Features | Friday Night Drive

Back from broken leg, Hinsdale Central’s Ben Monahan set to compete for starting QB job

Billy Cernugel returns after leading Red Devils to nine straight victories last season

Hinsdale Central’s Carter Contreras, right, runs the ball after a catch against Minooka’s Connor Christensen during the Downers Grove South 7-on-7 in Downers Grove on Saturday, July 16, 2022.

Ben Monahan planned on a long and fruitful junior season leading the Hinsdale Central offense last season.

His plans and goals for individual and team success taking over the open quarterback position after the graduation of highly decorated Michael Brescia came to a crashing end in the first game of the season against Naperville Central.

Not only did the Red Devils suffer a 14-2 home loss – the program’s lone regular-season defeat, by the way – but Monahan suffered a bigger loss. He started the game but broke his leg and missed the rest of the season.

Monahan said he endured some tough times, but he entered the summer ready to compete with senior Billy Cernugel, the returning starter, for playing time this fall.

“I was really itching to get out on that field last year,” Monahan said. “It’s been a story and journey and really taught me about patience and to enjoy the game. I got cleared in April, which allowed me to get ready for college camps.”

Hinsdale Central senior quarterback Ben Monahan

Monahan noted a few positives from the arduous offseason. He attacked his rehab and put on solid weight to absorb the hits by defenders – and possibly deliver a few himself because of his added size.

“I was left with a lot of time because I usually play basketball, so I did a lot of rehab to get better and focus on my speed, strength and my throwing,” Monahan said. “It’s been a phenomenal offseason. I’m ready to go to work. These guys look great. Going to be a fun year.

“I have a lot of room to work and grow, but overall I think I’ve done well. Our team looks explosive and it’s looking like a fun year.”

Cernugel benefited from the extra reps after Monahan’s injury, helping lead the Red Devils to nine straight victories, including a 6-0 win over Glenbard West. A former lineman during his younger years, the 6-foot-4 Cernugel gained experience leading the offense and handling adversity last season.

“Last year really helped me out learning the plays and timing and a lot of little things,” Cernugel said. “I feel I don’t have to think as much and can just go with the actions. That’s really helped getting the ball out and making the best decision.

“I think every game I tried to get a little better last year. Now, my decision-making and getting the ball out of my hands quicker and being a better leader have improved. Last year helped a lot.”

Hinsdale Central senior quarterback Billy Cernugel

Defensively, Max Williams is one of the top returnees expected to fill the void left from losing a few key starters, namely linebacker Sean Allison, the West Suburban Silver Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

“This year we have a lot of returning defensive players and can be really strong and we have a lot of guys capable of stepping up,” Williams said. “Last year Sean Allison played my position and mentored me and helped me become the best I can be. I’m definitely looking to use those skills that I learned from him this year.”

Senior running back/cornerback Kevin Connors worked throughout the offseason to prepare for a heavy load on offense and defense. He played mainly cornerback last season.

“The experience last year definitely helped me because I know where I’m on the field and I can lead the defense on call-outs,” Connors said. “I’m looking to have a great season. We have two really good quarterbacks and can have an explosive offense.”

Senior linebacker Sam Arenberg said the defense is not looking to take a step back following last season when it allowed just 93 points in the regular season.

“We had a really great team last year on defense,” Arenberg said. “We’re going after an all-in technique, just fly to the ball and be aggressive like we were last year. I’m looking to contribute at linebacker and halfback. I’m going to fly to the ball and make as many plays as possible. Our defense last year did a really good job of coming together and always getting to the ball as fast as they could and played 110% every play.”