E.C. Central football coach Stacy Adams, who in 2013 took the Cardinals to their best season in school history, is leaving the school he's been at the last four years.
He is expected to take a coaching position in the South Bend area in the coming days. March 14 is his last day at Central.
Adams' resignation is not official, pending school board acceptance of his resignation and the new position. But E.C. Central Athletic Director Trino Cavazos said that would happen "in the next few days.”
Cavazos had nothing but praise for Adams. And football is secondary, he said.
“Stacy had a great run here, he was a great person to have in the building,” Cavazos said. “He was committed to our kids and our neighborhoods. His whole package was great and amazing.”
Cavazos said he is already looking ahead to finding Adams' replacement. He also spoke highly of E.C.'s assistant coaches and said he hopes they are interested in returning.
“I am excited about this process,” Cavazos said. “We want to attract someone with great energy, a great coach, a person who understands the challenges we face here.”
Attempts to reach Adams on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The Lew Wallace grad and former football coach at Valparaiso University spent four years at E.C. Central, posting a record of 32-14.
The building process exploded in 2013, when the Cardinals won their first sectional and regional championships. E.C. advanced to the Class 4A Northern Semistate for the first time in school history.
Though the Cards were defeated 38-0 against Dwenger in Fort Wayne, it did not change the positive impact of what Adams and 29 seniors had accomplished.
“I'm so proud of these kids,” Adams said after the game. “They had a lot to overcome and they did it. They came together, they became a real good football team and more importantly they became good young men.
“No one can take that away from them.”
Pat Montalbano is a longtime supporter of the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame.
"I usually attend all the induction ceremonies," he said. "It's great to see some of the outstanding players I've coached and coached against get the recognition they deserve."
Montalbano also tries to keep the Hall of Fame up to date.
"I thought he was one of the best three-sport athletes we've had here," Montalbano said of a player he once coached at Clark, "so I sent in a nomination form with his name on it."
Some time later, Montalbano got a letter from the HOF.
"At first I thought he got in," Montalbano said, "but when I glanced at the letter, I saw his name wasn't listed with the 2014 class so I just put it away without paying much attention to it."
Later, a colleague contacted Montalbano and suggested he should read the letter again, this time more closely.
"I didn't think I was part of the conversation," said Montalbano, who was surprised -- to say the least -- that he was among the seven chosen to be enshrined March 11 during the induction ceremony/dinner at the Hammond Civic Center.
"It still hasn't hit me," said Montalbano, who was Clark's high school athletic director from 2006-2010 after serving as Clark's middle school athletic director for nearly 30 years. "It probably will when I step up to the podium."
Montalbano, 64, of Chicago, played football and participated in track at St. Francis de Sales.
"I never was a star athlete," said Montalbano, who was a second-teamer at both offensive line and linebacker, and threw discus and shot put for the Pioneers. "That likely helped me as a coach. Sitting on the bench forced me to learn more about the game. I always felt more of a connection with players who had hustle and work extra hard to make up for their lack of ability."
During his tenure at Clark, Montalbano coached baseball, football, basketball, track and cross country, compiling winning records and championships in most ventures.
From 1977 to 2000, Montalbano was head coach for the Pioneers middle school boys basketball team, which went 373-270 during that span. He received conference "Coach of the Year" awards twice during his three-year stint as Clark's varsity baseball head coach, which resulted in three conference titles, two sectional titles, and a school-first regional title in 2006.
Montalbano also served as an varsity assistant coach for Clark's football and baseball teams, and assisted Bob Navta with Clark's middle school cross country teams, which won 11 straight city championships.
Whatever sport Montalbano coached, getting kids to come out and stay out was never a problem.
"I believe if a kid makes the team and shows up for practice, he's going to play," Montalbano said. "Yeah, sometimes you might lose a game here or there if you make sure everyone on the bench is going to get in an inning or two, but I've found out that so many times it's the guy you least expect is the one who comes through for you in the end.
"All they needed was the chance."
Montalbano still teaches high school math at Clark, where he was named "Outstanding Teacher of the Year" in 1995.
"Being a math teacher requires a lot of prep time, and if you're athletic director who also coaches, it can really wear you down," Montalbano said of why he stepped away from athletic administration and coaching three years ago. "It was time for some new blood to take over. Now, after work I can come straight home and spend more time with my wife (Suzanne)."
What if Mike Hepp had coached at Andrean? Or Lake Central? Or Crown Point? Would the records or scoreboards changed much at those tradition-rich football schools?
I doubt it. Really, I do.
Hepp coached football at Lake Station for nine seasons. His teams went 29-63. He was the best coach with the worst record in Indiana history. He taught winning in a different way because he had to.
Hepp lost his life Tuesday at the age of 59, after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. But just like his high school coaching record, he won when many thought it was another L.
"He's in a better place," sister Cyndy Rastovski said Wednesday. "He wasn't real coherent the last week of his life. One of the last things I said to him was this. 'Mike, you're taking this into triple overtime. You fought real hard. Well played, coach Mike. Well played.'"
Former Lake Station athletic director Gayle Green and Eagles wrestling coach Dan Mora were with Hepp when he passed. They shared stories and laughs, remembering all the battles at the small school lacking in the privilege of other places.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Hepp showed Mora a picture of the 1998 sectional championship team, only the second one in school history. Hepp was more proud of his team than Pete Carroll.
"If he was your friend, you had a friend for life," Mora said. "He was the most generous person I've ever met. He cared about those kids. He wanted them to dream big and become contributing adults."
When Hepp coached golf, there was a young man who didn't have a penny in his pocket, but he wanted to play. With no one watching, Hepp bought him a bag, a set of clubs and some shoes. That experience changed the kid's life.
Hepp worked with underprivileged youth at Lost Marsh, teaching them the game of golf. If they were thirsty, he'd buy them some juice. If hungry, he'd buy them a cheeseburger.
"He really cared about kids who didn't have much," Green said. "He wanted to give them a chance. There wasn't a kid at our school who didn't have shoes if they wanted them. Mike would find a way."
Hepp was his own man. He loved kids but he didn't care much for what loud-mouthed adults would say, chirping in the bleachers. While sick in the hospital, his sister said he was still flirting with the nurses.
His illness, like his kindness, he kept private. He didn't want anyone to know.
The 1972 Highland grad worked at Lake Station for 35 years. He got ran out of the football job after the 2012 season. Petty, small-town politics showed him the door.
But what I loved about this guy is he said what he felt, not what he thought someone else would want to hear.
"I've spent 35 years in the same school district and some people will still treat you like (expletive)," Hepp said in May of 2012.
I will miss this guy, just like the thousands of kids who were taught by him. He was a light on dark mornings. He didn't care what his career record was, he did his best to help his kids learn how to win.
Mora said he told a former player about the death Wednesday and the now young man fell to his knees, broke down and wept for quite awhile.
A region legend had that kind of affect on kids, no matter what the John Harrell website says his record was.
Mike, I'm sorry I let everyone know about your generosity. I know you didn't want people to know. And I'm sorry we didn't get to speak one last time.
Maybe some day we can chat about that '98 team again while walking on golden lanes.
Rob Caldwell has seen the world.
And from different perspective than most people.
The 2003 Andrean and 2007 U.S. Naval Academy grad was an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. and saw tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A graduate student at Columbia University in New York, Caldwell will come home Sunday to be inducted into the Andrean High School Sports Hall of Fame.
"Truly a great honor to be selected and to be chosen at such a young age," Caldwell said. "When you think of the great student-athletes and coaches who are in it, they great people who have come out of Andrean, it is a humbling experience.
"I know Casey (Nowinski) from our team is in it and now (former Andrean football coach) Ted (Karras Jr.) is going in with me. That makes it kind of special."
Caldwell will graduate with an MBA in May and will be a senior product manager for Amazon.com in Seattle.
"It is a great challenge and great opportunity," Caldwell said. "Amazon is the leading online retailer and it is certainly different from anything I have done."
That may be an understatement when one looks at his career. He starred at Andrean and for Navy and was one of the nation's top tacklers in 2005 and 2006. Then came his tour of duty.
His job was to ride around in big vehicles and try to find roadside bombs.
"If you had told me when I was a kid I would be halfway across the world, I would have never figured it and I might have been a little scared," Caldwell said. "We were over there and we had a job to do. I wasn't scared because I had great men under me and we had the greatest equipment. Sure, it was dangerous, but we had lots and lots of training."
He loved his time at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
"The Naval Academy was a great place and I am very fortunate to have gone there and have the opportunity to play football," Caldwell said. "We and coach Paul Johnson got the program turned around. It was a great experience in the classroom and one the football field.
"I met so many people from so many different walks of life and from different parts of the country. It was unbelievable. As an 18-year-old kid from northwest Indiana, it was an eye-opening experience."
Caldwell said he is fortunate to have had a great education, which includes his stay in New York City.
"I am very fortunate that my parents (Debbie and Chris) sent me to Andrean so I could get a great college prep education," Caldwell said. "I had great teachers and a great academic environment."
MacKenzie Dunlap has yet to have a practice for the Kankakee Valley softball team and coach Brian Flynn. But the power-hitting middle infielder already has her college commitment confirmed.
Dunlap, a member of the Kougars girls basketball team, verbally committed to play softball for coach Kate Drohan at Northwestern.
Some standout performances with the Beverly Bandits 14-and-under travel softball team opened this door of opportunity. Two visits to Evanston was all the ninth-grader needed.
"It was awesome," Dunlap said on Tuesday. "The girls on the team and the coaches were great. I knew this was the place I wanted to play."
Ohio State had also offered Dunlap, and she was high on Michigan's recruiting sheet as well. But the honor roll student wanted to attend a college was a great academic history. -- Steve Hanlon
A simple twist of fate: Bowman Academy wide receiver Laron Golden verballed to play football at Northern Illinois in Sept. of 2012. The goal of playing for one of America's top mid-major programs was realized.
Then, Huskies coach Dave Doeren left to take the position at North Carolina State, and it was time for Golden to start the recruiting process all over again.
"I didn't fit what the new coaching staff was looking for in a wide receiver," said Golden, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound defensive back as well.
Golden, though, became his school's first Division I recruit in football on Wednesday when he signed on at Austin Peay University. He will be a roommate of Morton's David Wall.
"Everything worked out great," Golden said. "If one door shuts another one opens. I'm very excited about this opportunity and can't wait to get to Tennessee." -- Steve Hanlon
Big game cancelled: The Bowman Academy-Chicago Curie game that was supposed to be played in the Windy City last Saturday night never happened. And it had nothing to do with the weather.
"They didn't want to play us, so they dropped out," Bowman coach Marvin Rea said. "They moved up to No. 2 in the nation in some polls and they said playing us was too risky." -- Steve Hanlon
Twin sisters avoid tension: Chesterton freshman Andrea Hanas and her twin sister Alexys each played in the state golf finals last fall.
Things are different this winter. Andrea is swimming in the 50- and 100-yard free for the state No. 3-ranked Trojans this weekend at the Chesterton Sectional. Alexys has been unable to crack the starting lineup.
Andrea said Alexys' pet event is the 100 fly. Sophomore teammate Vanessa Krause owns the state's top-posted time in the fly (53.88).
The twins have an understanding which takes away the friction.
"We're kind of competitive, but we both have our strong and weak points," Andrea said. "(Alexys) does train hard.
"We're there to help each other out." -- Jim Hunsley
A list of area football players who have signed letters of intent:
Justin Green, RB/DB, Griffith ... St. Francis (Ft. Wayne)
Brendyn McKinnon, LB, Crown Point ... Butler
Jake Jatis, QB, Crown Point ... Cornell
Gelen Robinson, LB, Lake Central ... Purdue
Ryan Neal, DB, Merrillville ... Southern Illinois
Matt DeSomer, QB, Andrean ... Southern Illinois
Tylor Petkovich, TE/DE, Andrean ... Illinois State
Kenyota Rollins, DL, Portage ... Indiana State
Tyrie Fuller, WR-DB, Merrillville ... Siena Heights
Ronnie Giles, xx, Merrillville ... Siena Heights
Jonathan Black, DT, West Side (2011) ... Hampton
Antonio Smothers, LB, West Side (2011) ... Arizona
Lonnie Johnson, WR/DB, West Side ... Western Michigan
JonVea' Johnson, WR, West Side ... Toledo
Avery Nash, RB/LB, West Side ... DePauw
Charles Butler, OL/DL, West Side ... Wabash
Marcus Carter, OL/DL, West Side ... Kentucky Christian
Anthony Cherry, OL/DL, West Side ... Kentucky Christian
Jaquan Ross, DB, West Side ... Hutchinson Junior College
Nick Bokun, TE/LB, Hobart ... Penn
Drey Devereaux, WR/DB, Hobart ... St. Xavier
David Wall, DB, Morton ... Austin Peay
Laron Golden, WR/DB, Bowman Academy ... Austin Peay
Martayvieus Carter, RB/DB, E.C. Central ... Northern Illinois
Ricky Readus, DE, E.C. Central ... Sienna Heights
Deontae Rush, DB, E.C. Central ... Sienna Heights
Patrick Shaw, LB, E.C. Central ... Marian University
Anthony Hunt, RB, E.C. Central ... Marian University
Kyle Bishop, OL, Valparaiso ... St. Francis
Anthony Mayers, RB, Bishop Noll ... St. Francis
Miguel Barron, FB, LaPorte ... St. Joseph's College
Aaron Ellis, QB, Boone Grove ... St. Joseph's College
Evan Gill, DL, Chesterton ... St. Joseph's College
The weather postponed a lot of parties at area high schools on Wednesday, the NCAA's National Letter of Intent Signing Day. Instead of pomp and circumstance, most got a parking lot full of snow instead.
West Side had a great day as the Cougars had seven football players commit to play college football. Plus, two 2011 graduates also put their name on the paper for D-I offers.
But Mother Nature stopped the festivities.
West Side coach Jason Johnson said he spoke to many of the college coaches and they all told him to gather the paperwork on Tuesday night so he could fax it all in on time.
