Hinsdale Central's Braden Contreras bobbles the ball on a kick off last October. Contreras is one of the top players returning from a Red Devils team that shared the West Suburban Silver title last year and reached the second round of the Class 8A playoffs.
Hinsdale Central's Braden Contreras bobbles the ball on a kick off last October. Contreras is one of the top players returning from a Red Devils team that shared the West Suburban Silver title last year and reached the second round of the Class 8A playoffs. — David Toney - For Shaw Media

Braden Contreras checks off typical items on his summer to-do list as he prepares for his last high school football season.

Contreras, a Hinsdale Central receiver, routinely throws with his quarterback. Training camp starts June 17.

He's made three college visits recently.

It's a far cry from six months ago, when Contreras and his family contemplated the reality of moving for the second time in a year.

The Contreras family moved from Clarendon Hills to Burr Ridge right around Thanksgiving, weeks before the Hinsdale High School District 86 board voted to cut football for the next school year. This came after a $166 million bond referendum to pay for renovations at the two high schools was rejected by voters in November.

"It wouldn't have been a good situation, having to move," Contreras said. "It was a scary thought. Toward the end, my parents and I did sit down and talked about what we would do if [an April referendum] didn't pass. I'm so glad I don't have to think about it now."

Indeed, Red Devils' football was granted a reprieve on April 2, when a $140 million referendum was approved. The next day, football was reinstated. Three weeks later, defensive coordinator and Hinsdale graduate Brian Griffin was brought aboard as the new head coach – replacing Dan Hartman, who left for conference rival Lyons Township in March amid the swirling uncertainty in Hinsdale.

Griffin, in West Virginia this past week building homes with the school's Habitat for Humanity club, has barely had time to catch his breath.

"It's been good, but busy," Griffin said. "It's a lot of things to tie up. I felt like we squeezed five months of stuff into a month and a half filling positions, finding out what kids are here and stuff. What's super helpful is a lot of guys are excited. It's been a difficult offseason but everybody is chomping at the bit to go."

Even as football was on the chopping block earlier this year, Contreras and his teammates kept tunnel vision.

Every day the Hinsdale kids punched their alarm clock at 5 a.m. for 5:45 a.m. morning workouts with the Red Devils' strength and conditioning coach. Outside of drills, Contreras would go out to a field, catching balls from new quarterback Michael Brescia to establish a rhythm.

"We just had to stay positive," Contreras said. "There was a ton of negative talk about us and our program as a whole. There was nothing beneficial to getting caught up in that. We had to act like nothing was wrong, try to act like nothing happened. We woke up every day with that positive attitude."

Brescia echoed that thought.

The Red Devils' junior quarterback received occasional snaps last fall specifically to run the Wildcat, as Matt Rush's backup. He threw a touchdown pass against Proviso West.

In the spring he took on responsibilities off the football field. Brescia and his teammates traveled around the Hinsdale district, helping campaign for the referendum.

"It was a big thing for me, I wanted to be a leader and bring the guys together," Brescia said. "We had to try and just remember that we were all in this together, that nobody is alone and to not think selfishly. We didn't want to bug people too much, but get the message out. It is very aggravating when you don't have the chance to decide your future. We wanted to do as much as we could."

Griffin has done much to make up for lost time.

He had to fill five positions across the program. Todd Koehler, a member of the staff for over a decade and previously running backs coach and special teams coordinator, was promoted to offensive coordinator. Preston Letts, linebacker coach the last five years, will run the defense with Griffin.

"It's nice to keep as much continuity as we could," Griffin said. "The really great thing was seeing how the kids came together. That speaks volumes. We're expecting that to translate onto the field."

Continuity is a good thing around Hinsdale. The Red Devils have made the playoffs 17 of the past 18 years. Griffin was a part of the group that got it started, a junior defensive lineman in 2001 on a team that won the program's first playoff game in 15 years. Hinsdale last year went 8-3, sharing the West Suburban Silver title with Glenbard West and Oak Park-River Forest.

"It was huge having all those seniors last year. They taught me about the game and the culture of Hinsdale Central football," Brescia said. "We're going to switch things up a little bit with a new offense and new coaching. I'm looking forward to it."

It's been a busy time, lately, for Contreras, looking beyond next year. He holds Division I offers from Butler and Valparaiso, and has visited Northwestern, North Central and Lindenwood. Hinsdale defensive back Owen Goss, another senior, has seen his recruiting take off this month with offers from Southern Illinois, Colgate and Indiana State, to name a few.

Contreras and Brescia, through all of the last six months, already have the August 30 season opener with Naperville Central circled on their calendar.

"We all have a chip on our shoulder," said Contreras, who caught 32 passes for 641 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior. "We're going to come up hard, we're going to come out angry, because of all we have been through."