By Mark Maxwell
It’s not about how you start, but rather how you finish. Hinsdale Central coach Rich Tarka believes that a challenging start begins an important journey that determines your finish.
Many high schools – colleges too, for that matter – schedule soft teams to open their season. Perhaps many teams want some time to work the kinks out against lesser opponents. Perhaps some coaches want to instill confidence in their team by racking up a few easy wins. This is not the approach of Tarka and the Red Devils. Instead, they prefer to open their season against the toughest competition they can find. Hinsdale started the season with a hard-fought 17-6 loss against 8th ranked Bolingbrook.
Brian Allen, senior offensive lineman and Michigan State commit, said that the week one loss was a blessing in disguise.
“I think we're flying under the radar a little bit which isn't necessarily a bad thing. We are 3-1,” Allen said. “We had a tough loss to Bolingbrook. Some people see that one loss and might look at that as a negative thing but we think of is one of the best things that could've happened to us.”
After newspaper columns and preps writers gave the Red Devils favorable preseason rankings, the loss brought the team back down to earth a bit.
Tarka prefers his team not to worry about rankings, but rather concern themselves with improving on the field. Hinsdale Central returned 3 very talented starters, but out of 22 starting spots, the remaining 19 positions would have to be filled by first-time starters.
“We were highly ranked, but we were ranked on the merits of the publicity some of our top recruits were getting,” Tarka said. “I think it was a little premature to rank us that high. It's a little overrated. I think we deserve a relatively high rating because I think we're going to get better as the season goes on, being so young. But that's a little bit of inflation at the beginning.”
Another top recruit for Hinsdale Central is Ian Bunting, wide-receiver converted to tight end. Bunting is committed to attend Michigan in the fall. Bunting has been called upon to run block much more this season than he has in the past. With the first and second string quarterbacks sustaining injuries, much of the Red Devils offense has been gained on the ground.
When asked about his revised role in the offense, Bunting said “I love catching passes. I was a receiver for all of high school until this year when I really started playing tight end. If we're going to throw the ball, that's great. But whatever it takes to win. I'm willing to do anything.”
Second string quarterback, Jacob White plans to play this week against rival Glenbard West. White gives the Bunting and the Red Devils a pass threat that they haven’t had for much of the early season. Coming off of a minor injury, White urged Red Devils fans to come to the game, promising it would be a good one.
White is not only the stand-in quarterback, he is also a star inside linebacker. While White has been playing offense, other players have stepped up to fill some of his responsibilities on the defense. Jack Clark is one player who has seen increased minutes after the host of injuries plagued the team.
Clark and the others have bought into the coach’s message of overcoming adversity. “Just like coach Tarka said after losing the first game, losing that was actually a blessing for us because we realized we needed to buckle down and start working really hard in practice,” Clark said. “We improved, we came back in week two versus Addison and really ran them into the ground. Now we've gone on a streak. If we can carry that into Glenbard, the season is looking pretty good.”
Glenbard West is the reigning 7A state champion. Hinsdale Central took a 21-10 lead into halftime against Glenbard West last season, but failed to execute down the stretch. Glenbard West came out in the third quarter and stole the game in heartbreaking fashion. The memory of that game lives on in the locker room of Hinsdale Central. The seniors are more motivated for this game than any other game on the schedule.
“Glenbard West is the game of the year,” Clark said. Allen added, “You don't really have to do much to get up. It's a game you have in the back of your mind.”
Tarka has his team motivated for the rematch. “Our kids have been talking about this game for a year,” he said. “Last year, we played them very tough here [at home]. We couldn't get it done. They went on to win state. So we know that we're close. Or at least we were close last year. We're getting there this year. The motivation is easy in a game like this because they're turning into one of our biggest rivals. We're really excited to be where we're at. They're the top dog. It's going to be fun to go out there and see where we're at.”