"I was at our school at 7:30 a.m.," Johnson said.
His son, JonVea', signed at Toledo. His nephew, Lonnie, signed at Western Michigan. Western planned to have a big announcement on a Detroit radio station, Johnson said, so he had to have Lonnie's paperwork in early.
Other current Cougars moving on are Avery Nash (DePauw), Charles Butler (Wabash), Marcus Carter (Kentucky Christian), Anthony Carter (Kentucky Christian) and Jaquan Ross (Hutchinson Junior College).
Also, 2011 West Side grads Jonathan Black (Hampton) and Antonio Smothers (Arizona) also joined the D-I club.
"Many years ago someone took a chance on me and that changed my life," said Jason Johnson, who played in the NFL. "So I am very proud of the kids in our program who did it in the classroom and on the football field to make their dreams come alive."
JonVea' Johnson spoke in a similar fashion.
"The snow didn't hurt anything because I've never made a decision this big," JonVea' said. "I don't know if a class has ever had this many college commits before. It's really exciting. I'm going to finish off the basketball season, get ready for track and then get my mind prepared for college."
One big story Wednesday was Andrean quarterback Matt DeSomer, The Times Offensive Player of the Year, signing to play football at Southern Illinois. DeSomer leaned toward playing baseball, 59ers coach Phil Mason had said, but the Class 3A state champion decided to play football with Merrillville's Ryan Neal.
Like West Side's party, Andrean's was postponed as well.
The other big winners in the area were Lake Central's Gelen Robinson, who will play at Purdue and E.C. Central's Martavius Carter, who will play at Northern Illinois. Andrean's Tylor Petkovich will play at Illinois State.
Former Gavit star pitcher Rob Clark has a lot of sports memories in his career.
He played in a Little League World Series, an IHSAA semistate, college baseball at Southern Illinois and minor-league baseball. He won an Oklahoma Class 5A state baseball title as a coach, and is also in the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame.
The 1978 Gavit grad, who was known as Robbie Clark, has a more recent non-sports experience that sticks with the Moore, Okla., resident.
Clark is a teacher at Moore High School and recalls the afternoon of May 20, 2013 when an EF5 tornado devastated the community, killing 25 people and injuring 377 others.
Rob and his wife, Penny, had left Moore High School early because they had the last hour free and they wanted to make sure their dogs were safe and check on family.
"We all knew it was coming, in fact, the school had to decide whether or not to release (students)," Clark said. "Their concern was the latch-key kids. They would be home alone in this."
Clark, Penny, niece Savannah, who lives with the Clarks, and their four dogs were in a shelter under his garage. "Sort of like those old bomb shelters from the '50s and '60s," he said.
"We were in there with the radio on and according to reports, it was supposed to hit our neighborhood," Clark said. "Somehow, it just missed us. We were down there and you could hear things blowing around and we wondered if our house would still be there. We were just lucky."
He said everyone who could helped, including his family.
"That could have been us — we know people who lost everything. Their houses, all that was left was a slab," Clark said. "We could have been the ones needing bottled water, food."
He remembers driving his truck in what was left of the town with Penny and Savannah in the back of it passing out food and water to the families that were sifting through the rubble for their belongings.
"You had no idea where you were at because what were once landmarks, were gone," he said. "I drove to what was 'ground zero' and it was devastating. No street signs. A 7-Eleven, just a slab where some people were killed when they sought refuge in there during the tornado."
Clark is the computer and business department chair at Moore High School. He won a state title at rival Westmoore High School in 1994.
He was standout pitcher for Gavit, leading the Gladiators to a 1977 semistate berth before falling to LaPorte. The 1978 team lost to Morton at Block Stadium in a regional game. He said he had great coaches in Tom Kujawa (baseball), Bob Bradtke (basketball) and John Quinn (football). Plus Itch Jones in baseball at Southern Illinois.
"All pushed you to get better and they worked hard themselves in preparing us," Clark said. "Coach Kujawa, he really got the most out of me. I remember he always told us the batting cage was open if we wanted to come and hit during lunch hour. I am so happy he is going into the (Hammond sports) hall of fame."
Clark said the memories of the 1972 Hammond Edison Little League team are as if they happened yesterday. He pitched in the semifinals as Edison beat Puerto Rico 10-7. Taiwan beat Edison 6-0 for the title.
"I remember that was the first time I ever was on an airplane and fans asking us for our autographs," Clark said. "We were 12 years old and to play in front of that many people was great.
"I remember we came back and the Cubs had us up to Wrigley Field and we met Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Glenn Beckert and Don Kessinger. Talk about a neat experience."
He said he enjoyed his stints with the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros organizations.
"I knew it was time to call it quits because I knew I wasn't going to make it to the majors," Clark said. "It was a great time, but you know when it is time to move on."
For seven years, Mike Juscik has been the head football coach at Bishop Noll. It ended Thursday when he turned in his resignation to his alma mater.
Juscik has taken the defensive coordinator's position at Concordia University in Chicago.
"I'm proud of all of my teams, I'm proud of the players," Juscik said. "Coaching football is a great way to teach boys to become men. I saw the players here learn that. They cared about each other. They cared about Bishop Noll.
"I hope 30 years down the road, when they look back at their time here, they'll be glad that Mike Juscik and our staff was their coaches."
Juscik was 28-43 in seven years on the job.
He coached college football for 11 years before returning to the Catholic school in Hammond. He coached at Franklin College for four years and at Saginaw Valley State for seven years.
In his first year in 2007, Noll went 5-5. This past fall, the Warriors also went 5-5.
But in 2012 Noll had eventual sectional champion Winamac on the ropes in the semifinal. The Warriors were stuffed on a fourth-and-1 in the final minute before falling, 14-10.
"There were a couple of times I thought we were going to break through," Juscik said. "But we worked hard, we competed and we were improving."
Juscik said the cupboard is not empty. There are seven returning starters on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Nick Thrasher returns along with wideout Jahari Davis, plus seven guys who started on the line on both sides of the ball.
"I've always believed God has a plan for all of our lives," Juscik said. "This is what He wants me to do."
For seven years Mike Juscik has been the head football coach at Bishop Noll. It all ended Thursday when he turned in his resignation at his alma mater.
Juscik has taken the defensive coordinator's position at Concordia University in Chicago.
"I'm proud of all of my teams, I'm proud of the players," Juscik said. "Coaching football is a great way to teach boys to become men. I saw the players here learn that. They cared about each other. They cared about Bishop Noll.
"I hope 30 years down the road when they look back at their time here, they'll be glad that Mike Juscik and our staff was their coaches."
Juscik was 28-43 in seven years on the job.
He coached college football for 11 years before returning to the Catholic school in Hammond. He coached at Franklin College for four years and at Saginaw Valley State for seven years.
Juscik's first year in 2007, Noll went 5-5. This past fall the Warriors also went 5-5.
But in 2012 Noll had eventual sectional champion Winamac on the ropes in the semifinal. The Warriors were stuffed on a fourth-and-1 on the 15 in the final minute before falling 14-10.
But it wasn't just about wins and losses to him.
"There were a couple of times I thought we were going to break through," Juscik said. "But we worked hard, we competed and we were improving."
Juscik said the cupboard is not empty.
There are seven returning starters on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Nick Thrasher returns along with wideout Jahari Davis, plus seven guys who started on the line on both sides of the ball.
"I've always believed that God has a plan for all of our lives," Juscik said. "This is what He wants me to do."
Former Andrean football coach Pete Billick was remembered by former players and colleagues as much for his love of competition, life and his players as much as for the Xs and Os.
Billick died Saturday at age 80.
"When you talk about the Andrean family, Pete was what it was about," Andrean athletic director Bill Mueller, a 1981 grad who played for Billick from 1978-80. "When I came back (to Andrean), he came up to me and made me feel at home.
"If we needed something, we would call him and he was very resourceful. He could get it done for us. He loved Andrean."
Tom Peller was a quarterback and a 1979 graduate. He said Billick influenced some of the things the Chesterton boys basketball coach does on the court.
"I remember the trust, confidence he had in me to let me call my own plays," Peller said. "We would meet and go over plays. I try to do the same with my players. We go over things in practice so they are able to make decisions in games."
Billick, a Gary native, was head football coach at Andrean from 1972-81 and was 58-42. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach under Nick Crnkovich.
Most remember Billick for overcoming throat cancer in 1972 and despite not having a voice, he was still able to coach.
"He never used that as an excuse," Crown Point athletic director Bill Dorulla, 1976 grad, said. "He was a good man who taught you more than football. A lot of people don't know that he was a Notre Dame grad and an architect.
"He was a tough guy and he taught you toughness."
Peller said he too had a lot of respect for his high school coach.
"I respected the fact that despite his handicap, he never let it stop him from coaching," Peller said. "He did not have a voice, but he was able to coach football."
Billick grew up on Gary's East Side in the Emerson neighborhood. He graduated from Chicago's Mount Carmel High School in 1951.
"He had a degree in architecture, but he chose to coach and teach at Andrean," Mueller said. "That says a lot right there about his love for working with kids."
He is survived by his wife, Mary Ann, and four children — Larry (Denise), Debbi (Greg) Ashcraft, Carol (David) Hamm, and Sandra (Jamie) Caylor. He is also survived by six grandchildren.
Maybe Tim Zasada is a walking course in positive thinking.
The 1990 Hammond High graduate and Calumet City native has not listened to naysayers as he made career moves.
He took over and rebuilt the football and girls basketball programs at T.F. North in Calumet City, and has turned the corner with Reavis' football program in southwest suburban Burbank.
"Not completely yet," Zasada said. "We are not where we want to be, but we are working towards it. We still haven't made the playoffs."
When Zasada left Hammond High after the 2000 season to go west a few miles to Calumet City, he didn't listen to the naysayers.
"They told me I was crazy for going to T.F. North," Zasada said. "They said, 'You are a good young coach and that is a coach's graveyard.' I didn't listen because I knew they could win."
He took over a program that had a 6-56 record over the seven years and had not made the Illinois playoffs since 1984. He went 4-5 his first year and his teams made the playoffs four out of his six years. He also was on Artie Rogers' staff for three years as offensive coordinator and the Meteors qualified for the postseason two of those three years.
He brought the graveyard to life.
"We got the kids to believe and I had a great staff," Zasada said. "We just worked hard and the kids bought into it."
The same formula worked when he took over a girls basketball program that had won four games the previous season. He built the program into a south suburban power.
When the Reavis job opened up, he went after it. The Rams were a football power in the 1980s, winning the Illinois Class 6A title in 1982, but were 1-17 the previous two years before Zasada took over.
"Again, people asked me why I would go there," Zasada said. "They said, 'You are are crazy.' Maybe I am, but instead of asking 'Why?' I came back with 'Why not?'"
This year when his team beat Oak Lawn, he took them out for tacos in Oak Lawn.
"I told them if we won, we eat tacos on 95th Street and we did," Zasada said. "We had some fun and you have to. Ten, 20 years from now, if you ask a kid how many tackles he made in the Oak Lawn game, he won't remember, but he will remember eating tacos in Oak Lawn with his uniform on."
He did the same thing at North when the Meteors beat their rival T.F. South in Lansing.
"We had the bus pull up in front of Beggars Pizza on Ridge Road and we got out and ate pizza in Lansing with our uniforms on," Zasada said. "Not in Cal City, but in Lansing."
With the North girls basketball team, he would order chicken wings after a big win. One player had to go home to study for a test, so Zasada took care of that.
"We got her to-go," Zasada laughed. "One of those Styrofoam cartons and we even put fries in it."
Zasada originally wanted to be a sportscaster and studied communications at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., but being the son of a Hall of Fame coach, he had the coaching bug.
"I was around such great coaches since I was a little kid," Zasada said. "At Hammond, I was too young for Bernie Krueger, but I heard a lot about what a great man he is. George Hall, my dad, Jim Sherer at Hammond High, Leroy Harwell in basketball. That rubs off on you and you can't help but learn from them. They were great coaches. They lived Hammond High sports."
He also credits his wife of 12 years Nancy for her support.
"Couldn't do it without here," Zasada said. "She is very supportive of me and being a coach's wife is a thankless job."
He also coaches his daughter, Zoe, in basketball and softball, and his son, Parker, in flag football and baseball.
"I love it," Zasada said. "Being a coach's kid, you got to love a chance to coach your kids."
It doesn't take much for Albert Evans Jr. to push himself for that extra rep on the football field or in the weight room.
The former Portage and Purdue gridiron standout doesn't give up easily. To him, it is nothing to push himself to the limit or beyond.
The Gary native not only continues to work out daily, but has also begun teaching personal training.
"I love helping people who want to get in better shape and help themselves," Evans said. "I am very fortunate that I have that opportunity to do this, coach and still pursue my dream."
That dream continues to be playing professional football. Evans had a tryout with the Miami Dolphins in 2012, and in the meantime has been an assistant coach at Homewood-Flossmoor High School under his former coach at Portage, Craig Buzea.
"Ever since I was a young kid, just like everybody else, my dream was to play in the NFL," the 24-year-old Evans said. "I am still young enough to pursue it and I just want a chance to show I can play whether it is the NFL, indoors or Canada.
"I am in good shape and I can take off in a minute for a tryout. Not everyone even has that opportunity, so you have to make the best of it."
Evans' dream began on the now-shuttered Aetna Elementary School's front lawn on Arizona Street and the playing fields behind the school. It continued when he went to Kennedy-King Middle School, then to Portage and Purdue.
He is proud of his degree in health and human sciences and has had something to fall back on.
"I would say my goal was to play Division-I football, then in college it was to graduate from Purdue and get my degree," Evans said. "I graduated with honors and that was important to me. With my parents (Albert Sr. and Loukecia), it was always school work first. My two sisters and me all graduated from college."
Evans has also worked with kids who have had troubled pasts and live in a group home.
