Bill Stone, Sports Writer | Hinsdale Doings | Published August 24, 2006
Hinsdale Central first-year coach Mike DiMatteo knows the high expectations of the football program.
DiMatteo has overseen the shift to a spread triple-option offense and a 3-5 defense, but, other than that, nothing has really changed.
"(Our players are) used to winning and doing well, and they know what it takes, and they're doing those things," said DiMatteo, the head coach at Lake Zurich the previous six seasons.
"The guys have a great work ethic and have been really, really receptive to a totally different way of playing football in terms of schemes and what we expect. I think they've responded well and really positively to the changes, and I think they're doing a great job."
Last season, the Red Devils reached the Class 8A semifinals after losing in the quarterfinals the previous two seasons.
DiMatteo reached the playoffs with Lake Zurich the last four seasons. Even with seven starters out, the Bears held tough in losing their 2005 playoff opener 24-15 to eventual Class 7A state champ Prospect.
"If you do things right, you put yourself in position to do well. You can guarantee the effort and the work ethic, and that'll guarantee opportunities, and that's the best you can hope for," DiMatteo said. "Hopefully we'll get Central over the hump and be like a couple of other schools in our conference and get to the state championship. That's always the goal, but you have to have a little luck, too."
DiMatteo is the new offensive coordinator and former McHenry head coach Chad Hetlet is the new defensive coordinator. Returning coaches are Gary Gamen (assistant head coach/offensive line), Ryan Williams (wide receivers), Jim Zajicek (defensive line), Tom Dorrance (defensive backs), John Melone (linebackers) and Pat Richards (slots).
The Red Devils' new spread triple-option offense has four vertical routes every play. Unlike the wishbone, the backfield has two slotbacks and one fullback, used like a tailback, along with two receivers and no tight end. DiMatteo used the offense at Lake Zurich via friend Jeff Monken, the slotback coach for Paul Johnson at NCAA Division II power Georgia Southern and now Navy.
"It's a lot different than anything (our players have) seen before, but they're doing a great job with it," DiMatteo said. "It's truly a team-oriented offense. You can't focus on one guy. People think option football and the old three yards and a cloud of dust and you don't pass the ball. (This offense) puts a lot pressure on the defense."
Former defensive secondary player Zach Leathers takes over at quarterback for graduated Brett Morse. The backfield includes the speedy Steve Morris, who rushed for 479 yards and five touchdowns in 2005 but injured his ankle in the regular-season finale. Billy Auriemma (236 yards, TD) played at Morris' spot in the playoffs.
"(Morris) is very, very fast. He's a great fit for our offense," DiMatteo said. "I'm very, very impressed with (Leathers). He will run and throw. It's truly a triple option so three things can happen every play, and one of them is the quarterback can keep it. Hopefully, we'll get a nice, little mix." Alex Nelson has the most experience of a new offensive line. Nelson started at left guard in 2005 but switched to defense in Week 7.
Defensively, the Red Devils hope their 3-5 formation based on linebackers making most of the tackles works well with a smaller but quick group.
Jack DiNardo (55 tackles, 8 sacks) and Jon Rogowski (42 tackles, 5 sacks) return on the defensive line. Nelson, another returning starter, also should help at nose guard.
Linebackers include returning starters J.T. Sandstedt (56 tackles, 7 sacks), a cornerback in 2005, and Matt Kajmowicz (13 tackles), who played an end in one of the Red Devils' packages.
"Kajmowicz is our biggest kid, and he's 225 or 230 and he runs really well. The rest of the guys are pretty small but tough kids, and they don't back off," DiMatteo said.
Newcomers include nose guard Pat Clegg, a sophomore. "We felt, 'Let's give this kid a shot.' He's stepped right up, and he's getting after it," DiMatteo said.
Another key newcomer is senior Sean Lacy, an all-conference soccer player in 2005 who has come out for football and will be the placekicker. Sandstedt will punt.
Copyright © 2006, The Doings