiMatteo said.
Hinsdale Central senior wide receiver and returning starter Matt Huber (left) caught 10 pass for 110 yards last season.
(Doings photo by Steve Johnston)
What the Red Devils expect is their seventh consecutive playoff berth and to contend for their first West Suburban Conference Silver Division title since 2004 even with the graduation of impact players, such as 2006 all-conference selections Jack DiNardo, Matt Kajmowicz and Alex Nelson.
Still, the Red Devils wouldn't mind a few surprises, such as their 11-7 upset of No. 2 seed Neuqua Valley in the first round of the 2006 Class 8A playoffs before a tough 22-19 loss to Naperville Central. Winning attitudes from last year's 8-1 sophomore and freshman teams will help, too.
"We don't have the biggest, giantest guys, but we do have a coachability and an ability to play hard. I'm really happy with them," DiMatteo said. "We expect to go to the playoffs, and we expect to do well. That's an expectation every year, and that shouldn't change. When you get to the playoffs, anything can happen. The key is to get there."
The Red Devils have some adjustments in personnel. All-conference senior free safety Nick Chenier returns for new defensive coordinator Tom Dorrance. Former coordinator Chad Hetlet is now the head coach at Silver rival Glenbard West.
On offense, sophomore John Whitelaw takes over at quarterback after senior and returning starter Zach Leathers was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.
"It kind of stinks for Zach. It's just a health issue," DiMatteo said. "We're fortunate John has come along as well as he has. He's very athletic and plays beyond his years."
The Red Devils hope to continue offensive progress in their second season running the triple-option spread offense under DiMatteo, the offensive coordinator with assistant coaches John Melone and Jaime Pass.
Whitelaw started for last year's freshman team. Junior backup Mitch Eickhoff is returning from a broken hip.
"The last three years at Lake Zurich I had sophomore starters (at quarterback) because of injuries. It's nothing new to me," said DiMatteo, Lake Zurich's varsity head coach from 2000-2005. "If they're prepared properly, (underclassmen can succeed). At Lake Zurich, we had a great amount of success and I don't think John will be an exception to that. Plus, I'm the quarterbacks coach so he better be prepared."
The Red Devils' offensive line had three returning starters -- center Tim Curran and guards Robbie Mains and Jack Curatolo -- under assistant coach Gary Gamen, whom DiMatteo called "one of the finest offensive line coaches I've been around."
Senior running back and third-year starter Billy Auriemma should break through after rushing for 255 yards and two TDs in 2006, when he was limited until Week 5 recovering from mononucleosis. Leading the slot backs are seniors Troy Laing and Mac Lagor and David Lutz, a sophomore. Returning starter Matt Huber (10 catches, 110 yards) was the Red Devils' third-leading receiver in 2006.
"(Auriemma) had a tough year because of being ill and never quite recovered. He's a competitive guy. That competitiveness showed this summer, and I expect him to do all of that and more," DiMatteo said.
Chenier was often an unsung standout for last year's defense, finishing third with 76 tackles along with an interception, fumble recovery and sack. Junior nose tackle Pat Clegg (31 tackles, 2 sacks), who started as a sophomore, returns on the defensive line. The linebacking corps boasts returning starters Chase Culbertson (47 tackles, 3 fumble recoveries, 6 sacks) and Kyle Larkin (39 tackles, fumble recovery) and part-time starter Ryan Murphy (14 tackles).
The Red Devils hope that a team-oriented defensive mentality will help curb the graduation of NCAA Division I players DiNardo and Kajmowicz, who combined for 180 tackles and 18 sacks in 2006.
"(Chenier has) done a great job. He's a very intuitive kid as well. He really makes everyone around him better," DiMatteo said. "We don't really have these big standouts. We've got a bunch of kids that work really hard and do a really great job."
Lagor was the starting punter for three games last season, and senior Todd Klepacki (4 extra points) and junior Dane Schemel are vying for the kicking job. Senior Donte Williams should contribute on returns, while Laing had 512 punt and kickoff return yards in 2006, including an 81-yard kickoff TD return against Willowbrook.
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