"I saw they were not bad kids, but just had no guidance from adults," Evans said. "It made me feel very lucky and not take for granted what I have. I am very lucky that I have two parents who worked hard to give us everything."
He loves working with Buzea and is glad his former coach brought him aboard the H-F staff.
"I feel I can make a difference, help a young kid out because I am not that much older," Evans said. "I have gained a lot of valuable experience from Buzz and from coaching.
"The players know I played college ball and I will do what I can to show a kid what he needs to do."
It would've been real easy for Antonio Smothers to quit.
Mail it in. Let his dream die. Easy. Real easy.
Smothers graduated from West Side in 2011 after playing three great seasons at linebacker. He admitted he was lazy as a student his freshman and sophomore years.
He didn't qualify for a Division I scholarship, so he went to Arizona Western College. He was asked to redshirt. Things went downward from there, so he returned to Gary.
But his head wasn't down.
Calls were made and another chance at Scottsdale Junior College arose from the ashes. Smothers went back to the Arizona sun and started to shine. It was a PAC-12 light that was upon him.
On Wednesday at his alma mater, Smothers signed to play football at Arizona next fall.
"What kept me going was my faith in God and prayer," said Smothers, who is home for his Christmas break. "The only thing I've ever wanted to do was play football. I wanted to prove the coaches who cut me wrong."
Smothers played for Gene Johnson and Alexander Pratt at West Side, but current Cougars coach Jason Johnson was in the building during Smothers' senior year of high school.
Jason Johnson was also there when he returned from Arizona Western. He has two words for youngsters who want to play football on Saturdays in front of thousands. The first is tough.
"We've been through the process a lot this year," Johnson said. "We had a kid going to Ohio State (Lonnie Johnson), kids being recruited by Indiana (JonVea' Johnson), and it's all the same. D-I coaches come in here, but when they see the transcripts, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9, they get up and go to the next high school."
It doesn't matter how good you are on the grid. It's what you do in the classroom that matters most. And that will carry over once your playing days are done.
Smothers credited both Pratt and Johnson for letting him see the academic light, even though it was too late.
"Always keep your grades right," Smothers said. "If I could go back and do it right, I would."
But in this season of hope and gifts, coach Johnson's second word is just as important. Never give up on your dream, no matter how many times you get a jab in the jaw.
"Very few kids go this route and make it this big," Johnson said. "It shows a lot about what kind of kid Antonio is. He corrected what needed to be corrected. He worked hard, and his dream finally came around."
The emerging Cougars football program has meetings with parents to let them know what each student-athlete must do to be eligible for D-I football. Sadly, though, he said those meetings aren't well-attended by the guardians.
That has to change. It doesn't take a village. It takes a family.
How good is Smothers? He had offers from Miami, Kansas State, Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky and Cincinnati, among others.
His dream and fight to keep it alive is admirable, but what he did is rare, kids. Hit the books early, and your opportunities will explode.
Those who knew Eddie Herbert loved him, and the Hall of Fame football coach knew everybody.
"This is a man who touched many lives," said Tom Herbert, Eddie's son. "He was a great father, a great coach, a great football official and a great person."
Eddie Herbert passed away Monday. He was 95.
Herbert was a Big Ten football official for 20 years, working a Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl, and a basketball official for 15 years.
"He would take me to games and introduce me," Tom Herbert said. "That's how I got started (officiating) — working Catholic League games in Chicago."
Eddie Herbert graduated from Horace Mann in 1937 and was a football teammate of the legendary Tom Harmon, considered the greatest athlete to come out of Northwest Indiana.
Herbert starred at Indiana, then returned as an assistant coach at Mann before taking over as coach of the Lew Wallace program, where he never had more than two losses in any season.
"First of all, he was very, very knowledgeable about football, having learned a lot about the game from Big Ten coaches," Tom Herbert said. "And you knew you were in a program that demanded discipline and produced winners.
"Good athletes thrive in that environment."
Tom Herbert, a 1965 Wallace grad, played for his dad.
"He later helped out at Merrillville, Kankakee Valley and then Valparaiso after retiring. He was a fantastic coach," said Tom Herbert.
Former Purdue and New York Giants' star Jerry Shay, a '62 Wallace grad, said he loved playing for Eddie Herbert.
"Eddie was a great football mind, had a great way of handling people and was well respected in the Big Ten," Shay recalled.
"He was big on conditioning and endurance. As a team, we simply outplayed people. We outfootballed them, outsmarted them."
Tom Herbert followed in his father's footsteps as a back judge in the Big Ten for 30 years — the longest tenure of any conference official in that sport.
He currently is a replay official.
Visitation for Eddie Herbert is 1 to 4 p.m. Friday at Burns Funeral Home, 10101 Broadway in Crown Point, with a memorial service to follow.
Ten local football players were named first-team all-state by the Associated Press, but Class 3A state champion Andrean is conspicuous by its absence from the lists announced over the weekend.
"To me, it was extremely negligent in somebody doing their job," Andrean coach Phil Mason said. "If I had been contacted, I would have easily sent all the information. I'm not judging anybody else, but you're telling me not one kid, not even an honorable mention? You've got to be kidding. It's just amazing."
Runner-up Brebeuf was also without mention. Gibson Southern (four), West Lafayette (three), Evansville Bosse (three) and Mishawaka Marian (three) are among eight schools that had multiple players named.
"I was at the (state finals) press conference and there must've been 50 reporters there," Mason said. "We went 15-0. We won the state championship. We've had a kid (Matt DeSomer) recognized as a Mr. Football candidate. Shouldn't that be a red light that we have somebody who is supposed to be all-state? It's extremely frustrating."
Merrillville coach Zac Wells said he was not contacted either, though he had defensive back Ryan Neal named to the 6A team.
"People were more aware of him, and threw away and ran away from him at times," Wells said. "It challenged him to be patient, to let the game come to him. It showed the mark of a very mature football player to settle down and make plays. He was really good at helping the younger players learn their position."
Rensselaer (2A) and Whiting (A) each had two players selected. Defensive end Dalton Souders and kicker Luke Robertson were picked for the Bombers.
"Luke has aspirations of playing at the Division-I level," Rensselaer coach Chris Meeks said. "He was a major weapon for us with his kicking and punting. Dalton has great quickness and a knack for getting to the football. Even playing with a broken bone in his wrist and a cast, he was a great playmaker on our defense."
Oilers' offensive lineman Tom Dabertin and linebacker Jesse Maynard earned Class A first-team honors.
"Both were extremely dedicated and hard-working kids who represent all of the Whiting kids," Whiting coach Jeff Cain said. "Tom has led the offensive line in blocking percentage beginning his 10th grade year though this season. Jesse led our defense with 140 tackles. Our next highest total was 70 tackles. He played sideline to sideline."
Other area players chosen were Lake Central linebacker Gelen Robinson (6A), E.C. Central linebacker Martayveus Carter (4A), Hobart defensive back Drey Devereaux (4A), Morton defensive back Da'Mario Johnson (4A) and Lake Station defensive back Kyle Gooch (A).
"We're definitely hoping it opens the eyes of the younger guys, seeing the hard work Kyle's put in," Eagles coach Rich Lunsford said. "It can be a big catalyst moving forward, especially given the fact that he's coming back."
Neal, DeSomer, Robinson and West Side receiver Jon Vea' Johnson were tabbed for the Indiana Football Coaches Association Top 50.
QB—Zach Oakley, 6-2, 200, Sr., Penn
RB—Christian Perry, 6-1, 200, Sr., Southport
RB—Shakir Paschall, 5-9, 200, Jr., Carmel
WR—Austin Roberts, 6-2, 210, Sr., Carmel
WR—J-Shun Harris, 5-8, 165, Sr., Fishers
TE—Zach Gegner, 6-2, 215, Sr., Warren Central
OL—Jacob Vance, 6-0, 280, Sr., Center Grove
OL—Tyson Clark, 6-1, 285, Sr., Columbus North
OL—Jalen Allen, 6-3, 290, Sr., Indianapolis Pike
OL—Jimmy McCarthy, 6-5, 260, Sr., Hamilton Southeastern
OL—Drew Broughton, 6-3, 260, Sr., Fishers
K—Max Hernandez, 6-3, 245, Sr., Warren Central
DL—Albert Williams, 6-1, 245, Sr., Indianapolis Ben Davis
DL—Dillon Dallas, 6-1, 240, Sr., Center Grove
DL—Vic Roe, 6-3, 265, Sr., Carmel
DL—Gelen Robinson, 6-2, 235, Sr., Lake Central
LB—Brandon Lee, 6-3, 215, Sr., Lawrence Central
LB—Katrell Moss, 5-11, 215, Sr., Warren Central
LB—Drue Tranquill, 6-2, 205, Sr., Fort Wayne Carroll
DB—Alex Aukerman, 6-2, 205, Sr., Center Grove
DB—Mykelti Williams, 5-11, 205, Jr., Warren Central
DB—Jason Beck, 6-1, 195, Sr., Indianapolis Tech
DB—Ryan Neal, 6-1, 170, Sr., Merrillville
P—Matt O'Brien, 6-3, 190, Sr., Center Grove
Local Honorable Mention
QB—Jake Jatis, Crown Point; D.J. Wilkins, Merrillville.
RB—Bryant Isabell, Merrillville.
DL—Kenyotta Rollins, Portage.
K/P—Nathan Johnson, Portage.
QB—Collin Barthel, 6-7, 210, Sr., Indianapolis Cathedral
RB—Nate Deno, 6-1, 180, Sr., McCutcheon
RB—Ricky Brookins, 5-9, 185, Sr., Terre Haute North
WR—Terry McLaurin, 6-0, 190, Sr., Indianapolis Cathedral
WR—Devin Reece, 6-3, 188, Sr., Westfield
TE—Zach Saum, 6-4, 215, Sr., Indianapolis Cathedral
OL—Lukayus McNeil, 6-7, 282, Sr., Decatur Central
OL—James Officer, 6-2, 270, Sr., Indianapolis Cathedral
OL—Lucas Comer, 6-5, 255, Sr., Terre Haute North
OL—Zane Burtron, 6-2, 272, Sr., Westfield
OL—Tyler Richards, 6-3, 246, Sr., Whiteland
P—Joseph Schopper, 5-11, 180, Jr., Indianapolis Cathedral
DL—Jacob Robinson, 6-4, 230, Jr., Westfield
DL—Michael McQueen, 6-2, 225, Sr., Concord
DL—Junior Berry, 6-2, 300, Sr., Terre Haute South
DL—Donavin O'Day, 6-6, 220, Sr., Fort Wayne Snider
LB—Rahju Blackmon, 6-0, 225, Sr., Fort Wayne Snider
LB—Caleb Harper, 5-11, 195, Sr., McCutcheon
LB—Kyle Loechel, 6-3, 225, Sr., Indianapolis Cathedral
LB—Wyatt Stoelting, 6-1, 215, Sr., Terre Haute North
DB—Brandon Stout, 5-8, 165, Sr., Floyd Central
DB—Kai Stratten, 5-9, 190, Sr., Terre Haute North
DB—Kyle Carlson, 5-11, 165, Sr., Mishawaka
DB—Dallas Forler, 5-7, 170, Sr., Martinsville
K— Jake Shake, 6-1, 190, Sr., McCutcheon
Local Honorable Mention
WR—Logan Kaletha, Michigan City.
OL—Kyle Wilkinson, Munster.
DB—Anthony Lemon, Michigan City.
QB—Alex Cowan, 5-8, 160, Sr., Columbus East
RB—Markell Jones, 5-10, 200, Jr., Columbus East
RB—Avion Sullivan, 6-0, 190, Sr., Evansville Central
WR—Jordan Hogue, 5-11, 175, Sr., New Haven
WR—Tyler Walden, 5-8, 160, Sr., New Palestine
TE—Ryan Watercutter, 6-2, 190, Sr., Fort Wayne Dwenger
OL—Mirko Jurkovic, 6-5, 260, Jr., South Bend St. Joseph
OL—Evan Kuhn, 6-3, 255, Sr., Columbus East
OL—Matt McCann, 6-5, 280, Jr., Indianapolis Chatard
OL—Nathan Niese, 6-2, 240, Sr., Fort Wayne Dwenger
OL—Cal Scifres, 6-4, 284, Sr., Indianapolis Roncalli
K—Chase Sadler, 6-2, 180, Sr., Indianapolis Chatard
DL—Mike Annee, 6-1, 240, Sr., Indianapolis Chatard
DL—Noah Grable, 6-1, 220, Jr., New Palestine
DL—Nick Neu, 6-2, 216, Sr., Indianapolis Roncalli
DL—Ian Saylor, 5-11, 185, Sr., New Prairie
LB—Martayveus Carter, 6-0, 200, Sr., E.C. Central
LB—Sam Dwenger, 5-9, 180, Soph., Columbus East
LB—Piercen Harnish, 6-1, 215, Jr., Norwell
DB— Austin Bauer, 5-9, 155, Sr. Angola
DB—Drey Devereaux, 5-9, 160, Sr., Hobart
DB—Da'Mario Johnson, 6-1, 175, Jr., Morton
DB—Jordan Summers, 6-3, 190, Sr., Evansville Reitz
P—Josh Springer, 6-0, 180, Jr., Evansville Reitz
Local Honorable Mention
RB—George Fields, Lowell; Juan Sepulveda, E.C. Central.
TE—Nicholas Bokum, Hobart; TreQuan Burnett, E.C. Central.
OL—Christian Guerrero, E.C. Central.
K—Daniel Flores, E.C. Central.
DL—Brion Person, E.C. Central; Ricky Readus, E.C. Central.
LB—Kenneth Coleman, Morton; Dan Garza, Lowell; Noah Smith, Hobart; Patrick Shaw, E.C. Central.
