Hetlet continues tradition at Glenbard West

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Hetlet continues tradition at Glenbard West

Chad Hetlet was the perfect choice to follow in the tradition of Bill Duchon and Jim Covert as the head football coach at Glenbard West. Since the 1960s, the Hilltoppers have been known as the "Hitters," a reference to their smash-mouth and bruising style of play.

After Duchon built the program into a state power and Covert, his handpicked successor, picked up the torch and carried it to another level, winning state championship in 1983, the Glen Ellyn school fell on hard times, producing only one winning team from 1996 to 2006.

Duchon, who played for legendary coach Tony Lawless at Fenwick in the 1940s, was 9-0 in 1968, 10-1 in 1975 and finished second in the state in 1976 with his last team. In his last 11 years, he didn't field a losing team.

Covert was 132-58 in 19 years, a .695 winning percentage. He had only two losing teams. His 13-0 team won the state title in 1983.

Hetlet arrived in 2007 to right the sinking ship and restore the program's flagging prestige and tradition. It didn't take long. After a 6-5 start, his last four teams have gone 12-1, 13-1, 10-2 and 10-1. His 2009 team finished second in the state. This year's squad is 10-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 7A.

In Saturday's 49-21 victory over Elk Grove, the Hilltoppers were led by quarterback Henry Haeffner, who completed 7 of 11 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Scott Andrews, who rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Linebacker Joe Marconi intercepted a pass go set up another touchdown.

They'll play at Libertyville in the second round of the Class 7A playoff.

"They're playing physical again," said Covert, a frequent observer at Saturday home games. "That element of the game was lost for a while. But now it's back. He (Hetlet) has them playing hard all the time. It's the way it used to be."

Hetlet, 40, described his hiring at Glenbard West as "a perfect marriage." He came from an old-school background where players listened to their coaches talk and kept their mouths shut. He learned that running the ball with a physical presence up front and stopping the run on defense was a surefire recipe for success.

"The selling point for me was they always were a smash-mouth style of football team," he said. "You want to go into a program that is similar to yours. It may not be the only way to do it but it's the only way I know. We won't finesse people. We will be successful as long as we are physical and stop the run."

Hetlet came to Glen Ellyn by a back road. A graduate of Zion-Benton in 1990, he played linebacker on the football team. At Northern Illinois, however, he played rugby because he liked the physical aspect of the game. After his freshman year, he changed his major from computer programming to physical education. He wanted to be a coach.

He began teaching at Libertyville and learned Xs and Os under Dale Christenson, Randy Kuceyeski and Tony Monken. Then he got a job at Johnsburg and assisted Bob Bradshaw for eight years. He was head coach at Johnsburg for one year, then went to McHenry for two years, was Mike DiMatteo's defensive coordinator at Hinsdale Central for one year, then moved to Glenbard West.

"I knew Glenbard West had a great history before I came to the western suburbs," Hetlet said. "I knew Duchon and his history. I knew Covert, too. The more the interest level rose, the more I learned.

"So many former players live in Glen Ellyn. We had instant approval from them as to how we played the game. We kept the Hitters program that Duchon established. What we talk about all the time and remind the kids is they come from a long line of great physical football players. It started with them making a name for themselves. When kids buy into being physical, they are tough to stop."

It's all about putting a big green G on the side of your helmet. Duchon had gold helmets and Covert had 100 percent helmets. That was their thing, their trademark. They were Hitters, all of them. The style of football was the same, a bunch of tough kids.

"I believe in that. That's what we have to do to be successful," Hetlet said. "Our kids have to earn their Gs on the side of their helmets. They don't get it until they go through the off-season. Their parents come to the ceremony. It goes with the tradition, who we are. We don't want to pretend that we are the Duchon or Covert era. We want people to think we want to replicate what they did. We don't want to steal what they did. We want
people to talk about us."

Hetlet said his plan for rebuilding Glenbard West's program was borrowed from Bradshaw, who won a state championship at Woodstock in 1983 and then turned around a program at Johnsburg that was 0-9 and produced five playoff qualifiers in eight years.

"I had to go on what I learned from Bradshaw--outwork your opponents, establish a weight lifting program in the spring, hire good positive coaches, establish a work ethic, get the kids to buy into the idea that we are blue-collar and we will outwork and out-physical opponents."

