Chat Hetlet could hardly contain his excitement over the phone.
Hetlet had a Glenbard West team last year capable of a deep run and the program's third state championship in his tenure.
A tough playoff draw, a one-point loss at Loyola in the second round kept the Hilltoppers from that. But there's plenty of momentum going into 2020, provided the season is played.
"The senior group we had last year instilled in our program great leadership and a great work ethic," Hetlet said. "The juniors who are seniors now took that baton and showed the rest of the program what it's like to be a champion. It's a special group of kids."
Glenbard West brings three offensive linemen back, and two of their top running backs, with perhaps the deepest corps of linebackers Hetlet has ever had. The Hilltoppers are big, and fast, no secret why.
"When we came back for conditioning drills, I hadn't seen them since March, I was blown away," Hetlet said. "In my 25 years of coaching it was my first experience away from kids. These dudes lifted. It didn't seem they missed a beat."
Head coach: Chad Hetlet (14th season)
Last year's record: 10-1
Hetlet thinks his defense could be as good, if not better, than the group that gave up just 8.8 points per game last year.
But there are a few big shoes to fill.
Two-way starter Sean Michel and three-year starter Greyson Metz, who is now at Northwestern, have graduated.
Caleb Moorhead, who played opposite Metz last year at linebacker, has an offer from Brown.
"Greyson just moved like a freak," Hetlet said. "Caleb is not as proven, but I believe he will be good."
Players to Watch
Jalen Moore was the West Suburban Silver Offensive Player of the Year after running for 1,314 yards and 14 touchdowns. He just received his first Division I offer on Tuesday, from Valparaiso. Also returning in the deep Glenbard West backfield is speedy Samson Zander, who has offers from Illinois State and South Dakota. Braden Spiech was last year the first junior starting quarterback Hetlet has had in his 13 seasons.
"Offensively, there's a lot of talent there," Hetlet said.
They'll run behind a line anchored by 6-foot-4, 255-pound Syracuse recruit Wes Hoeh. Denin Limouris is a three-year starter at tight end committed to Iowa as a preferred walk-on, a guy Hetlet said "doesn't come off the field." Senior Charlie Baer is a two-way starter on the line.
Defensively Brandon Nowinski will move from strong-side linebacker inside, leading a deep – and big – linebacker corps. Grant Pierce, who has grown to 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, is another guy with size in that group. Darryl Obasuyi is back on the defensive line.
"We're generally not big at linebacker traditionally, but we are big this year and we run well," Hetlet said. "It's shocking. We'll be really big on both sides of the ball which we haven't been in a number of years. And a ton of speed."
On special teams Cody Maddock is the 56th-ranked punter nationally by Kohl's Kicking.
Newcomers You Need to Know
Chris Terek is only a sophomore, but he hardly looks like one. Terek, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound tackle, got a taste of varsity ball in the playoffs last year as a freshman. He adds to probably one of the biggest offensive lines that Hetlet has ever had.
"Without a doubt he will be a big-time prospect," Hetlet said.
Senior linebacker George Apostolou didn't play last year because of injuries, but Hetlet said he's since grown from 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds to 6-1, 210 "and is just unreal looking physically."
Perhaps Glenbard West's toughest game is right off the bat. The Hilltoppers travel to Park Ridge to face Maine South, the fourth year of the series between the two state powerhouses. Glenbard West won 45-28 last season, after losing the previous two meetings. Leyden and Addison Trail are conference crossovers before the West Suburban Silver slate picks up steam.
The game to watch in the Silver, if recent history is any indication, is in Week 8 when Glenbard West goes to Hinsdale Central. The Hilltoppers beat the Red Devils in a memorable overtime matchup last year.
Hetlet has built Glenbard West into one of the state's premier programs, with 13 straight playoff appearances and at least eight wins the last 12 years.
The Hilltoppers seem due to get back to Champaign, with second-round playoff losses the last three years.
"They don't know what they don't know," Hetlet said.
With the experience of last year's close playoff loss as fuel, and with talent, size and speed throughout the roster, the Hilltoppers are poised to be one of the state's top title contenders once again this year.