DB—Aaron Hamm, Lowell; Jason Stewart, E.C. Central
QB—Parker Ronchetto, 5-9, 165, Sr., West Lafayette
RB—Carrington Crutcher, 5-8, 200, Sr., Evansville Bosse
RB—Maurice Woodard, 6-0, 190, Sr., West Lafayette
WR—Griffin Scheller, 6-1, 190, Sr., Gibson Southern
WR—Tanner Andrews, 6-3, 185, Sr., Tippecanoe Valley
WR—Jalen Robinson, 6-4, 190, Sr., Delta
OL—Andrew Hager, 6-3, 255, Sr, Fairfield
OL—Wade Fisher, 6-3, 265, Sr., Gibson Southern
OL—Cody Spurgeon, 5-11, 240, Sr., Jimtown
OL—Mitchell Ziliak, 6-2, 265, Sr., Gibson Southern
OL—Kirk Barron, 6-3, 290, Sr., Mishawaka Marian
K—Hunter DeWeese, 5-9, 155, Jr., Gibson Southern
DL—Jimmy Garcia, 5-10, 190, Sr., Charlestown
DL—Deion Couto, 5-8, 205, Sr., Evansville Bosse
DL—DeAngelo Crenshaw, 5-11, 220, Sr., Evansville Bosse
DL—Jade Doty, 6-0, 180, Sr., West Lafayette
LB—Jake Harper, 6-3, 230, Sr., Charlestown
LB—Casey Adams, 5-10, 150, Sr., Jimtown
LB—Alex Campbell, 6-0, 170, Sr., Eastbrook
DB—Mitch DeWitt, 5-9, 150, Soph., Fairfield
DB—Mason Lankford, 5-10, 175, Sr., Gibson Southern
DB—Alex Fuatavai, 5-10, 180, Sr., Delta
DB—Ryan Schafer, 6-0, 155, Jr., Mishawaka Marian
P—Michel Farkas, 6-2, 155, Sr., Mishawaka Marian
QB—Jake Purichia, 6-1, 205, Sr., Indianapolis Ritter
RB—Jaylin Bennett, 6-4, 216, Sr., Woodlan
RB—Nolan Goebel, 5-9, 175, Sr., Evansville Mater Dei
RB—Sammy Mireles, 5-8, 170, Sr., Elwood
WR/RB—Justin Brent, 6-2 , 200, Sr., Speedway
WR—Jake Hagan, 6-2, 190, Sr., Indianapolis Ritter
WR—Kyree Hollis, 5-11, 155, Sr., Indianapolis Ritter
TE—Jake Kinnaman, 6-5, 235, Sr., Sullivan
OL—Sam Burck, 6-1, 240, Sr., Indianapolis Scecina
OL—Colby Dunigan, 6-3, 265, Jr., Shenandoah
OL—Levi Massey, 6-3, 265, Sr., Evansville Mater Dei
OL—Ethan McKenzie, 6-5, 310, Sr., Heritage Christian
OL—Luke Shively, 6-2, 265, Sr., Tipton
K—Luke Robertson, 6-2, 220, Sr., Rensselaer
DE—Tyler Schrader, 6-0, 195, Sr., Lafayette Central Catholic
DE—Dalton Souders, 5-10, 165, Jr., Rensselaer
DT—Brient Hicks, 6-0, 230, Sr., Churubusco
DT—Brandon Tiassum, 6-4, 285, Sr., Park Tudor
LB—James Hadley, 6-5, 240, Sr., Indianapolis Scecina
LB—Aidan Michel, 6-0, 203, Sr., Southridge
LB—Josh Snider, 5-11, 195, Sr., Tipton
DB—Gatlin Kramer, 5-10, 160, Sr., Winchester
DB—Owen Mattingly, 6-2, 200, Sr., Providence
DB—Dylan Spivey, 5-8, 168, Sr., Triton Central
DB—Tanner Wroblewski, 6-5, 200, Sr., Paoli
P—Lucas Schlarb, 5-11, 160, Sr., Bremen
Local Honorable Mention
RB—Rylan Arihood, Rensselaer; Malachi Sala, River Forest.
OL—Noah Ahler, Rensselaer; Zach Keilman, Boone Grove.
DL—Niko Kilburg, Boone Grove; Alex Ballestas, River Forest.
LB—Austin Fleming, Rensselaer; Dalton Murphy, Rensselaer.
DB—Beau Boswell, Rensselaer; Ab Kiger, Rensselaer; Avery Walker, Rensselaer.
P—Brandon Laas, River Forest.
QB—Cody Howell, 6-1, 170, Jr., Tri-Central
RB—Spencer Gilbert, 6-0, 200, Sr., Eastern Hancock
RB—Chase VanSchoyck, 6-1, 225, North Central (Farmersburg)
WR—Trevor Loveall, 6-1, 175, Sr., Fountain Central
WR—Alex Hall, 6-1, 165, Sr., Tecumseh
TE—Jade Pickett, 6-3, 170, Sr., Tri-Central
OL—Darius Stanley, 6-1, 245, Sr., Tri-Central
OL—Caleb Jessup, 6-2, 235, Sr., Eastern Hancock
OL—Tom Dabertin, 6-2, 230, Sr., Whiting
OL—Brett Wyatt, 6-3, 255, Sr., Southwood
OL—Laz Conley, 6-1, 265, Sr., West Central
K—Cooper Henderson, 5-10, 175, Jr., Eastern Hancock
DL—Jake Smith, 6-0, 255, Sr., Southwood
DL—Rodney Oliver, 6-1, 245, Sr., West Central
DL—Nick Coultas, 6-1, 220, Jr., Perry Central
LB—Trever Lowe, 5-11, 170, Sr., South Newton
LB—Jesse Maynard, 5-10, 190, Sr., Whiting
LB—Seth Blunck, 6-2, 180, Sr., Tri-Central
LB—Austin Hoover, 5-10, 180, Jr., Sheridan
LB—Garrett Kelley, 6-0, 165, Sr., Tri-Central
DB—Zane Hayden, 5-9, 170, Sr., Linton-Stockton
DB—Dillon Bailey, 6-0, 200, Sr., North Central (Farmersburg)
DB—Kyle Gooch, 6-0, 195, Sr., Lake Station
DB—Joey Claypoole, 6-3, 185, Jr., Northeastern
P—Quentin Brown, 6-3, 190, Jr., Lutheran High School of Indianapolis
Local Honorable Mention
QB—A.J. Veloz, Whiting.
RB—Ethan Young, Whiting.
WR—Keegan Rooke, Whiting; Petruf Martin, Whiting.
LB—Keith Durbin, Lake Station.
MERRILLVILLE | Angelo Madrigal sat in a classroom Sunday with some Merrillville players who instantly recognized the fierce Valparaiso High School linebacker.
“What number were you?” one Pirate said.
“Thirty,” Madrigal replied.
“Thought so,” another Pirate answered.
However, Sunday’s session among other All-Area players hearing college football coaches pitch their programs and institutions wasn’t the first time Madrigal daydreamed about being instantly recognized for his football exploits.
“My goal since I was a little kid, like in Pop Warner, was to play college football,” Madrigal said. “That was my dream. So far it looks like everything’s going all right.”
The Valparaiso linebacker was among dozens upon dozens of local players circling the halls at Merrillville High School for Sunday’s Indiana Football Coaches Association Region I College Recruiting Fair, an annual tradition for three decades.
Class was in session as recruits from Lake and Porter counties, and even some schools outside of Region I, were present with parents and coaches pursuing college football. They spent brief intervals in classrooms with representatives from 30 colleges, hearing the pitch of those schools and exchanging information.
“It’s honestly amazing because schools and coaches are coming up to you and asking you about football, and you just think to yourself that you didn’t even know they had a team,” Madrigal said. “I think that’s pretty cool.”
Many colleges draw heavily from this recruiting fair annually. Schools come from throughout Indiana and Illinois and beyond, including Peru State in Nebraska and Ohio Northern. The majority are NCAA Division II, Division III or NAIA schools whose recruiting budgets don’t allow them to make myriad individual home visits like their Division I counterparts.
Toby Goetz, a 2005 Lowell grad and an assistant at Robert Morris University in Chicago, was one of the coaches talking to players about the finer points of everything from academic traditions to pregame rituals to the NAIA school’s facilities to the team’s pro-style offensive sets.
“I remember getting recruited, and once the D-I schools stopped looking at you, not a lot of other scholarship programs came into the area,” Goetz said. “I knew when I got to Robert Morris that there was a lot of talent in Northwest Indiana, so we really started hitting Northwest Indiana pretty hard.”
Goetz played running back at Saginaw Valley State in Michigan and eventually became a graduate assistant at Robert Morris, where the program just wrapped its third year of play at 7-4. He’s been a full-time assistant for two years now.
Players on Robert Morris’ roster this fall hailed from, among other places, Chesterton, Hobart, Merrillville and Michigan City. Most of those players were products of the IFCA Region I Recruiting Fair.
“This is perfect timing because if you haven’t gotten a scholarship to a D-I program now, chances are most of them have used their scholarship money up,” Goetz said. “Playing college football is not for everybody, but for the people it is for, this is a great opportunity.”
Merrillville coach Zack Wells said the robust turnout each year both by colleges and local players keeps the fair going as a popular way for schools and players to meet in person.
In an era rife with recruiting websites and venues for uploading game and films, the recruiting fair is good old-fashioned speed dating.
“Without the participation of the high schools we’d be in big trouble,” Wells said. “All these high school coaches come in here voluntarily on a Sunday morning and stay throughout Sunday afternoon, and they’re just trying to get the names of their kids out there and into the hands of the colleges. It says a lot about them. You can tell they’re about the kids.”
Now that he's a part of the training staff at Eastern Illinois, Brandon Platt can talk with professional and personal experience about the dangers of repetitive stress injuries.
The pain in Platt's elbow began around age 10. It flared up as he played baseball at Munster High School, and then went away with the chill of fall when he stepped onto the football field as a long snapper.
He was always involved in one activity or another growing up. As a teenager, it never occurred to him that the variety of muscles used participating in multiple sports was the reason his elbow pain disappeared.
When Platt graduated high school in 2005 and earned a spot on the Franklin College baseball team, he stopped playing other sports. It wasn't long before the repetitive motion of throwing the ball from behind the plate to the pitcher's mound or second base flared the pain in his elbow again.
He was playing in a summer league after his freshman year when he was asked to pitch.
"I had caught a nine-inning game before and someone asked me to come in to relief to pitch," Platt said. "Now I can say it, that a doctor has told me that everyone has X number of pitches in their arm. You can push that number backward and forward through strengthening, but eventually you're going to reach that number, whatever it is. That's when the powers that be tell you it's time to stop playing."
That summer was the first time Platt stopped playing. While pitching in relief, he tore the ulna collateral ligament in his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. He was out of commission for 18 months. It was another year before he could play at 100 percent.
Then his junior year he tore his labrum. His baseball career over, Platt dedicated himself to his major: athletic training.
The era of specializing in a a single sport has shortened the careers of athletes, says a doctor at Loyola University whose research focuses on how concentrating on just one sport impacts young players.
In a paper presented to the American Academy of Pediatrics in October, Loyola medical director of primary care sports medicine Neeru Jayanthi said that lower back injuries are the third most common injury among young athletes, and it comes from overuse and specialization in sports.
Some of what helps athletes improve in college is playing multiple sports through high school, Jayanthi said.
"We did some of our research here at Loyola, and talked to our athletes about how much training they did 10 years prior to college, and found that most of them played two or more sports for most of their career," Jayanthi said. "There is a risk of sports specialization. It's healthy to be diversified, to unload the body of focusing on one group of muscles."
While football, soccer and cheerleading are blamed for concussions, baseball, volleyball and tennis are the culprits of repetitive stress to muscles in the shoulders, elbows and back, according to research.
"You're also seeing it more in soccer players, and a lot more lately of overuse problems in legs in soccer players where they'll get stress fractures because they never stop running," said John Doherty, an athletic trainer and physical therapist at Munster High School who writes a regular column for The Times. "Soccer players finish their high school season and go to indoor soccer then to spring league.
"As bad a rap as football is getting at the high school level, and some deservedly so with too much hitting ... but at least those guys get a break. Their body gets a break in the winter. Football players spend their winter and spring in the weight room and running, not the same motions as during the season.
"The day of the three-sport athlete is done and it's a shame."
Though head injuries have drawn more attention in the last five years as research continues into the long-term impact of concussions, the effects of sports specialization create different risks to athletes, Jayanthi found.
In a paper presented in May to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, Jayanthi's research noted that the risk of stress fractures are higher in athletes who specialize in a single sport.
"If you do more than twice as much organized sports than fun play, you are at a higher risk," Jayanthi said.
"Unstructured play" can help combat this, Jayanthi said, because of the use of other muscle groups.
In the case of Platt, his pain at age 10 flared up in his late teens because it didn't have time to rest.
As a rule, Jayanthi recommends that athletes not participate in organized sports for more hours in a week than they are old. For instance, a 13-year-old should spend no more than 13 hours on a single sport, an 8-year-old, no more than eight hours.
"There will always be the examples of a Tiger Woods, who dedicated a lot of time to a sport and became famous," Jayanthi said, "but what you don't see are all of the players who burned out trying to do the same thing."
Sports specialization, however, has been cited to help athletes secure scholarships and professional contracts.
Keeping athletes healthy means working those muscles in other ways off the playing field.
"These are the kinds of things that athletic trainers can look at and assess when they see it in players," said Audric Warren, athletic trainer at IU Northwest and former athletic trainer with the Gary RailCats minor league baseball team. "What an athletic trainer would usually recommend is functional training, or working on multiple planes of motion. ... With the RailCats, I'd usually recommend for them yoga. You're using your postural muscles and it helps with overall general flexibility."
Seven years after his injury, Platt says that he is seeing the results of studies like Jayanthi's put to use.
"At the collegiate level, we're already seeing an influx of the importance of prevention," Platt said. "It limits the incidents of tendonitis and rotator cuff tears."
MERRILLVILLE | There were a lot of jaw-dropping runs and spine-tingling tosses. One after another after another.
