Scrappy quarterback leads Vernon Hills to solid start in new conference
Vernon Hills High School's Jack Himel is not your stereotypical starting quarterback.
At 5-foot-8 and 140 lbs., he doesn't have the size of most physical specimens who wind up at that position these days.
Fortunately for Vernon Hills, it doesn't make him any less effective.
Himel has begun the season hot, leading the Cougars to a 2-1 start, and he's both thrown and run for multiple touchdowns on the year so far. Vernon Hills head coach Bill Bellecomo is not surprised at Himel's success.
"He's a little guy, but he's got a lot of guts," Bellecomo told the Lake County Gazette. "You look at him, and he's not the most imposing force, but he's a competitor. When the lights come on Friday nights, he likes to compete, and there's not anyone out there that scares him."
Bellecomo utilizes Himel's competitive fire by playing to his strengths. While not your prototypical drop-back, pocket passer, Himel has a unique skill set that allows Bellecomo to formulate weekly game plans to what Himel does best, which is control the offense with his composure and make plays with his speed and athleticism.
"We just try to game-plan to what fits his strengths, and obviously rolling out and using his speed," Bellecomo said. "The short throws and intermediate throws are a little easier for him, so we just really try to tailor the game plan to fit his style and his strengths. What he does nice is he manages the game well. He hasn't turned the ball over that much, and he doesn't make many mistakes."
Himel, now a junior, gets that composure from his wealth of experience at the position. Himel has played quarterback for most of his life, and he even quarterbacked the Vernon Hills freshman team to a 6-3 record two seasons ago. It is this experience, combined with the support of a senior-heavy team, that has allowed the first-year varsity starter to flourish in his new role as the main man behind the center.
"You know, what's good for him right now is that being a junior, he's on mostly a senior-dominated team, and this is a very strong senior group," Bellecomo said. "So he doesn't have to be that vocal leader. He's got a lot of seniors around him that really support him. So for us, it's kind of good to take a little pressure off of him because quarterback is a high-profile position. But being on a senior-dominated team, that's good for a young quarterback because those other guys in the huddle have all been there before."
Himel needs that support, as the team faces fresh challenges this season. The Cougars are now part of the Central Suburban League (CSL) Conference, and they're facing schools that have significantly higher enrollments and player pools from which to build their teams. The team begins play in its new conference in week five, and in spite of competing against teams they have very little scouting on, Bellecomo, who's been part of the Vernon Hills football program for 18 years and head coach of the Cougars for four seasons, has the same expectations of his players as always.
"Our expectation here is to always make the playoffs, and we've done that more years than we haven't, Bellecomo said. "That's the expectation here, and the kids know that. We're coming off a playoff appearance last year, and that's our expectation again this year. It's a good conference for us. It's a good fit. The proximity is good, but we don't know much about these teams."
With nine starters back on defense, a cadre of returning seniors and one slightly unorthodox, but effective quarterback. the Cougars are in good hands as they look to make an impression on the rest of the teams in the CSL.
"(Himel) can scramble around," Bellecomo said, "and we even joke that he's like a poor man's Johnny Manziel because he just makes things happen and a lot of them are impromptu. He's a calm and cool kid. I don't think many things rattle him. He's always got a smile on his face and nothing really bugs him, which is nice to have as a quarterback. He's got a lot of moxie."