“It’s not so important who starts the game but who finishes it” -John Wooden. Every athlete you’ll ever come across who has been serious about playing sports will tell you that nothing is more fun than playing when the pressure is on. Whether it’s the bottom of the 9th, final seconds of a game or the 2 minute drill, every athlete lives for the final moment. That moment where it’s your best vs the opponent’s best and mistakes are not an option. You’re either the hero or the goat. And that is why “Crunch time” is sports’ greatest tradition.
Whenever you hear the word “clutch” many people associate pro athletes like, Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter or Joe Montana. Nowadays in sports coming up big in the final moments can raise you to stardom, while failing under pressure or the so-called “goats” are left out to dry. Now I could go on all day about all the times MJ hit the game winner or when Jeter made that miraculous play against Oakland a decade back but instead I’ll talk about far less known story that most likely isn’t talked about outside my town. The story of Mark Hiben. One catch changed a regular old Junior’s life forever.
Glenbard West Football. If you don’t know what that means YouTube it. What you’ll find is a bunch of highlight tapes of the past 5 years of succesful D-1 bound football players. Nowadays anything less of being top 5 in the state is considered a failure. But the revival of the sport and its spirits led by Coach Chad Hetlet has turned a once joke program with lots of tradition, into once again a football powerhouse. No closer was the team to ending the State title drought than in the 2009-10 season. The setting was Lake Zurich, IL. Two solid football teams battling for a chance to play in the state game a week later. The whole game it was even throughout. Until LZ broke the tie with 4:30 left in the 4th now leading 17-14. The next 4 and a half minutes we refer to at West as simply “The Drive”. Predominately a rush offense, there was no time for the Hilltoppers to nickel and dime and take their time. With sixteen seconds left it was now or never for West. Crunch Time. A little known wideout named Mark Hiben ran his route to the back of the endzone only to be double covered. Once a JV player who had thought about calling it quits was running around in the endzone trying to get open for the game winning catch and to put is school back on the map. QB Tyler Warden who was scrambling to his left threw a lofter to the back of the endzone. Jumpball was caught by both Hiben and the LZ defender. But #80 pulled it down and West was on their way to the state title and the rest is history.
But like I said when you make big time plays in big time situations, the sky is the limit. Senior year Mark would get stronger, faster, would catch hundreds of balls in the off-season. All the hard work led to 55 catches 1208 yards and 18 touchdowns in his senior year. Including the most dominated game I have ever seen by a wideout. Hiben had 12 catches for 319 yards shattering the state record for most receiving yards in a game. Hiben is off playing college ball now but his legacy will always be remembered at West. For that one play in Crunch Time.