LOMBARD – Mike Hohensee Sr. paused for a moment to let his words sink in.
Twenty-nine high school football players rested on one knee and held their gaze at attention as Hohensee, the longtime former Chicago Rush head coach – among a slew of other titles – was minutes away from concluding his high school prospect coaching camp with his son, Mike Jr., on July 30 at Montini High School.
The younger Hohensee, a former St. Charles North product and current starting quarterback as a junior at Northwest Missouri State, stood just a few feet away.
“I want you guys to remember something,” said the elder Hohensee, now an offensive quality control assistant coach at Montini. “I wanted to put this on with my son. I’ve been waiting a lifetime to do this, so it’s a privilege for me to be out here with him.”
The quarterback and wide receiver prospect showcase and training session was jointly coached and organized by the father-son tandem. It was partially staffed by some former St. Charles North teammates of Hohensee.
The camp serviced both middle school and high school football players from across the greater Chicago area in two separate sessions throughout the day.
Camp participants ran through numerous pass concepts and technique-driven drills for two hours. The drills were led by both Hohensees. To close each session, participants, by age group, finished with a friendly competition of the “fastest man” and a “crossbar challenge,” which tested the quarterbacks’ ability to hit the crossbar of the field goal post with a pass.
“Today, we came out here as individuals to get better,” said Hohensee, a former quarterback for the Chicago Bears and the University of Minnesota. “You’re going to take some of this information or not back to your teams to try and become a champion. … Whether you’re first-string, second-string, third-string, it doesn’t matter who you are. You need to go back and contribute.”
“Coach Ho, I’ve been talking to him a lot. He’s an awesome guy, an awesome coach,” Nazareth sophomore and varsity starting quarterback Logan Malachuk said. “Just come out here, wanted to get better and try new things.”
Montini sophomore-level projected starting quarterback Gaetano Carbonara was drawn to the camp “really just for the love of the game.”
“Me personally, anything football I’ll do. I’d put my life on the line for this sport,” Carbonara said. “I love it with my whole heart. Just from a personal standpoint, I love my coach [Hohensee]. He’s really great. Since the first day he came into the building, it was great meeting him and everything. But just for the love of the game and wanting to put my heart and soul out there.”
The Hohensee family’s football resume is vast, dating to when the elder Hohensee transferred from Mt. San Antonio Junior College to the University of Minnesota in 1981.
While Hohensee’s 4,792 yards, 32 touchdowns and individual records in passing attempts, completions and touchdown passes paint a picture of what he accomplished at the college level, the journey he took to achieve it was a grinding long road.
“I went into the locker room and looked at the depth chart before the first practice. [The coach’s son] was No. 1. I was No. 7,” Hohensee said. “Seventh on the depth chart. The first plane ride I ever took was to Minnesota. The first time I ever saw snow was Minnesota. So I had to go there and do something different. I had to go there and not worry what the coach’s son was doing. I had to deal with what I had to do.”
Heading into spring ball, Hohensee eventually rose to No. 2. In the fall, Hohensee heard on the radio playing in the weight room on the Monday before the Golden Gophers played Purdue that he was the starting quarterback.
“I had to work to get that, man,” Hohensee said. “I could’ve went in there and pouted. … I saw film [on the former starter] when I went there. That’s why I knew I could go there and beat him out because that’s the confidence I had. I bet on myself. … [Doesn’t] matter where you are on your depth chart.”
Hohensee went on to play for the Bears in 1987 and numerous AFL teams. As a coach, Hohensee rose all the way to the third all-time winningest coach in the AFL.
Hohensee then talked about his son, who was the starting quarterback for St. Charles North in 2017 before heading to Northwest Missouri State, a Division II program.
“The last four years, he’s been watching somebody else that was there before him,” Hohensee said. “Last year, [the starter] gets sick [in] week two. His first start, he goes in and was responsible for six touchdowns – four passing and two running. First start in college. Never gave the job back.”
In 10 starts, the younger Hohensee led the nation in completion percentage (73.6%) and passing efficiency (187.3) on 148-of-201 passing, according to NW Missouri Athletics.
“This kid didn’t wait for his turn. He worked for his turn,” Hohensee said. “He bet on himself. That’s why I wear this jersey [his son’s]. Favorite football player right there. The only other jersey I’ve ever worn was my own. I bet on me. He bet on him. You’ve got to bet on you.”
Hohensee asked his son: “How good do you want to be?”
“The best that’s ever played,” he replied.
“The best that’s ever played, period,” Hohensee responded back. “He never let nobody put a roof over his head. Don’t you do that either. You’ve got so many people out here rooting for you. This is a tough, tough sport. And the people that are going to be behind you the most? Right back there.”
The players’ families stood right behind them.
“If you’re going to be great at something, no one is going to hold your hand,” Hohensee concluded. “Don’t make excuses. Let that other guy be the excuse guy. You be the guy going out there and thriving. It’s only going to happen if you bet on yourself and you let these people that want to support you in your family support you. Don’t push them away.”