A 60-yard pass. A 57-yard run. A 10-second dance around a collapsing pocket before a big throw or thunderous gallop. That is a quick resume of the three-year career of Andrean quarterback Matt DeSomer.
But the biggest play he ever made might have been missed by many. It's not on any highlight video.
There were about five minutes left in last Friday's Class 3A state championship game against Indianapolis Brebeuf. The 59ers held a one-point lead at the Braves' 48.
Facing a third and four, DeSomer, with his right ankle heavily taped, took off around the right end. Brebeuf players defended perfectly. Slowed by pain, DeSomer somehow got the edge, stiff-armed a foe away and dove ahead for a 5-yard gain.
The drive did not end up with a touchdown. But it did take three minutes off the clock. DeSomer finished the season with 2,512 yards passing with 35 touchdowns and 1,607 yards rushing and 19 more scores.
But it was the slow, tempered 5-yard run that helped preserve Andrean's 35-27 win, the school's first state title since 2004.
DeSomer is The Times Offensive Player of the Year for the 2013 season.
"I wasn't at my fullest," DeSomer said. "It was enough to get me through the game. It was good enough. I knew it was important to keep the drive going and the clock running."
The Lowell resident finished the state championship game 11-of-19 for 137 yards and one TD. He carried the ball 15 times for 62 yards and another score. But those who'd seen him all season knew he wasn't 100 percent.
"There were things I couldn't do," DeSomer said. "But I gave everything I had."
Andrean coach Phil Mason was pleased with his team's play and the way DeSomer led. His only misgiving was that DeSomer could not show his entire game in front of Indianapolis eyes.
DeSomer is certainly a finalist for Indiana's Mr. Football award, which is enhanced by him leading an undefeated state champion who was ranked No. 1 in the state, which is rare.
"Matt is a gamer, that's what that 5-yard run showed," Mason said. "A lot of plays helped us win that game, but that was a big one. I wish the whole state could've seen him at his best.
"But he has done what I think a Mr. Football has to do."
It wasn't like Mason and DeSomer were best buddies this past summer. There was some serious friction between the two. DeSomer missed much of the humid training, playing baseball instead.
When he returned in August it didn't take long to see No. 3 would be No. 1.
"The break helped me out," DeSomer said. "It gave my mind a break. When I came back I really wanted to play football. It was my senior year so I wanted to give it all I've got. The whole summer coach was worried about me not transitioning with the team."
But after the 59ers dominated Crown Point in the scrimmage, DeSomer walked over to Mason and slapped him on the backside.
"I told you I'd be all right," he said.
EAST CHICAGO | Martayveus Carter wanted to follow in Kawaan Short's shoes. One East Chicago football standout wore black and gold. The other one wanted to.
Short starred for Purdue before signing on to play for the Carolina Panthers.
Carter wanted to go to Purdue but never got an offer. Some suggested his 5-foot-11, 200-pound frame was too small for Big Ten play.
But when Northern Illinois pounded the Boilers, 55-24, on Sept. 28, Carter was happy. He is a recruit of the Huskies, now ranked 14th in the BCS standings.
NIU isn't too small to compete in the Big Ten.
"I wanted to go to Purdue, that was my dream school," Carter said. "That's where KK (Short) went. But after (Northern) whipped them, I was happy. That's what they get for not offering me."
While Short is now in the NFL, Carter far surpassed him at the high school level. He led E.C. to the school's first sectional and regional championship this fall. The "running back" is second in career yardage at 3,467.
He rushed for 1,164 yards this year, too. He also set E.C.'s career scoring mark with 53 TDs.
In many seasons Carter would've earned The Times Offensive Player of the Year honor. His resume supports that. But in 2013, he is our Defensive Player of the Year.
The other side of the resume certainly supports it.
He set E.C.'s career tackle record with 505, with 158 coming this season. And in the Cardinals two biggest postseason wins — Morton and West Side — Carter had a fourth-quarter interception that helped turn around the game.
"Marty is a football player," E.C. coach Stacy Adams said. "It doesn't matter what side of the ball you put him he's going to make things happen. Most people consider him an offensive player.
"I consider him a football player."
Carter said when he walked down the halls at his school this fall everyone talked to him about the TDs. No one talked to him about the big hits.
"It's all about scoring here," Carter said. "That's what everyone wants to talk about."
Carter and the other 28 seniors started the slow turn at E.C. four years ago. They hit the weight room. They didn't miss practice. They attended study tables.
And they thought about more than just scoring.
"Defense is a big part of the game," Carter said. "If you get an interception it motivates the team. It makes you get to a higher level. Scoring is fun, but I like to hit people, too.
"We did a lot more than any people expected this year. We made history."
MERRILLVILLE | The big noise and bright lights disappeared behind the closing door. With a thud, the sounds of celebration became distant.
Andrean football coach Phil Mason sat alone in a quiet, empty room.
He was in the underbelly of Lucas Oil Stadium last Friday afternoon. His head was down. elbows resting on his knees.
The pose was similar to two years earlier. The emotion was not.
"All you have to do is win by one point," Mason said after his 59ers beat Indianapolis Brebeuf, 35-27, to win the Class 3A state championship. Andrean (15-0) finished the season undefeated, ranked No. 1 in the state and it held the largest trophy in the land.
It is believed to be only the second time such a thing occurred in region history.
Mason is The Times Coach of the Year for the 2013 season. The honor comes with the lifting of a heavy, heavy weight.
After jumping out to a 21-0 lead, the Braves stormed back and Mason was heard walking off the field at halftime telling his wife, "We should be up 30,000 to nothing."
Instead, Andrean led 28-14.
The pressure that Mason felt came from what happened on Oct. 21, 2011. A huge favorite, the 59ers were upset by Wheeler 12-7 at Father Eckert Stadium. It was one of the biggest playoff upsets in region history.
After the loss Mason was found in an empty room an hour after the game staring into a bucket of pain. Hushed.
"Honestly, I think I got that monkey off my back last year," Mason said of his team that advanced to the semistate before losing. "We talked about the Wheeler game a lot last year. We didn't talk about it at all this year."
Still, for the ticket-buyers and abundant critics in the cheap seats, last Friday's win put the Wheeler loss into the ground. Finally. For good.
"We wanted to win this for coach," Andrean senior Ramon Guerrero said after the win. "This was for him."
"Coach has been a big part of what we've done this season," senior Adam Kopil said.
The emotion last Friday was not only about redemption. It also dealt with his family, a big part of Mason's life. He lost his father, Bruce, in the spring. It was tough.
Before the semistate win over West Lafayette, Mason gave a pre-game speech that lit a fire under his team before the 'Niners went out and won, 52-7.
When Brebeuf would not go away easily, one 59er after another made a play to save the day, the biggest coming from Donovan Chandler returning an interception 46 yards with 1:00 left in the game.
"Somebody was looking out for us," Mason said. "You gotta believe in something in this life."
When asked who that "Somebody" was, Mason responded quickly.
"You know who I think it was," Mason said.
Then, he walked into the empty room for some solace.
It seems like only yesterday that it was 100 degrees and we were walking from one grid to another taking mug shots for our 2013 football preview edition. The season's over already? Dang.
Well, here's my quick look back at the best and the worst of this great season. It was a lot of fun. Some great moments and a couple of above-par walking tacos. So here we go:
Oink, oink: Not that I like to brag or anything. No, not me. But when the 41st IHSAA state finals were completed, here's a quick recap of how your Times staffers finished in their weekly picks contest.
No. 1 was me. Going 4-2 last week completed my season at 201-46. Jim Peters also went 4-2 ending up at 196-51. Hillary Smith went 4-2 and finished third at 192-55. Al Hamnik went 3-3 and was beloved by Andrean fans, finishing at 186-61. Matt Douthett went 4-2 to finish at 185-62.
I'm sure our Pig Trophy is in the inner-office mail right now. I have a spot on my desk for it.
Best field to play on: This is easy. Lucas Oil Stadium. E.C. Central and Rensselaer finished one game short. Nonetheless gents and lads, great season. Don't let the final scoreboard define your life.
Andrean finished the job. The 59ers were the best team in Da Region all year. Congrats fellas. You earned it.
Worst field to play on: Oh, come on. I'm not going there again. Plus, it's dark. If I drove over there the lights wouldn't be working.
Best 25-second clocks: At every high school in the area.
Worst 25-second clocks: There's a tie, West Side and Morton. The Cougars lost any home playoff games, in part, because the play timer wasn't plugged in. But when they lost to E.C. Central in the sectional final at Morton, the 25-second clock wasn't working there. Almost cost E.C. the game, too.
Toughest boy player around: Hammond's Eric Schreiber Jr. The QB had more headaches than President Obama with healthcare. Yet he fought through and gave it everything he had. I wish you the best, young man.
Toughest girl player around: Easy, Lake Central's Jillian Doan. Came in and won a sectional as a kicker. Worked hard at her craft, too. But please don't tell my two daughters about playing football. I don't want to have that chit-chat. OK, I won't.
Best win: Boy, there sure were a lot of them. L.C. beating Merrillville in the 6A sectional final lifted a lot of pianos off a lot of backs. West Side-Morton (63-56) is the craziest game I've ever seen and I'm still rubbing Ben Gay on my neck. E.C. Central-West Side in the sectional final was riveting, a 46-44 win for the Cards. But what E.C. did the next week against No. 3 New Prairie, 38-37 in overtime, that is No. 1.
Worst loss: Same game. Same night. Why do crazy losses keep happening to Russ Radtke-coached teams? People in Griffith sure remember all of them.
Best officials: All of them. You guys do a great job.
Worst officials: Except for the guys working the Morton at West Side game. Come on.
The hot stove is starting to warm. Who is going where? Who is going to stay? What college is JonVea' Johnson going to end up at? Stay tuned to The Times and we'll answer all of these in due time.
QB, Andrean, Sr.
Bio: Not only did he lead the 59ers to the Class 3A state championship, he did it favoring a sore ankle. Still, he threw for 137 yards and ran for another 62 in leading the way. He did what his coach asked. He finished the season right, 15-0 and No. 1 in the state.
Stats: 132-of-162 for 2,512 yards, 35 TDs; 158 carries for 1,607 yards, 19 TDs
RB, Andrean, Jr.
Bio: The power part of the 59ers' high-flying offense was unbelievable between the tackles. With DeSomer slowed at Lucas Oil Stadium, Berg took over with 24 carries for 165 yards and two scores. He ran behind a great offensive line and had the same kind of toughness.
Stats: 200 carries for 1,288 yards, 22 TDs
RB, Lowell, Sr.
Bio: He finished his career with 3,627 yards in helping to return Lowell football to the top of the pack. If he keeps his feet underneath him, there are surely several colleges who will be interested in his services.
Stats: 209 carries for 3,627 yards, 13 TDs
WR, West Side, Sr.
Bio: Had one of the best seasons in region history on the perimeter. His speed was second to none, ran very good routes and had hands of glue in leading the Cougars to the Class 4A sectional final. This kid will be playing on Saturdays.
Stats: 71 catches for 1,412 yards, 23 TDs
WR, West Side, Sr.
Bio: No, he is not going to play at Ohio State, but he could have. The bigger, stronger version of his cousin, JonVea', chose to play at Western Michigan instead. Was a big part of the Cougars' turnaround season and should continue to shine.
Stats: 40 catches for 772 yards, 14 TDs; 62 tackles, six interceptions
OL, Andrean, Sr.
Bio: The 6-foot, 225-pound left guard pushed the pile with the best of them. Against Indianapolis Brebeuf in the state final he recovered an onside kick that could have changed the outcome. This kid had every right to hold the trophy as any other.
OL, Andrean, Sr.
Bio: Similar to Kopil, the same thing applies. The 6-foot, 230-pound center was an anchor in the middle. Yes, Andrean had great skill, but the 59ers won most of their games in the trenches.
OL, Munster, Sr.
Bio: The Mustangs' center had a great senior season, getting to the Class 5A sectional final. Was the anchor of an always-strong O line. For three years was the team's long-snapper and had 12 tackles on punt coverage.
OL, Merrillville, Sr.
Bio: The two-year starter at guard helped the Duneland Athletic Conference champs, graded out at 90 percent blocking with 12 pancakes. Was a big part of an offense that averaged more than 350 yards and 30 points a game. His size and strength opened up a lot of space.
OL, Whiting, Sr.
Bio: The last three seasons the Oilers have gone 25-7, and the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder was named the top O lineman each season. Whiting's offense rushed for 5,300 yards and threw for 5,600 in that time.
TE, E.C. Central, Sr.
Bio: One turnaround wasn't enough, so this 6-4, 220-pound end helped lead another one as the Cardinals won their first sectional and regional championships in school history. The 11 wins also set a record. His career numbers are sick, 1,660 yards and 26 TDs.
Stats: 35 catches for 876 yards, 12 TDs
K, Portage, Sr.
Bio: Dividing time between soccer and football, Johnson was a big weapon for an Indians offense that struggled putting the ball in the end zone in the early season.
Stats: 59.3 yards kickoff average; 20 touchbacks; 25-25 PATs; 8-13 FG (long 42).
Athlete, Whiting, Sr.
Bio: The Oilers went 25-7 with Veloz under center. The team MVP led a prolific offense that won the Greater South Shore Conference once again. Finished his career with 5,472 passing yards and 50 TDs.
Stats: 154-of-260 for 1,942 yards, 12 TDs
Athlete, Merrillville, So.
Bio: The super soph almost had folks forget about "Raspo." Had a very good season for a first-timer, leading a prolific Pirates offense to the top of the DAC. Great speed and a good arm.
Stats: 120-of-218 for 1,896 yards, 18 TDs
Athlete, Lake Central, Sr.
Bio: In an offensively-challenged autumn in St. John, this tough, grind-it-out runner could find a hole and take a hit. And make one, too. Was the one consistent aspect of that side of the ball each Friday night. Helped to lead the Indians to first sectional title since 1999.
Stats: 263 carries for 1,186 yards, 14 TDs.
DL, Portage, Sr.
