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Galena’s Ethan Hefel (left) looks down field for a receiver during a game this spring against East Dubuque. Hefel earned first-team all-state accolades in Illinois Class 1A.

GALENA, Ill. — Ethan Hefel may have been most recognizable as Galena’s starting quarterback.

It was his defensive play, however, that landed him on the most prestigious team in Illinois.

Hefel, a senior, was named this week to the Class 1A all-state first team by the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association as a defensive back. He is one of only 18 Class 1A players in the entire state to receive the honor.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Hefel said. “I’m thankful for the coaches, my teammates, and my family who pushed me to be the athlete that I am, and it feels really good to get a big award like that.”

Hefel racked up 60 total tackles (32 solo), had five interceptions, four pass breakups and recovered one fumble this season as the leader of the Pirates’ defense.

“Ethan has had a big impact on our program,” Galena football coach Ed Freed said. “He’s the type of player who makes that big play at crucial times and he’s led us to some big wins in his career for us.”

Hefel passed for 1,054 yards and 16 touchdowns this year, while throwing just one interception. He also amassed 288 yards rushing and eight TDs, earning him Northwest Upstate Illini all-conference recognition.

Freed said Hefel’s mentality as the captain of the offense benefited him on the defensive side of the ball as well.

“He’s kind of the quarterback on both sides of the ball,” Freed said. “Our conference is pretty tough, and for him to have a big impact on every play says a lot about him. He’s been able to make a lot of big plays for us.”

Hefel’s stellar play offensively and defensively certainly made him a leader on the field, but Freed said he possessed several other intangibles that inspired his teammates.

“You want your better players to be the hardest workers, and he truly was that,” Freed said. “He worked extremely hard, so he was a leader by example with his work ethic and character on and off the field. He was a vocal leader for us, too. He played with a lot of passion and his teammates really fed off that.”

Hefel was called upon to be the Pirates’ quarterback midway through his sophomore season, and though they finished just 2-7, he credits that experience with molding him as a leader.

“That year taught me a lot about leadership and learning from the players above me, and taking any knowledge that I could get from anybody,” Hefel said. “They really helped me push myself to become a better player so the following years I had the experience and skills to understand and learn the game faster.”

In 2020, Galena finished the COVID-shortened spring season 5-1, but due to the pandemic, the IHSA elected not to conduct a postseason.

This year, the Pirates went 5-5 and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2015. It was a sense of redemption for Hefel after COVID wiped away that opportunity last season.

“Our big goal was to get to the playoffs because we have kind of been in a drought lately,” Hefel said. “Getting in this year was a big accomplishment. I wish we could have gone farther, but I think the team is satisfied with making the playoffs and ending the six-year drought.”

Next year, Hefel plans to play baseball in college, but he is undecided on his destination at this point.

During his years on the gridiron for the Pirates, he played a big part in rejuvenating the program.

“He is just one of those players that left a big impact on our program,” Freed said.

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