Hetlet admits that if his 2007 team didn't buy into his old-school philosophy, "then the rest of this doesn't happen." The 2007 squad came off an 0-9 season and finished 6-5, losing to Morgan Park 34-27 in the second round of the state playoff.

"They had the worst record but it made them believe that they could win," Hetlet said. "They were physical. We got lucky and made the playoff. We won the last game of the season against Hinsdale Central to qualify. Our confidence rose. The kids said to themselves: 'Hey, we can do this.' Then we started to get talented players to come out, tough, hard-nosed kids."

Other things haven't changed, either. Duchon Field still has natural grass and no lights and looks like a Norman Rockwell painting on a crisp Saturday afternoon in the autumn. The players still ring the victory bell on the hilltop after winning a game.

And the Golden Eagles youth football program is "a huge deal," according to Hetlet. The youngsters are coached and supervised by many former Hitters who grew up in the same program. "Our kids come ready to play at the freshman level--and our freshmen are very successful," he said.

"But now we are different because the kids in the DuchonCovert era were a Glen Ellyn team. Now the boundaries have changed. We're a Glen EllynGlendale Heights team."

But they're still Hitters, make no mistake about that.

Swanigan's, Diallo's decisions and how it affects Bulls' NBA Draft

Swanigan's, Diallo's decisions and how it affects Bulls' NBA Draft

The deadline for underclassmen to pull their names out of the NBA Draft passed on Wednesday at midnight.

There were a few surprises, and a handful of decisions had an effect on how the Bulls will go about next month's draft.

Staying in the draft

Caleb Swangian, PF, Purdue: The sophomore All-American surprised many by keeping his name in the draft. Swanigan actually tested the waters after his freshman season but returned to the Boilermakers in 2016. He averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 35 games, earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors and was a National Player of the Year candidate. It's no secret the 6-foot-9 Swangian can score  - he had 15 games of 20 or more points - and showed some ability to shoot from deep, making nearly 45 percent of his 85 3-point attempts. Quickness and conditioning will be the real test for the 245-pound Swanigan, who has already lost significant weight since high school. Questions about his defense (he had just 27 steals and 36 blocks in two seasons) also stand out. With Nikola Mirotic's future in Chicago unknown, the Bulls could be in the market for depth at power forward. He wouldn't be an option for the Bulls at No. 14, but if he slides out of the first round he could be an option at No. 38.

D.J. Wilson, PF, Michigan: After averaging just 6.1 minutes as a sophomore, Wilson burst onto the scene as a junior, averaging 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in 30.4 minutes for the Wolverines. He did his best work during the postseason; during Michigan's Big Ten Championship run and Sweet 16 appearance, Wilson averaged 15.6 points on 54 percent shooting, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. Standing 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Wilson leaves some to be desired on the defensive end but has the ability to play as a combo forward - he had a 3-inch growth spurt after high school. Like Swanigan, Wilson won't be an option for the Bulls at No. 14 but could be a second-round option. He'd give the Bulls a similar look to what Bobby Portis does with a little more versatility on the wing.

Going back to college

Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky: The NBA Draft's biggest mystery could have been a home-run selection for the Bulls in the first round. Alas, Diallo has decided to play a year under John Calipari at Kentucky and likely boost his draft stock. Having not played since December, where he played at a prep academy in Connecticut, so there wasn't much film of the 6-foot-5 leaper. Still, after Thon Maker went No. 10 to the Bucks last year there was thought that a team would take a gamble on a high-upside mystery.

Andrew Jones, PG, Texas: There was little surprise that Jones, a five-star recruit who put together a solid freshman season, returned. He's still a bit raw as a prospect despite having elite size (6-foot-4) and solid athleticism, and another year running the point with incoming five-star recruit Mo Bomba could really improve his draft stock. The Bulls clearly have a need at the point (less if Rajon Rondo returns) and if Jones had made the leap he likely would have been around at No. 38. Even still, Jones is a player to keep an eye on during next year's draft, assuming Cameron Payne and Jerian Grant don't make significant improvements.

Moritz Wagner, PF, Michigan: There's a need on every NBA team for a stretch forward with 3-point potential. But those teams will have to wait at least another year after Wagner decided to return to Michigan for his junior season. Like Wilson, who kept his name in the draft, Wagner had an excellent postseason run for the Wolverines. That stretch included a 17-point effort against Minnesota and a career-high 26-point outing in a win over Louisville. He weighed in at just 231 pounds and only averaged 4.2 rebounds per game, so adding some strength to his game will help his draft prospect for next year. He could have been an option for the Bulls at No. 38.

