Steve Kucer still has a gleam in his eye when talking about his days as a student-athlete and as a teacher and coach at Hammond High School.
Kucer spent almost all of his adult life at his alma mater.
"Great school and I loved it," Kucer said. "I had great teachers, coaches and I taught great students and coached some great kids."
Among them were his football coach, Karl Huffine, and basketball coach Chet Kessler. Kucer was an assistant coach in football for many years as well as an assistant in boys basketball. He was Hammond's head boys basketball coach from 1959-1962.
He said he coaches several great kids, two who stick out are the Cross brothers -- Irv and Ray. Irv went on to star at Northwestern and played for the Philadelphia Eagles. Irv is in the NFL Hall of Fame as a broadcaster as he was the first African-American to work full-time as a sports analyst on national television. He, Brent Musberger and Phyllis George teamed for the NFL Today.
"Irv was special, a cut above," Kucer said. "Ray, look at what he has done as a teacher and coach in Hammond. He has really influenced a lot of kids."
Kucer, who was inducted into the Hammond Hall of Fame in 1999, was a football and basketball standout. The 1943 Hammond grad will also never forget going into the U.S. Marines upon graduation and serving in the Philippines.
"We had someting called World War II and every able-bodied young man was called upon," Kucer said. "We weren't worried or scared of anything -- we were kids. I was in the Air Corps and was getting planes ready for battle."
He said he saw a lot, though he said he was never really in danger.
"What was sad was, we were in the southern part of the Philippines, Mindanao, and when we took Manila, they brought back a lot of civilians," Kucer said. "They were interred by the Japanese and they came to us and looked like sticks, they were so skinny. It was terrible to see how these civilians -- not soldiers -- were mistreated."
Kucer went to the University of San Francisco to play football. He said it was if Hammond headed out to the Bay Area.
"Ed McKeever, the coach, he knew a Dr. Carlo, I forget his first name," Kucer said. "He knew him from Notre Dame and Ed asked if he knew some guys from Hammond."
Kucer was just married to his wife Darlene. They were married for 63 years until she died in April 2010. He said some of the local guys who went west included Larry Andes, George Buskar, Tom Chintis, George Stefko and John Krsak.
The 1947 Dons were 7-3 and Kucer said he loved it.
"San Francisco is a Catholic, Jesuit school and we played on Sundays," Kucer said. "San Francisco is a great town and I loved it and we loved football. It was great with the Hammond guys there. Most of us were older, came back from the war. We had our first child, so I was going to school, playing football and trying to support at family."
He said the 1947 team beat Nevada, which beat Oregon.
"We played Oregon a few weeks later and thought we would beat them and go to a big bowl like the Orange Bowl," Kucer said. "Oregon whipped us, 34-7."
He said the Dons did get invited to the Harbor Bowl in San Diego, but turned it down. He played one more year, but with a family, he just finished school. One of his teammates on the 1948 team was Dick Stanfel, who help put together the Bears' offensive line which helped win Super Bowl XX.
One thing he did not see was the group, which included Ollie Matson, Gino Marchetti, Bob St. Clair and Burl Toler. Future NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was USF's sports information director. The 1951 USF team did get invited to the Orange Bowl, but the stipulation was it had to leave Matson and Toler, the two African-Americans on the team, home. USF refused and because of costs, dropped the sport after the 1951 season.