Bio: The unblockable Rollins took up residence in opponents' backfields, fueling the revival of the Indians on the defensive side of the ball.
Stats: 95 tackles, 50 solos, 11 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks.
DL, Rensselaer, Jr.
Bio: Souders gained acclaim on ESPN for a double blocked punt. That only served to let the rest of us know what Bomber Nation already knew -- Souders was virtually unstoppable coming off the edge.
Stats: 74 tackles, 15 sacks, 10 tackles for loss.
DL, Lake Central, Sr.
Bio: The Indians were No. 2 in the state in defensive scoring average (11.58), and this interior lineman was a big part of that. This kid couldn't be moved, even with a lot of help.
Stats: 41 tackles, 11 sacks, 11 TFL
DL, Andrean, Sr.
Bio: The 6-foot-6 D-I recruit was a force for one of the area's top defenses. Had one sack and two tackles for loss in the 59ers' state championship win. An unbelievable talent with a serious upside.
Stats: 80 tackles, 8.5 sacks
LB, Lake Central, Sr.
Bio: The Purdue-bound standout and two-time Times Defensive Player of the Year had another great campaign, willing the Indians over Merrillville in the sectional final. Hits like a freight train and can do it all on that side of the ball. A true legend.
Stats: 100 tackles, 31 TFL, 11 sacks, 26 hurries
LB, E.C. Central, Sr.
Bio: The Northern Illinois-bound Times Defensive Player of the Year did it all. Led a great senior class that won the Cardinals' first sectional and regional championships. Finished one game from Lucas Oil Stadium.
Stats: 148 tackles, 33 TFL, 4 sacks, 3 INT
LB, E.C. Central, Sr.
Bio: How good was this kid? Finished with 450 tackles, second on E.C.'s all-time list. He set the school single-season mark with 212 takedowns. Playing very deep into the season got that number over 200.
Stats: 212 tackles, 26 TFL, 4 sacks
LB, Andrean, Sr.
Bio: This classic prep football player was the Class 3A state champ's tackle leader. The 59ers allowed only 15.27 points a game. He had a nose for the ball and could deliver a hit with the best of them.
Stats: 104 tackles, 2 sacks
David Wall *
DB, Morton, Sr.
Bio: Already has an offer on the table from Austin Peay. Was part of a defense that shut people down all fall, except for West Side. Wasn't the most athletic Governor in the backfield, but made plays with guile and a high grid IQ.
Stats: 77 tackles, 3 INT
DB, Merrillville, Sr.
Bio: This pick 'em DB already has one D-I offer on the table. Was a Top 50 player last season and ended his two years as a DB with 13 interceptions and more than 200 tackles. The kid was amazing for one of the area's top programs.
Stats: 67 tackles, 4 INT, 2 blocked kicks
DB, Andrean, Sr.
Bio: What a way to go out. His 46-yard interception return in the Class 3A state final with 1:00 left in the game secured the trophy. Was also in coverage in Brebeuf's last pass in the end zone. Led team with 10 tackles.
Stats: 141 tackles, 12 TFL, 5 INT.
P, Rensselaer, Sr.
Bio: In addition to an area-best 12 FGs, Robertson helped the Bombers win the field position battle with his deep kickoffs and steady punting.
Stats: 51-58 PATs, 12-19 FG (41 long), 47 punts-36.1 avg.
Athlete, Morton, Sr.
Bio: This two-way standout also rushed for 599 yards and nine TDs. Roy Richards said he was the best player on an eight-win team along with being the captain and team leader.
Stats: 71 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Athlete, E.C. Central, Sr.
Bio: Just another solid member of a great senior class. The DB racked up 262 career tackles and nine interceptions. Played on a very solid defensive team that made it to the Class 4A Northern Semistate.
Stats: 141 tackles, 12 TFL, 5 INT.
Athlete, Hobart, Sr.
Bio: This standout is getting interest from Princeton, Central Michigan and Indiana. Could do it all on both sides of the ball. Made a catch that left ESPN viewers in awe. But the DL's tackling did the same.
Stats: 49 tackles, 14 TFL; 23 catches for 381 yards, 8 TDs.
QB -- Ramone Atkins, West Side, Jr.
Bio: For the second year in a row he threw for 3,00 yards and helped lead his Cougars to the Class 4A sectional championship game.
Stats: 179 of 298 for 3,113 yards, 51 TDs
RB -- Bryant Isabell, Merrillville, Sr.
Bio: The DAC MVP on offense had a solid season, his first full-time in the Pirates' backfield. Averaged more than 6 yards a carry.
Stats: 209 carries for 1,271 yards, 16 TDs
RB -- Noah Smith, Hobart, Jr.
Bio: Getting interest from West Point, Miami (Ohio) and IU. A vocal leader with a big V. Shows his love of the game on every play.
Stats: 192 carries for 1,003 yards, 12 TDs
RB -- James Taylor, Bowman Academy, Sr.
Bio: Helped lead the Eagles to their first sectional championship game in school history. Had a monster game against Boone Grove to get there.
Stats: 147 carries for 1,184 yards, 14 TDs
WR -- Drey Devereaux, Hobart, Sr.
Bio: A big part of the Brickies' continued progress, also had 61 tackles on D. A great athlete. A great student-athlete.
Stats: 61 carries for 589 yards; 53 catches for 915 yards, 5 TDs
WR -- Antwan Davis, Lake Central, Jr.
Bio: With rotating QBs due to injuries, Davis emerged as one of the area's top receivers. Had a flare for the dramatic, too.
Stats: 56 catches for 724 yards, 5 TDs
OL -- Blake Beisen, Valparaiso, Sr.
Bio: The 6-foot-4, 305-pound man mountain graded out 95 percent in his blocking assignments.
OL -- Matt Keator, Chesterton, Sr.
Bio: A three-year starter, Keator eased the front line's transition to a new coach. His mobility was his greatest asset in the Trojans' read option scheme.
OL -- Nick Powell, Munster, Sr.
Bio: Coach Leroy Marsh calls Powell a "game changer" by his physical attributes on the line. Also had 62 tackles as DE.
OL -- Christian Guerrero, E.C. Central, Sr.
Bio: The Cards' most-improved player. Illinois, Kentucky, Louisville and Cincinnati all want to place him in JUCO for future speculation.
TE -- Morgan Kral, Crown Point, Jr.
Bio: The 6-foot-6 receiver was a matchup nightmare for most teams. Is extremely versatile and athletic. Expect big things next year.
Stats: 23 catches for 343 yards, 3 TDs
K -- Daniel Flores, E.C. Central, Sr.
Bio: Had one of the biggest extra points in E.C. history, beating New Prairie in OT in the regional.
Stats: 44-of-51 PATs; 2-of-3 FGs
Athlete -- Ethan Young, Whiting, Jr.
Bio: His strong running kept defenses honest, which opened up the passing game. And when that happened Young went wild.
Athlete -- Matt Myers, Kankakee Valley, Sr.
Bio: This two-way standout's numbers were down on defense because everyone ran away from him. Still, the Kougars had a solid season.
Stats: 8 catches for 258 yards, 3 TDs
Athlete -- Cam Bosak, Andrean, Sr.
Bio: When Berg got hurt in Indy, Bosak stepped in and did the job. Just what you expect from a senior leader who didn't complain.
Stats: 108 carries for 578 yards, 11 TDs
DL -- Shawn Streck, Merrillville, So.
Bio: Was the man in the middle of the state's seventh-best 6A defense. Every team had to account for him. And will continue to.
Stats: 62 tackles, 8 sacks, 17 TFL
DL -- Darius Niuamoa, Jr., Morton
Bio: The 6-5, 365-pound giant played tackle for half the season and nobody could run on the Govs. When he switched sides to guard, the offense took off. Extremely strong and athletic for his size, Niuamoa should be among the best linemen around in 2014.
DL -- Zach Keilman, Sr., Boone Grove
Bio: The verstaile two-way starter secured both front lines for the Wolves, who leaned heavily on their big boys en route to an 8-3 finish.
Stats: 21 tackles, 7 for loss, 4 sacks
LB -- Connor Andras, Crown Point, Sr.
Bio: The Bulldogs' most dominant and physical player in the middle of their D, had 220 tackles in three years as a starter.
Stats: 90 tackles, 14 TFL, 5.5 sacks
LB -- Dalton Murphy, Rensselaer, Jr.
Bio: Another member of a talented junior class, Murphy used his quicks to beat blockers and wreak havoc in backfields.
Stats: 91 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks
LB -- Jesse Ruiz, Lake Central, Sr.
Bio: Was the backbone of one of the best defensive units the area has ever seen. Was second in tackles and first in bruises.
Stats: 91 tackles, 25 TFL, 11 sacks
LB -- Matt Avery, Sr., South Central
Bio: Satellites coach Dan Klimczak considers Avery among the best true inside linebackers he's ever coached.
Stats: 94 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 fumble recoveries
DB -- Brian Rice, Lake Central, Sr.
Bio: Despite missing a few games due to injury, the high-character kid was still among the leaders in tackles.
Stats: 91 tackles, 2 INT
DB -- Andrew Ralph, Sr., Chesterton
Bio: Ralph consistently came up from his safety position to provide strong run support for an inexperienced Trojans' defense.
Stats: 51 solo tackles, 5 PBU
DB -- Da'Mario Johnson, Morton, Jr.
Bio: Expect to see this name on a lot of college boards. The Govs' top athlete did a lot of things very well.
Stats: 19 tackles; 5 catches for 103 yards; 4 TDs
DB -- Mike Hubbard, Bowman Academy, Jr.
Bio: The super athlete had a nose for the football. A big part of the Eagles getting to their first sectional championship game.
Stats: 67 tackles, 7 TFL, 5 INT
P -- Matt Childs, Munster, Jr.
Bio: A great field position punter, Childs also handled kicking for the Mustangs. Had a long of 63 yards.
Stats: 38 punts with 36.5 avg., 7 inside 20
Athlete -- Cody Maldonado, Portage, Sr.
Bio: The big play receiver was the Indians' only two-way starter, also holding down a defensive back spot, and was voted team MVP.
Stats: 38 catches, 489 yards, 9 TDs; 38 tackles
Athlete -- Dan Garza, Lowell, Sr.
Bio: Suffered dislocated elbow in first quarter of Week 1 and returned three weeks later. Led team in tackles.
Stats: 77 tackles, 15 TFL, 4 sacks
Athlete -- Josh Barajas, Andrean, Jr.
Bio: This kid put on a highlight show at Lucas Oil Stadium, making big stops early and a big catch late. Should be a monster next year.
Stats: 90 tackles
Duneland Athletic Conference
CHESTERTON -- Cole Teal, Jordan Dilosa, Tyler Gillespie, Avery Beeks; CROWN POINT -- Jake Jatis, Brendyn McKinnon, Cody Hipp, Tristan Peterson, Artie Equihua; LAKE CENTRAL -- Mitch Oskam, Alec Olund; LAPORTE -- Charles Salary, John Shuble, Matt Otwinowski; MERRILLVILLE -- Johnathan Robinson, Raqib Cox; MICHIGAN CITY -- Logan Kaletha, Anthony Lemon, Ryan Washington; PORTAGE -- Gage Pearman, Sam Schest, Lorenzo Wells, Chris Russell, Craig Weinberger; VALPARAISO -- Kyle Bishop, David Hittinger, Angelo Madrigal, Caleb Dawson.
Northwest Crossroads Conference
ANDREAN -- Tyler Bruce, Lukas Berber, Jhalon Beeks, Joe Rodish, John Albomonte, Matt O'Brien; GRIFFITH -- Kyle Buikema, Justin Green; HIGHLAND -- Jeff Pasquinelli, Josh Salazar, Matt Holl; HOBART -- Andrew Barras, Zach Satterfield; KANKAKEE VALLEY -- Al Berdine, Tim Schoonveld; LOWELL -- Aaron Hamm, Paul Mauer; MUNSTER -- Sam Helmer, Dillon Pierie, Dominic Lucito.
Greater South Shore Conference
BISHOP NOLL -- Elijah Golumbeck, Vernard Whitfield, Ahmad Rucker; CALUMET -- Noah Fowler, Nick Fowler; LAKE STATION -- Kyle Gooch; NORTH NEWTON -- Jono Bigger; RIVER FOREST -- Alex Ballestas, Brandon Laas, Malachi Sala; SOUTH CENTRAL -- Kyle Sturdy, Robert Miller, Alex Morrow; WHEELER -- Jake Bertucci, Kyle Burch, Riley Smith; WHITING -- Jesse Maynard, Kris Krzyston.
Great Lakes Athletic Conference
CLARK -- Justin Martinez, Maurice Dawkins; GAVIT -- Tashon Rogers, Andre Rhea; HAMMOND -- Eric Schreiber, Derrick English; MORTON -- Darius Niuamoa, Zach Ward.
LEW WALLACE -- Darius Mahome; ROOSEVELT -- Derren Payne; WEST SIDE -- Charles Butler, Khalil Upshaw, Paco Jordan, DeAnthony Hall.
BOONE GROVE -- Niko Kilburg, Austin Nelson; BOWMAN ACADEMY-- DeShawn Franklin, Izaiah Cole, DeShay Mukes, Malcolm Gibbs; E.C. CENTRAL -- Carlos Fernandez, Ricky Readus, Juan Sepulveda, Anthony Hunt; RENSSELAER -- Noah Ahler, Avery Walker, Beau Boswell, Austin Fleming, Rylan Arihood.
Jawann Turner said when he talks about the importance of academics to young people, he uses himself as an example.
Turner, a 2003 Hammond High grad and 2003 Times Tim Bishop Athlete of the Year winner, had football offers from Purdue and Wisconsin, but did not qualify academically.
"I use myself as an example all the time. I up front tell them that," Turner said. "You have to put the work in in the classroom. I learned the hard way, but I learned."