White Sox: Jose Abreu's five-week tear filled with hard contact, fewer strikeouts

White Sox: Jose Abreu's five-week tear filled with hard contact, fewer strikeouts

Jose Abreu has made quite a turnaround from being a guy who was admittedly lost to bashing the ball like Abreu of old.

From April 19th on, Abreu has hit at another level, reminiscent of the performances he put on throughout an eye-opening 2014 campaign in which he was the unanimous American League rookie of the year winner. Over that stretch, Abreu has slashed at an absurd .347/.404/.677 clip with nine doubles, one triple, 10 home runs and 22 RBIs in 136 plate appearances.

Earlier this week, Abreu said the run is the product of trusting his tireless preparation.

"I struggled in the first few weeks of the season but I kept working," Abreu said through an interpreter. "Now I'm at this point where I feel very good and confident with my offense and things are going well for me. That's part of what you work for and if you work hard, you know the results will be there at the end of the day."

Two numbers that have improved significantly during Abreu's five-week tear are his average exit velocity and strikeout rate.

Abreu entered Wednesday 39th in the the majors with an average exit velocity of 90.5 mph this season, according to Baseball Savant.

But Abreu wasn't hitting the ball nearly as hard early this season, which was littered with weak contact. Abreu stumbled out of the gate with a .157 average, one extra-base hit and only five RBIs in his first 54 plate appearances. Through the first two weeks, Abreu's average exit velocity was 89.0 mph on 31 batted-ball events, which was slightly down from last season's 89.6 mph average and significantly down from 2015, when he averaged 90.9 mph.

Since then, however, Abreu has seen a significant increase in hard contact. Over his last 92 batted-ball events, Abreu is averaging 92.6 mph, a total that would qualify for 15th in the majors this season. Included in that span is 35 balls hit 100 mph or more.

But Abreu's success isn't just related to how hard he has hit the ball. He's also made much better contact this season and is striking out less than ever. Abreu struck out 14 times in his first 54 plate appearances (25.9 percent). But since then, he has whiffed only 17 times in 136 plate appearances, good for a 12.5 percent strikeout rate.

His season K-rate of 16.3 percent, according to Fangraphs.com, is down from a career mark of 19.6 percent.

"You have started to see him heat up a little," manager Rick Renteria said earlier this week. "He's given us solid at-bats. He's in a good place right now."

Actually, it's a great place and one Abreu hasn't done with consistency since 2015. He once again looks like the hitting machine he was for most of his first two seasons and the final two months of 2016.

Abreu is on pace to hit 36 home runs this season, which would match his 2014 total. His current wRC+ of 138 is his highest since he finished 2014 at 167.

Last season, Abreu didn't hit his 10th home run until June 18. He hit his 11th homer on June 23 and then didn't hit another until August 4. That stretch raised myriad questions both inside the organization and externally about whether or not Abreu would return to prominence as a hitter. Perhaps inspired by the August arrival of his son, Dariel, Abreu finished 2016 with a flurry, hitting .340/.402/.572 with 14 home runs in his final 241 plate appearances.

General manager Rick Hahn said last September that the stretch was important for White Sox evaluators to see.

"It certainly makes you more confident as you see him over the last six weeks, projecting out that he's going to be that same player that he was for the first two years of his career," Hahn said. "Earlier, when he was scuffling, you looked at some of the things he was doing from his approach or some of the mechanical issues he might have been having and you felt confident he was going to be able to get back. But in all candor, you like seeing the performance match what you're projecting and we've certainly seen that over the last six weeks."

The White Sox offense has benefitted from Abreu's leap back into prominence. The team has averaged 4.53 runs per game this season and is 9th in the American League with 204 runs scored and 17th overall in the majors. But the increase in offense still hasn't helped the White Sox improve in the standings. While Abreu is glad to be on the roll he is, he'd prefer if his team is along for the ride.

"We're are passing through a tough moment, a rough stretch," Abreu said. "For me as I've always said the team is first. I want to thank God for how I've performed through this rough stretch. But it's not something makes me feel happy because we didn't win as many games as we wanted to win. It's tough."