Prep football

AL HAMNIK: Hobart football glory years leave us woefully lacking

2012-11-19T17:30:00Z 2012-11-26T20:41:04Z AL HAMNIK: Hobart football glory years leave us woefully lackingAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
November 19, 2012 5:30 pm  • 

Once again, there will be no region team playing for an Indiana high school football championship.

Lowell was the last to win a title in 2005. Are we that average, or is the rest of the state passing us up?

It's times like these that make you appreciate what Don Howell and his Hobart Brickies accomplished with their 11 state finals appearances from 1979 to 1996.

They won titles in 1987, 1989, 1991 and 1993 -- and were runners-up an agonizing seven times (1979, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1990, 1996) -- losing many of those games by paper-thin margins.

November without Hobart playing in a dome was like Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie.

Howell retired after the '98 season and died of a heart attack in November of '99. He had few Division I athletes or speed in 33 years as head coach. It was tortoise versus hare on most nights.

His winning legacy (314-73-2) featured a bare-knuckles defense, commitment in the weight room and proper execution.

We could use old-school Brickie football right now.

"Don truly believed in the power of lifting," said his widow, Roz, who lives in Fishers. "He wasn't as big as the other players at IU, but it made him a lot stronger.

"When he came to Hobart, he used to tell the players' parents: 'Don't make any appointments for Tuesday and Thursday. They've got weight-lifting.'"

During its marvelous run, Howell's teams won 55 consecutive Duneland Athletic Conference games and 71 straight at Brickie Bowl.

Howell didn't like publicity or the media spotlight, often deferring to his players and coaches. He was an intimidating guy, short but massive, and scared many young journalists upon first encounter.

But off the field, the man was a teddy bear.

"He made them want to win because he had that intensity and desire," Roz said. "He made them believe they could do it."

Those first five near-misses downstate shook the faith of everyone on staff. Was a state title ever meant to be? There were some doubters, for sure.

"It was hard for him to take," Roz said. "Don was a devout Catholic and once he told me: 'I prayed that if we lost, it would make me strong -- and we won! I should've prayed earlier. I didn't know that was the secret.'"

The 1953 Hobart grad had a sense of humor, too.

There were also ridiculously high expectations each postseason. Fans were spoiled. They'd book their downstate hotel reservations months in advance.

"If we lost a game, they wanted to hang him in effigy, but he just ignored them," Roz said. "Of course, they wouldn't say it to his face. It was always behind his back."

Howell's sudden death brought the community, the state, to its knees.

I'll never forget a Times photo of assistant coaches, many of them sobbing, carrying Howell's casket out of St. Bridget Church while hundreds of players past and present saluted by raising their fists.

One of them was Ryan Turley, who as a youngster, told Howell he'd play football for him one day.

Turley is now Hobart's coach and Roz says he'll do a terrific job.

He had a great mentor.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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