Turner not let that stop of his dream of playing college football or getting a college degree. He played at College of DuPage for a year, then at Rock Valley after DuPage dropped its program. He earned a scholarship at Indiana State, where he played football and graduated in 2008 with a degree in criminology.
"I had to work extra hard, but it was worth it to get into a (four-year) college and earn that degree," Turner said. "I tell the kids, that you have to get an education. No matter what, once you get that college degree, nobody can take it from you."
Turner was Mr. Everything at Hammond as he starred in football, basketball and track. On the track, the only races he lost was at the state meet in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. He was the most valuable player of the North-South all-star football game and he passed for 1,843 yards and 16 touchdowns, and rushed for 1,094 yards and 11 TDs in 2002.
In basketball, he averaged 23 points per game.
Now, he works with troubled youths and also is an assistant football coach for Roy Richards at Morton.
"One day, I hope to be a head coach," Turner said. "I listen and learn from Roy. He has taught me so much about the game. He really loves what he is doing and loves the game."
Turner said he loves his job because he feels he can make a difference in kids' lives.
"A lot of these kids, it is making sure they get their GED or you help them try and get a job," Turner said. "They need some guidance, some direction and someone who cares about them. At both places, we have people who care about helping the individual.
"I think a big part is showing you care and encourage them."
INDIANAPOLIS | As football moments go, it's one that Donovan Chandler and Andrean will never forget.
With the 59ers clinging by their fingernails to a 28-27 lead over rallying Indianapolis Brebeuf in Friday's Class 3A state championship game, the Andrean senior stepped in front of an Aaron Banks pass and raced 46 yards down the Lucas Oil Stadium sideline for a touchdown.
"There was an eye-opening moment when I was like, 'I've got this,'" Chandler said. "I read the route, he broke it off to an out, I jumped it, and took it in. Touchdown. That's all I was thinking. It's one of those stories I can tell my children (some day), 'Yeah, that was me.'"
Andrean (15-0) withstood Brebeuf's last-minute march to the 59ers 20, where, on the last play of the game, a Banks throw went off the hands of a leaping Chandler Glau and fell incomplete, sealing a 35-27 victory.
"He was wide open," Andrean coach Phil Mason said. "Any time you have a great season, somewhere along the line, something like that has to happen. Somebody was looking out for us. It was a great game to cap a classic season. At this point, it doesn't matter. All you've got to do is win by one."
That kind of drama sure seemed unlikely in the first half. When Matt DeSomer, playing on an ankle that hurt much more than he would ever let on, scored on a sneak at 7:12 of the second quarter, the 59ers appeared to be on their way to yet another postseason blowout, up 21-0.
"I thought we should've been up 35-0 at the half," Mason said.
The Braves scored twice in a span of 2:17 to draw within seven, then came within a missed extra point of tying the game when LeVante' Bellamy took a Banks screen pass 34 yards for a touchdown with 3:03 left. Down one, they reached the Andrean 33 early in the fourth before a Tom Albomonte interception.
"I think we got too excited, too big-headed," DeSomer said. "We relaxed. Donovan saved us. We weren't going to let any team stop us."
DeSomer still rushed for 62 yards and threw for 137, including a sweet 43-yard TD toss to Jamie Johnson, but it was Trevor Berg who did most of the heavy lifting for Andrean. Berg rushed for 165 yards and two scores on 24 carries until an injury sidelined him on the 59ers' final drive, an eight-plus-minute clock killer that ended on a narrow misfire from DeSomer to Tyler Petkovich at the Brebeuf 6.
"We put our defense in such a bind," Braves coach Mic Roessler said. "They did the best they could given what (DeSomer) is able to do. He's a phenomenal athlete, one of the best we've seen. It's hard to stop, with as many attributes as the kid had. They've got so many different weapons."
In a game that broke the 3A state championship record for total yards (815), Banks set the individual record for passing yards with 268.
"We were just trying to keep them in front of us, make a tackle and live for another day," Chandler said. "We kept saying, 'We've got to get a stop here, make a play,' and we finally did."
INDIANAPOLIS | As a lineman, Adam Kopil doesn't look for attention, nor the football.
Ready or not, the Andrean senior found the football at his feet on a kickoff after Indianapolis Brebeuf crept within 21-14 of the 59ers in the Class 3A state championship at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"I saw it coming toward the middle of my legs and I was praying to God that it would go in between and not hit me," Kopil said.
No such luck. The squib kick caught Kopil flush, but fortunately for him, it fell right at his feet and he plopped on top of it.
"It hit me perfectly," he said.
Ironically, during the week, Andrean coaches had switched Kopil, a wrestler, and Tyler Vode, a baseball player, on the kickoff front line, concerned that Brebeuf was going to target Kopil on the springy artificial turf.
"I noticed some of the players eying me," Kopil said. "I had a feeling. I was hoping it wouldn't but I had to be ready."
A few players later, Tyler Berg rambled 38 yards for a score that doubled Andrean's lead (28-14) going to the half.
"Normally, we tell them to get the hell out of the way," coach Phil Mason said. "There was no time. Adam did a great job."
GETTING IT DONE: Senior Ramon Guerrero was on the 59ers basketball team that lost to Fort Wayne Concordia 68-63 in overtime in the Class 3A semistate last March. That game that seemed in the bag got away. This one did not. He tipped the ball that John Albomonte intercepted in the fourth quarter. Guerrero had seven tackles in this game.
"This means everything," Guerrero said. "To be undefeated, to finish, for coach Mason, it means the world."
So are you ready for basketball practice on Monday?
"Not really, I'm a little sore," he said. Then, after a long pause, "But I'll be ready to help my team."
DOUBLE RINGS: Assistant coach Jeff St. Germain won his second title with the 59ers. He was on his brother Brett's staff in 2004 when Andrean won the Class 3A state crown. Assistant Bob Komara was on the 2002 state coaching staff, when the 'Niners lost to Indianapolis Chatard. His daughter, Kell Komara, advanced to state twice in both softball and basketball at Lake Central.
RECORD BREAKERS: The game featured 3A state records for passes attempted by a team (Brebeuf, 44), yards passing by a team (Brebeuf, 349), total offense by both teams (815), first downs passing (Brebeuf, 14), individual passing yards (Aaron Banks, 268), longest play and completion (Jack Roberts to Chandler Grau, 81 yards), receiving yards (Grau, 168).
"Our offensive line played extremely well," Mason said. "We wanted to stop the run (on defense) and force them to have to throw the football. That's basically what Northwest Indiana football is. They did a nice job of going to a quick passing game and staying patient. We were just trying not to give up the big play."
TAKIN' TO THE HOUSE: Had Donovan Chandler taken a knee somewhere on his interception return, Andrean would've likely knelt on a couple snaps and run out the clock, ending any last-minute drama right there. Chandler never gave it a thought.
"I was going to straight to the end zone for the points, Chandler said. "I was licking my lips."
The play was actually a missed route by Grau as opposed to a poor throw by Banks.
"It was supposed to be a wheel," Brebeuf coach Mic Roessler said. "He thought he was running an out and didn't come back on it."
IN NEED OF A MIRACLE: Former Hobart quarterback Josh Miracle is on the coaching staff of Class 5A finalist Westfield, which was no match for Indianapolis Cathedral.
INDIANAPOLIS | Dave Pishkur got to the parking lot just south of Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday morning. There were about 25 people in red and gold standing about.
An hour later things had changed. Dramatically.
“Look at it now,” said Pishkur, the Alumni Director at Andrean. “You can't even get into the tents.”
They got what they came for later in the day when top-ranked Andrean won the Class 3A state championship, 35-27, sealed by Donovan Chandler's 46-yard interception return with 1:00 left in the game.
Roughly 300 Andrean fans had fun at the alumni tailgate party before the 59ers' Class 3A state championship game against Indianapolis Brebeuf. Kids played bags. Adults ate food and partook in some pre-lunch beer.
And all were there to pull for their alma mater.
The event was put on by Kevin Wolf, a 1986 Andrean grad who lives in Fishers and provided the Coors RV that the tents were attached to.
“We wanted to give everyone one place to go,” said Wolf, a Merrillville native and a member of an Andrean business club located in Central Indiana. “It's been cool. I've seen people who went here in the 1960s, 1970s and 2000s. I've seen people here who I haven't seen in 30 years.
“It's a great time and we're all pulling for the 59ers,” he said prior to the game.
Former Andrean head coaches Brett St. Germain (Lake Central) and Ivan Zimmer (Calumet) were there, too.
Al Holok, a 1966 Andrean grad, was also there. The Indy resident played on three of Andrean's first four football teams. He was also the principal at Indianapolis Chatard.
Holok coached at Andrean from 1971 through 1975.
“They had some great games against Chatard,” Holok said of Andrean's losses to Chatard in 1997, 2001 and 2002 in the state championship. Andrean won its only state final in 2004 over Hertitage Hills.
“It's always great to see Andrean in the state finals,” Holok said. “I'm looking for another one here today.”
LAPORTE | Jake West did not die in vain.
He saved his sister, and he may save countless more, as his mother leads a mission to require heart screenings for students.
The 17-year-old LaPorte High School student died Sept. 25 of cardiac arrest caused by an undetected arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, which leaves the heart unable to pump blood.
West collapsed during Slicers football practice at Kiwanis Field and later died.
After his death, a doctor recommended the whole family get screened, said his mother, Julie Schroeder.
Testing detected a heart problem in his 20-year-old sister, Courtney West.
"Jake saved his sister's life," Schroeder said. "The doctor told us that."
Courtney West, a 2011 graduate of LaPorte High School and sophomore at Butler University, found out Nov. 1 she had a heart problem. Testing revealed arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, known as ARVD.
"I was totally dumbfounded," Schroeder said. "I did not expect it. I did not expect hearing the news about Courtney and, like her brother, she has been an athlete all her life and did not show any signs or symptoms of any kind."
Her daughter subsequently underwent surgery at a Chicago hospital and had a subcutaneous defibrillator implanted in her chest.
In October, IU Health LaPorte hospital offered free screenings to 250 local student athletes. At least three were referred for a follow-up, said Laura Gould, community outreach coordinator for the hospital.
"We have always offered our Heart Cart screenings, but now people are more aware of it," she said. "It's sad, but he brought awareness to many people. Because of him, we know of many students who will get proper treatment and care."
A Heart Cart for High Schools program includes screening for cholesterol, blood sugar, electrocardiogram and limited echocardiogram.
Schroeder, a physical education teacher at Olive Township Elementary School in New Carlisle, wants EKGs to go alongside school screenings for hearing, vision and scoliosis.
"It's a lifelong mission," she said.
A tribute to Jake will be shown today and Saturday at the state football tournament finals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis as part of the Indiana High School Athletic Association's fall sports wrap-up video.
A foundation in Jake's honor is in its infancy. It could be used to spread awareness about undetected heart problems, help fund screenings for students or work to make heart health checks mandatory at an age appropriate level, Schroeder said.
"I want to see these screenings mandatory for all kids, not just athletes," she said. "We're always treating things. Where's the prevention?"
Schroeder has gotten some peace from Jake's friends and girlfriend, who still visit and call her "Momma," just as Jake did.
"It's helping my healing process knowing that they feel comfortable coming to see me in our home," she said.
Schroeder calls the back room of her house the Jake room.
Before Jake died, family moments frozen in time hung on the walls and sat framed in shelves. Since his death, it has become a growing memorial.
One wall is crowded with posters of photo collages. There's a young Jake, dressed up for his mother and stepfather Brett Schroeder's wedding. An even younger, giddy Jake is airborne on a sled, launching off a snowy hill. And then there are the goofy faces and countless photos of Jake in a No. 26 football jersey or No. 23 lacrosse uniform for LaPorte High School.
Shelves display Jake's lacrosse gear, autographed footballs from local high schools and memorial T-shirts.
Cards – many from strangers – still come in the mail.
Schroeder picked up a plastic bin jammed with greeting cards she hasn't opened yet.
"Some day," she said.
The football team honored Jake at its clinic. Schroeder was invited but wasn't emotionally ready to go.
She carries some mementos with her, including a stuffed animal monkey Jake kept in his bed, a stuffed animal dog he gave her to protect her when he wasn't around and a heart he and his stepfather pounded out of metal and wrapped in wire that he gave his mom one Mother's Day.
Schroeder clings to moments that seem implausible as signs Jake is still around spiritually.
There's a framed picture in the Jake room that was snapped during a lantern release in his memory. The sky is black, and the lanterns seem to form letters and spell "Jacob" as they float away.
On a shelf sits a bottle of perfume he bought his mom for Valentine's Day. It's called Heavenly. Schroeder takes it as another sign.
Jake was a respectful, compassionate, gentle soul, his mother said.
She pointed to a picture of him wearing her beach hat and making a silly face.
"That's Jake," she said. "He made everyone laugh. He made everyone feel good."
Nothing trivial about this pursuit
By Adam Kopil
Andrean senior offensive lineman
We had our last pasta night on Wednesday so I wasn't very hungry on Thanksgiving. I only had one plate which isn't usual. The best thing I had was the mashed potatoes. In the past my brother and I made them. But since I had practice my mom and brother made them. I make pretty good mashed potatoes, but my mom's are better. She has more experience. I've avoided the pumpkin pie so far, but before the day is done I might fall to the temptation. I didn't watch much NFL football because I was too tired. We usually have an intense Trivial Pursuit game, it's a family tradition. Girls against guys. The guys win the most but the last couple didn't have a winner because we had big arguments. Practice went well. It was the seniors' last practice together. Ever. There was a lot of energy. I believe we're ready to go.
The Turkey Bowl
By John Zemkewicz
Andrean senior offensive lineman
Most of my life I've played football on Thanksgiving with a few guys on the team. We called it the Turkey Bowl. Alex Khadivar. Cam Bosak. Matt O'Brien. Luke Page. It was always a fun thing to do. It's a tradition. But it was much better practicing for a state championship on this Thanksgiving. We were at the Crown Point Dome. When we were younger we played tackle. Then, our dads started playing with us so we started playing touch. We got bigger and we didn't want anyone to get hurt. We had film at Andrean at 9:30 a.m. We practiced at the Dome from 11 a.m. To 1:30 p.m. I went home for dinner. I didn't eat that much. I'm hungrier for a state championship.
