Coach Dave Inserra certainly didn’t want Maine South’s spring football season to end with a loss at Naperville Central. The defeat came courtesy of a blocked extra point in the final minutes.
But the defeat comes in handy now for the Hawks, the Sun-Times’ preseason No. 10 team.
‘‘In terms of coaching, it’s usually a little easier to work with a bitter taste in your mouth than to be too high and too full of yourself,’’ Inserra said. ‘‘So we will use that to our advantage.’’
Wounded pride is an especially strong motivator for the Hawks, considering how connected the players feel to the program. Every season, the new faces say the same thing: They grew up watching Maine South football and dreamed of becoming Park Ridge heroes.
That’s the case with quarterback Rowan Keefe.
‘‘I’ve watched Maine South football my whole life,’’ Keefe said. ‘‘It’s crazy to be here now as one of the guys I watched as a little kid. My parents went to Maine South; my dad played here. Our youth programs are a huge part of the culture here.’’
The Hawks’ coaching staff identified Keefe as a future quarterback in seventh grade and had his youth coaches move him from the defensive side of the ball.
‘‘I had played defense all my life, and my dad was a linebacker that hated quarterbacks,’’ Keefe said. ‘‘So it took some time to get adjusted. But he’s a full-on quarterback dad now.’’
Keefe started the last two games of the spring for Maine South and posted impressive numbers against Naperville Central, passing for 353 yards and two touchdowns.
‘‘I’m really happy he had two and a half games to learn and get better,’’ Inserra said. ‘‘He brings a big arm. He brings leadership. He can run the ball, and he’s just a heady ballplayer. And in our system, it is mostly on the quarterback. He’s up for that moment.’’
Northwestern recruit Chris Petrucci will be an anchor on both sides of the ball for the Hawks, playing linebacker and tight end.
‘‘I’ve added a few pounds and focused on improving my blocking,’’ Petrucci said.
Only three starters return on offense and four on defense, but most of the new starters played significant minutes last season. The entire offensive line will be starting for the first time.
‘‘The talent level is as good as any we’ve had defensively, kicking and skill-wise,’’ Inserra said. ‘‘My offensive line will have to mature quickly, but the things we do will help them out, the way we get the ball out quickly and run the ball. It will take the pressure off their shoulders.’’
Thaddeus Gianaris, Maine South’s top defensive lineman, said he has been impressed with the offensive line in practice.
‘‘Every team’s success comes down to the offensive line,’’ Gianaris said. ‘‘Eventually, they are going to become a force. They’ll be able to do the job well.’’
The Hawks open at Stevenson, then face a huge test in Week 2 at Warren. The Blue Devils have been one of the best programs in the state for the last few years and will open the season ranked among the top five.
MAINE SOUTH SCHEDULE
Aug. 27 at Stevenson
Sept. 3 at Warren
Sept. 10 vs. Fremd
Sept. 17 at Palatine
Sept. 24 at Glenbrook North
Oct. 1 vs. Glenbrook South
Oct. 8 at Niles West
Oct. 15 vs. Evanston
Oct. 22 at New Trier