- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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High school football players throughout Illinois are beginning to count down the hours until Friday night arrives and the 2009 season begins.
The wait has been too long for many. They've been ready to hit someone other than their teammates ever since they departed the field last fall.
Then there are the likes of Prospect senior Matt Huene. If one could measure his level of anticipation for that first snap on Friday, it'd be comparable to a wild animal which has been locked away for a long time. In Huene's case, he is a 6-foot-5, 240-pound, Division I-caliber offensive tackle who has been caged.
"I'm really looking forward to Friday night," Huene said.
Huene was really looking forward to last season's opener, as well, about this same time in August. A year ago, he was about to make his first varsity start and was expected to be a major part of Prospect's offensive success. But a week before the season opener, he was racing down Prospect's practice field in a special teams non-contact drill, attempted to cut around a teammate and tore the quadriceps tendon in his right knee.
"I was told they are injuries you see in 40-year-olds and usually it's a contact injury," Huene said. "I'm not sure how it happened."
The result was surgery and immobilization for six weeks. He missed the entire football season, and his coaches feared it could be worse as his recovery dragged on throughout the winter.
In February, nearly five months after the tear, Huene decided enough was enough. He was sick of his slow progress and began putting all his energy into returning to the football field. He did more knee extensions, more step-ups, more and more and more in the weight room.
"He started hitting rehab 150 percent," Prospect coach Brent Pearlman said. "Come February, you saw a change of mindset in him."
The work paid off, and Huene began seeing improvements. When Prospect began its mini-camp in June, there was talk of easing Huene back into it. He demanded otherwise.
He was ready to play and proved so throughout the summer.
Huene impressed Prospect coaches with his athleticism, strength and balance during the team's workouts. Then he was sent to camps at Akron, Michigan State and Northwestern in July, and he did the same before college coaches.
All of a sudden, Huene was another Prospect Division I prospect. In the past five years, the Knights have sent four offensive lineman to Division I schools.
"He does all the things you want a lineman to do, and he's athletic enough to do things our lineman can't do," Pearlman said. "Matt has a tremendous strike. He lifts kids off the ground by their necks. I've seen him pick up kids and throw them.
"From what I can tell, he's a dominant player."
That's where Friday and this season comes in. While displaying Division I talent in practice is great, games are a different matter.
"Practice is a familiarity you have with your teammates," Pearlman said. "You know their tendencies. During games, you don't. You have to adjust every single down. That's where Matt has to be tested."
When Huene was a sophomore, there was a play where he went to a block a player and did so timidly. His coach stopped him and told him he wanted Huene to attack players more like the Bogeyman. People are scared of the Bogeyman, he was told.
Now nicknamed simply Bogey, Huene is ready to put that scare into his opponents. And on Friday, it begins with York.
"I need to be explosive," Huene said. "I think I need to manhandle the guy across from me.
"This is definitely my payoff for those long hours in the weight room, the rehab. I'm not nervous right now, not really, but I remember as a sophomore I didn't think I'd get into games, and I was nervous then. I think I'll be nervous Friday night."
The countdown continues.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at email@example.com.
2hAdam Rubin and Kieran Darcy