Hinsdale South is 6-3, its best finish since 2005, but second-year coach Mike Barry isn't surprised. Neither is quarterback D.J. Deolitsis, who directs the Hornets' unique short pistol offense with the precision of a watchmaker and the firepower of a battleship.
In fact, after starting 4-0, they think they should be better going into this week's game against Oak Forest in the Class 6A playoff. After losing to Leyden 17-14 in Week 5, Hinsdale Central 34-27 in Week 6 and Downers Grove South 36-33 in Week 8, they had to beat Willowbrook 41-22 last Friday to secure a playoff berth.
Deolitsis, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior, has amassed more than 1,700 yards in total offense as Hinsdale South has averaged 36.2 points per game. He has passed for more than 700 yards and rushed for more than 1,000 yards and accounted for 23 touchdowns. He has averaged over eight yards per carry.
In last Friday's must-win game against Willowbrook in Villa Park, Arian Toney carried 19 times for 194 yards and three touchdowns in the first half and finished with a career high of 289 yards in 37 attempts to punch Hinsdale South's ticket to the state playoff for the first time since 2005.
Under Barry's guidance, Hinsdale South has made progress. After five losing seasons in a row, the Hornets went 5-4 in his first season. But they didn't accumulate enough points to qualify for the state playoff for the first time since 2005.
"Last year, it was disappointing not to make the playoff. But we were excited to be winning games again," Deolitsis said. "There was a lot of optimism, a lot of guys coming back, a new offense, a lot of positive signs. Everybody was looking forward to this year.
"Coach Barry brought a new energy to the program. Everyone got excited about football again. Our school has rallied around us. No one was excited about football in the last few years. Now nobody looks at us as the old Hinsdale South. Sure, no one thought we'd be this good. They doubted us until we started winning games."
Barry, a Downers Grove North graduate of 1993, played outside linebacker on Pete Ventrelli's state runnerup in 1991. He landed a scholarship to play football at Kent State, spent 10 years as a football coach and teacher in Naples, Florida, then was head coach at Evergreen Park for three years before moving to Hinsdale South.
Why Hinsdale South? "It is a great school district and community. I asked myself: 'Where would I want my kids to go to school?' This is the type of district I want to be in. The framework was there...the talent level, the facilities," he said.
"Even though Hinsdale South is the smallest school in the West Suburban Gold Conference, I'm one who believes my program can be successful. I came from the same situation at Evergreen Park. I want to develop young men of character and I want them to be competitive. We were 5-4 last year, our first winning season in six years. That was a good start."
Barry brought the short pistol offense with him all the way from Florida. He was a defensive player and a defensive coordinator. But he made a switch to offense.
"As a defensive coach, you look at offenses that are hard to stop," he said. "Our triple option is a melding of different styles, spread and short pistol. The quarterback lines up in a short shotgun with a running back behind him. The veer is our base play. You have to have a dual threat quarterback to run it effectively."
With nine starters returning on offense and six on defense, Barry knew he had the makings of a team that could contend for the conference championship and a berth in the Class 6A playoff. Of course, he didn't expect to be averaging xx points per game. But he knew he had a quarterback who could make things happen.
"Deolitsis runs the show," Barry said. "He is a cool customer. He never gets rattled. He makes the right decisions. He can run and pass. He is the complete package."
It took a while for Deolitsis to get into the swing of things and adjust to the new offense. A year ago, he rushed for 500 yards and 12 touchdowns and passes for nearly 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. He improved over the course of the season but he was pleased that he had another year to polish his skills and get more comfortable in the system.
"Last year, I was shaky at reading defense as a whole," he said. "I had to get more comfortable in the pocket. This year, I have more pocket presence and I really feel comfortable. I'm more confident, too. I look at defenses and know what I have to do."
Major contributors to Hinsdale South's success are Deolitsis, 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior linebacker Stephen O'Neill, 6-foot-3, 290-pound senior guard Zach Guritz, 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior wide receiver Justin Ward, 5-foot-9, 200-pound junior running back Arien Toney and 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior defensive end Matt Dangles.
Toney and Ward have emerged as Hinsdale South's other offensive threats. Toney has carried 169 times for 1,104 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averages more than six yards per attempt. Ward averages 20 yards per reception.
"People don't care what you did but what you have done lately," Barry said. "They are waking up to the program's success. Our defense has done a great job of giving the offense the ball in good position. We're playing well as a team, not individuals. But the key is to play consistent and stay healthy."
Dean Joseph Deolitsis has been called D.J. since the day he was born because his mother wanted to call him by his initials. Baseball was his first love. His dream was to be the next Ron Santo. He also played basketball. But he grew to love football from the day he began playing for the junior high school team in sixth grade.
"I played running back and receiver in junior high school but they made me a quarterback as a freshman. They were running a spread offense and put me back there as an athlete. I was pretty happy about it," Deolitsis said.
Then Barry arrived and installed the short pistol. It features more motion and more options than the spread. The snap from center to the quarterback is shorter.
"The main thing is it gets the play going faster because of the shorter snap and I get to look at reads faster and get to the triple option faster," Deolitsis said. "It's a lot of fun because there are so many different things you can do with it.
"We knew going into the season that we would be more explosive on offense than last year but we didn't expect to average xx points per game. We have so many guys making big plays and linemen making blocks and running backs hitting the holes hard and wide receivers making blocks and catching the ball. Everything seems to be clicking."
It hasn't been that way for a while at the Darien school. Hinsdale South hasn't qualified for the state playoff since 2005. Deolitsis remembers that season. Matt Mayberry was playing then. He was one of the best players ever produced at Hinsdale South. He went on to play at Indiana.
"It was exciting when Mayberry was playing and they were winning in 2005," Deolitsis said. "Then it went downhill. We're excited to be winning again. We were 8-1 as freshmen and 6-3 as sophomores. As a team, we have improved so much. We aren't surprised to be where we're at."
If only they can go a little further.