The exclamation mark Hayden Carlson put on the 10-8 victory over Lincoln-Way East in last November's Class 7A state championship game made him an instant Glenbard West legend.
With less than two minutes to play and nothing else standing between All-State quarterback Tom Fuessel and a Lincoln-Way East touchdown, the wallop Carlson put on the current Northwestern freshman matched the magnitude of the moment.
Rare is the one play that so perfectly symbolizes a single game, let alone a season or a program that fancies itself "The Hitters."
"The only way it could have been better," Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet said, "was if he was a senior."
Don't get Hetlet wrong. He's thrilled to have Carlson back and is eager for the first team All-State safety and reigning West Suburban Silver Defensive Player of the Year to add to his legacy.
"I told him, 'Don't let that be your highlight," Hetlet said.
Topping that hit may be next to impossible, but Carlson can enhance his legacy significantly by leading the Hitters to another 7A title.
Pressed to answer honestly, the soft-spoken Carlson admitted to watching the play "probably about 10 times" during the offseason.
He also received scholarship offers from several Mid-American Conference schools and said he plans to choose between Miami (Ohio) and his Ivy League-suitors.
Hunger, he insisted, won't be a problem.
After all, Hetlet, who has won 87 percent of his games as head coach, has little tolerance for uninspired play. And drawing his ire is not a pleasant experience.
"He is intense," Carlson said. "You've got to have that. This is my third year playing varsity. Every year is different, but it's also the same. He'll get on a senior and he'll get on a sophomore playing up.
"You love to impress him. Once he gives you a compliment, it's the best feeling in the world. The biggest thing is trying to earn his respect. Once you do that, you feel pretty good about yourself."
Glenbard West at a glance
Last season: 14-0, 6-0, 1st West Suburban Silver; beat Lincoln-Way East 10-8 in Class 7A state final.
Playoff history: 23 appearances; 2 state titles.
He's back: Scott Andrews, Sr., 5-9, 190, RB (1,273 yards rushing, 419 yards receiving, 21 TDs); Eric Shute, Sr., 6-5, 275, OL; Hayden Carlson, Sr., 6-0, 185, S (86 tackles); Grant Greeno, Sr., 6-2, 200, LB; Devante Toney, Sr., 6-0, 210, FB/DT.
He's new: Ted Clauss, Sr., 6-3, 230, OL; Connor Schrauth, Sr., 6-4, 220, TE; Drew Vogg, Sr., 5-11, 185, QB.
Big name: Shute has committed to North Carolina State.
Big game: With fewer big recruits than in years past, the Hitters can silence the whispers of a looming dropoff with a strong showing against Wheaton Warrenville South on Friday.
Big question: Can the offensive and defensive lines reload?
Breakdown: While West lost major players on both sides of the ball, the Hilltoppers also return several guys who contributed significantly to the state championship. Andrews and Toney form one of the best tandem of backs in the area, and they're extremely strong at linebacker and safety. They may stumble here or there with so many tough conference games, but they're the West Suburban Silver and Class 7A favorites until somebody proves otherwise.
Fast fact: The Hilltoppers are 29-1 in West Suburban Silver play the last five years.