Brian Griffin and Hinsdale Central sure would love a typical football offseason.
Last year's offseason in Hinsdale was marked by turmoil, the school board voting to cut football for the 2019-2020 school year after a bond referendum to pay for district renovations was rejected. Dan Hartman left to coach rival Lyons Township amid the uncertainty.
The referendum was ultimately approved in April 2019, Red Devils' football reinstated and three weeks later Hinsdale Central graduate Griffin was brought aboard as the new head coach.
A year later, the novel coronavirus has made for a rocky spring, summer and fall for every football program.
Griffin, though, believes his kids will respond.
The Red Devils did last fall, going 8-2 after the tumult of the referendum situation to qualify for the playoffs for the 18th time in 19 seasons. Hinsdale Central, a picture of consistency, has won seven or more games six straight seasons and advanced to the playoff's second round three times during that span.
"Our kids dealt with a lot and continue to deal with a lot, especially these seniors," Griffin said. "Between them and the juniors, they've been very resilient. It was a lot of fun last season, and a great way to start. I got hired at the end of April, beginning of May 2019 and in 14 months we've had a referendum, no offseason, no summer. We're looking forward to getting into some sort of rhythm."
Assuming there is a season next spring, the Red Devils have the pieces in place to indeed get in rhythm early. Quarterback Michael Brescia leads nine starters back, or at least nine who got significant time in 2019.
"We were really excited to get this year started," Griffin said. "We had some returning starters but not a ton. We were excited to see who could step in and fill those roles. We felt we had a good mix of kids coming in."
Head coach: Brian Griffin
Last year’s record: 8-2 (Class 8A first-round loss to Bolingbrook)
Who steps in as Brescia's favorite target seems an obvious place to start, after the graduation of talented wide receiver Braden Contreras. Ryan Orput, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior, seems the most logical candidate.
Defensively, Hinsdale Central graduated a ton of great athletes and leaders, with holes to fill in the defensive backfield in particular.
Beyond that, there is the question every team is facing of how ready they are for a spring season.
The Red Devils got in two and a half weeks this summer, working through half the summer work they'd normally do, and will have 5-6 practices during the fall contact period that runs through October 31.
"This is our offseason now. That's the hard thing," Griffin said. "You have to spend time prepping for the season, but if you go in February you won't get the same. Part of it is, especially freshmen, we have to get those kids in the weight room. That's a tough thing to do. All that being said we'll do 5-6 check-ins, get people up to date with what we covered in the summer."
Players to Watch
Brescia, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior and last year's conference MVP, is one of the top uncommitted quarterbacks in the state. A guy who can make plays with his arm and his feet, Brescia threw for 1,314 yards and 19 touchdowns with just three interceptions as a junior, and also ran for 496 yards and nine TDs. Brescia, whose father played at Yale, has double-digit offers including Bowling Green, Colgate and Yale.
"Mike showed it last year and he has continued to with his leadership," Griffin said. "He is a big, physical kid, and he's worked hard at it."
Griffin expects Orput to step right in to Contreras' spot as Hinsdale's top receiver.
"We have big expectations for Brescia and Orput, who played a lot last year," Griffin said. "We see how they meshed together and grew in their first year on varsity."
Charlie Sessa had some injuries last year, but after a great basketball season and summer the 6-foot-5, 205-pound senior provides Brescia another big target. Jaylen Laws got some touches at running back as a junior and gives the Red Devils a little sizzle out of the backfield.
Up front Chris Robinson and Luke Gatewood return, and Griffin is excited about junior Jack McGarry's potential.
Defensive, Hinsdale has four guys back who got significant time last year. Defensive end Jay Randle had a strong junior year and Griffin is looking for him to take the next step.
"He'll be a defensive end, play a little nose tackle, he's a big thick kid who can play all across the defensive line," Griffin said.
Jack Costello, Michael Franko and Sean Allison are three guys that have played all over the place.
"All three of those guys could be linebacker to defensive back," Griffin said. "It's finding three guys that played a lot last year in different roles. We are still trying to fit those pieces together."
Newcomers You Need to Know
Brandon Minor is a defensive back who was on the cusp last year but didn't get as many opportunities as he would have liked because of Hinsdale's depth at that position.
Elsewhere Luke Pyle has graduated as the Red Devils' leader defensively and an All-Area talent, but younger brother and junior JT Pyle is set to carry on a stellar three-generation family tradition.
"We've had some Pyles here for a long time," Griffin said. "I'm excited to see him step up as a junior."
2021 Schedule Analysis
The schedule isn't set in stone, but with a shortened seven-game season it is Griffin's assumption that Hinsdale Central will play six West Suburban Silver league games, with the seventh game a crossover against a team from the West Suburban Gold. Last season the Red Devils faced Gold opponents Hinsdale South and Morton.
Oak Park-River Forest and York stayed within a touchdown of Hinsdale Central last year, but if recent history is any indication the game of the year in the Silver will be Hinsdale Central-Glenbard West. Last year, the Hilltoppers beat the Red Devils 20-17 in overtime.
"We haven't even talked about our schedule but mentally six leagues games and a seventh game against a Gold team is my assumption," Griffin said. "At this point, you don't know what programs will do. If we play in February there's no guarantee that every program plays."
Hinsdale Central has been one of the state's consistent programs over the last 20 years, a tradition Griffin knows well as player and coach.
With a talented, experienced leader like Brescia at quarterback and promising players poised to take on more prominent roles, pencil in the Red Devils as Glenbard West's chief competition in the West Suburban Silver and another winning season.