— As told to Times sports writer Steve Hanlon
MERRILLVILLE | Donovan Chandler saw as much of the field his first three seasons at Andrean as the press box announcer. It wasn't fun.
Others played. Chandler cheered.
Others scored. Chandler cheered.
Others won. Chandler cheered.
And, stayed the course.
"I stayed patient," said the 5-foot-7, 155-pound senior wide receiver. "I worked hard. I knew my time would come and I'd be able to show what I've got."
If ever there was a blueprint for a student-athlete whose picture isn't in the newspaper as a freshman this is it. Coaches could point to Chandler as an example of a strong mind and goal-setter who doesn't rely on minutes played as a junior.
Andrean coach Phil Mason certainly does.
"Things like this happen," Mason said. "Kids mature into their place on a team. We put him at slot receiver this year and he's done a great job. Fantastic. He's been a big part of what we've done this year."
Today at Lucas Oil Stadium top-ranked Andrean (14-0) will play No. 7 Indianapolis Brebeuf (11-3) in the Class 3A state championship game.
Last year Chandler wasn't on anyone's scouting report. With a team-high 41 catches for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns, you can be sure he is on the Braves' things-to-do list.
Born in Denver, Chandler moved back to his father's home. Chris Chandler played baseball at Lake Central back in the day, just like his son does at Andrean.
Andrean is scoring 44.6 points a game and has only given up 14.4 this season. The 59ers are rushing for 250.4 yards and throwing for 193.2 yards a game. On defense the 'Niners are giving up 104 yards on the ground and 110.7 through the air.
Brebeuf has averaged 246.7 yards a game on the ground and 135.9 by the pass, while giving up just 74.9 on the ground and 148.8 via the pass.
According to Jeff Sagarin's computer, though, Andrean's schedule rank is 116th in the state, wile Brebeuf's schedule was 55th in Indiana, meaning the Braves played better opponents.
Like Chandler did, every 59er will need to step up in order for Andrean to win its first state crown since 2004.
"I just have to do my part," Chandler said. "I know the guy next to me will be doing his job. That's what a team does. Everyone working together."
INDIANAPOLIS | Things looked bleak in 2009. The IHSAA was looking to move the state football championships potentially outside of Indianapolis. Or, outside. How would Andrean fans think of that today in Indianapolis.
Mittens. Ear muffs. Thermos of coffee. Forget the Class 3A state championship game, I'm going to the car. Where are the keys?
The high cost of holding the state finals at the then new Lucas Oil Stadium had the IHSAA looking for its leg warmers. But the Indianapolis Colts stepped up. Big time.
They became the sponsor of the IHSAA state football tournament in 2009. They will host the six state championships this weekend. And for the first time ever the Colts will present the Mental Attitude Award winner after each game.
"This place is amazing," Andrean coach Phil Mason said at Monday's news conference for the 41st state tournament. "You get the chills walking around in here. It's a great opportunity for the kids to play in a place like this."
In 2009 the Colts were the only NFL team to have a partnership with a state high school athletics administration. But people are looking to Indiana and these agreements are starting to pick up.
If you want more examples of how the Colts have shown great leadership in the growth of football in Indiana, remember the $10,000 they gave to West Side's football program? After all the problems this fall they should've written one for $100,000.
On Sunday, 30 Academic All-State football players will be recognized at the Colts-Titans game. Wheeler's Jake Bertucci and Lowell's Josh Bottos will be a part of this celebration.
Colts Director of Player Engagement David Thornton said, "On behalf of Mr. Irsay and the entire Colts organization, we applaud these distinguished student-athletes for their commitment to excellence. As achievers on and off the field, this select group of students represent tomorrow's leaders by their actions today."
I wonder if Andrew Luck will watch Andrean quarterback Matt DeSomer today? And take a few notes?
IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox knows his history. When the Colts arrived in Indy in 1984 it was a map of hoops crazy people. In the fall they were either Bears or Bengals fans. The Colts were so bad for so long. And that didn't change for awhile.
But when Peyton Manning arrived the franchise rose high. Now, they're doing the same thing for a lot of kids in the state.
"It was unbelievable to look at," Andrean's John Zemkewicz said of practicing in "The Luke" on Wednesday. "The place is awesome."
"It was like a dream," Andrean's Adam Kopil said.
The first time that football outdrew basketball in state history was in 1999-2000. Since that date football has been the big winner in numbers of tickets sold.
"Football continues to grow in Indiana," Cox said. "There's no doubt the influence of the Colts has been very important in that, at all levels. We are very pleased with our partnership with the Colts. We're looking forward to a great weekend of football this weekend."
Last week's record: 4-6
Eastern Hancock 35, Tri-Central 24
Andrean 38, Indianapolis Brebeuf 28
Indianapolis Cathedral 21, Westfield 17
Indianapolis Ritter 27, Tipton 20
Columbus East 38, Fort Wayne Dwenger 28
Carmel 21, Warren Central 14
Last week's record: 4-6
Tri-Central 21, Eastern Hancock 13
Indianapolis Brebeuf 24, Andrean 21
Westfield 17, Indianapolis Cathedral 14
Indianapolis Ritter 28, Tipton 21
Columbus East 18, Fort Wayne Dwenger 14
Carmel 21, Warren Central 20
Last week's record: 9-1
Eastern Hancock 35, Tri-Central 21
Andrean 35, Indianapolis Brebeuf 21
Indianapolis Cathedral 24, Westfield 21
Indianapolis Ritter 28, Tipton 27
Columbus East 30, Fort Wayne Dwenger 27
Carmel 28, Warren Central 21
Last week's record: 6-4
Eastern Hancock 41, Tri-Central 24
Andrean 35, Indianapolis Brebeuf 22
Indianapolis Cathedral 28, Westfield 17
Tipton 27, Indianapolis Ritter 21
Columbus East 34, Fort Wayne Dwenger 27
Warren Central 17, Carmel 14
Last week's record: 6-4
Eastern Hancock 32, Tri-Central 24
Andrean 36, Indianapolis Brebeuf 16
Indianapolis Cathedral 28, Westfield 14
Indianapolis Ritter 31, Tipton 16
Columbus East 24, Fort Wayne Dwenger 14
Carmel 21, Warren Central 19
Indiana's first high school football state finals organized into six classes and using success factor kick off this morning at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and if you didn't know better, you might not even notice a difference.
With five Catholic schools and big-school powerhouses like Warren Central and Carmel among the 12-team field, you could say that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Maybe so. Then again, maybe not.
While Cardinal Ritter and Cathedral of Indianapolis and, to a lesser extent, Bishop Dwenger of Fort Wayne have been regular invitees to the party in the capital city, 3A foes Andrean and Brebeuf are not. The Niners are making their first trip since 2004, which was its third final in four years. The Braves, much to my surprise, have never played for the big trophy before.
Ritter, the Class A champ in 2009 and 2A runner-up last year, is back for another try in 2A. Cathedral, the 4A titlist four times in the last five seasons, proved to be formula proof, rolling through its first 5A playoffs junket. Dwenger returns to Indy for the third time since 2008.
Conspicuous by their absence this season are Lafayette Central Catholic and Fort Wayne Bishop Luers. Central Catholic, bumped to 2A this season after four straight A state titles, was edged in the sectional by Tipton on the Blue Devils' path to the final game. Luers, likewise the winner of four consecutive state championships, joined the 3A ranks and didn't survive the sectional, though their classification probably didn't matter this year, which saw them go winless until the playoffs.
The Class A match-up features newcomers in Tri-Central and Eastern Hancock. The pairing probably wouldn't have happened if Central Catholic and Indianapolis Scecina, the A runner-up in '11 and '12, were still in the same bracket. I don't see the Knights dropping back down, so the littlest class could see the greatest year-to-year fluctuation, devoid of a Catholic powerhouse.
Columbus East, stymied by Cathedral in three 4A semistates, three times in the last five years, rolled through its Irish-less postseason this fall.
When the 32 largest schools in 5A became 6A this season, it opened the door for a school like Westfield, long a little brother of neighboring Carmel, to enjoy some tournament success, coming through the comparatively weaker northern half of the state.
With Carmel also positioned in the northern portion of Indiana for 6A, the class became what many of us figured it would — the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference Invitational. The last time the mighty MIC didn't play for a title? Try 2001. Get used to that, at least until Cathedral moves up within the next few reclassifications.
Arguments remain about the super class and the private schools. Let's face it, some people just aren't ever going to be happy, no matter what's done. Based on a one-year sample, I think the changes have been good.
Then again, you're not about to hear me complain. I went to Andrean.
That's a check, mates
Andrean senior offensive lineman
We went and practiced at Lucas Oil Stadium on Wednesday. It was amazing. I wasn't expecting to drive through the tunnels. They were huge. You could drive a semi through them. The bus ride down was fun. We were having some intense chess matches. We downloaded it on our phones. Matt DeSomer is in first place. I won my first match and have a couple more to go. There was some occasional stealing of people's bags and hiding them. After practice there was a lot of sleeping on the way home. DeSomer is No. 1 in chess, I'm No. 1 in taking a nap. I slept most of the way down there.
No, I've never seen anything like that
By Andrean senior offensive lineman John Zemkewicz
Wednesday was exciting. We went to Lucas Oil Stadium and they drove us right down to the loading dock. We went straight to the locker room. They were amazing. No, I've never seen anything like that. No never, absolutely. We got there a little early so we were able to take some pictures and take it all in. Looking up at the dome was pretty amazing. I've watched the Colts on TV, but being out there was not the same. The turf was nice, really nice. We had to get used to the balls that we're going to use in the game. All in all it seems like a much faster surface.
-- as told to Times sports writer Steve Hanlon
MERRILLVILLE | The pressure was everywhere. You could cut it with a knife.
This was the kind of sweat that hangs on a program that hasn't won a big game in a long time and the stress on a coach trying to shed the underachiever label.
Andrean cleats clicked along the asphalt of the west end zone at Father Eckert Field last Friday. They moved past the spot on the turf where an old friend once sat and watched them play.
While some waited for another indigestible defeat, the polar opposite did. The 59ers ran onto the field with a singular purpose and a pounding pulse that beat as one.
The players, to a man, gave credit to their coach, Phil Mason, for giving a pregame speech that prepared them for the game against West Lafayette and beyond.
"Coach was very emotional," senior offensive lineman Alex Khadivar said. "He spoke about leaving a legacy."
"Everything he talked about was about his dad," senior linebacker Noah Pavlina said. "We wanted to win it for him. We wanted to win it for his family."
In the aged Andrean locker room, Mason spoke to his team, before they rushed out and beat West Lafayette, 52-7, in the Class 3A Northern Semistate, setting up Friday's state final against Indianapolis Brebeuf at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Mason's words echoed in the dank room.
"I was with him when he died," Mason said of his father. "I held his hand."
Bruce Mason died in April at the age of 90. The 59ers remembered him in a wheelchair in the end zone closest to the school. He cheered them on loudly until failing health kept him at home.
"To a lot of people Bruce Mason is just a name on a tombstone," his son told the team. "If you walk by in the cemetery who really knows who he is? You guys have a chance to make a mark and not be just another name on a tombstone."
Bruce Mason grew up in Lansing. He went to World War II and brought home a wife from England, Marge. He worked at Pullman Standard. Like others from his generation, he raised four kids.
He was thankful for the blessings in his life.
"I remember him in the end zone," Pavlina said. "He was in his wheelchair. He was cheering for us. He was our biggest fan."
Only Valparaiso (12-0) in 1975 and Hobart (14-0) in 1987 have won a state championship from the region undefeated. Top-ranked Andrean has a chance to put something special on its stone.
"My dad was a great man, but only his family and the people who knew him knew that," Mason said. "That's what I want these kids to realize. You don't get an opportunity like this very often.
"This is their chance to leave a legacy."
The players said his speech threw off any pressure and allowed them to play free and easy. To emote in such a way connected with these teenage boys whose world lets them think they will live forever.
"Football is an emotional sport," Albomonte said. "You can't play it if you're not emotional. Bruce gave us what we needed to get to state. Now, we have one more game."
Knute Rockne, move to the side, please.
"It's crazy," Pavlina added. "We have one more game and we want to win it for him, for coach. After listening to the speech we all realized one thing.
"We are now (Bruce's) legacy. He lives on in us."
MERRILLVILLE | All eyes will be on Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend as six state football champions will be crowned.
But for Andrean coach Phil Mason, his chance at the Class 3A state championship against Indianapolis Brebeuf started last summer in a hot and musty weight room.
That was the place, when no one else was looking, that his offensive line became what they've been this season: dominant.
"People are saying we're a 3A program that's like a 5A," Mason said. "We are a big, physical team. We have 10 kids who can bench press over 300 pounds. That comes from hard work in the summer in the weight room."
Andrean's offensive line of (RT) Matt Kish, (RG) John Daugherty, (C) John Zemkewicz, (LG) Adam Kopil and (LT) Alex Khadivar does look like a 5A team.
Kish is 6-foot-2, 230. Daugherty is 6-foot-3, 230. Zemkewicz is 6-foot-0, 230. Kopil is 6-foot-0, 225. Khadivar is 6-foot-3, 245.
"Their offensive line is big," Brebeuf coach Mic Roessler said at Monday's state news conference. "That concerns me. They have some great skill players, but the size of their line makes it even tougher."
Andrean was third in their class in the state, scoring 44.6 points a game. Do the lineman ever wish they could score a touchdown and get their name announced over the PA?
Instead of, "Holding. Off sides. False start," Khadivar joked.
"I got a few of those," Kish said. "I don't think about scoring. If we score then we know we did our job."
"I love the satisfaction of getting pancakes," Khadivar said. "TDs are nice but that's not my forte."
The 59ers are one win away from becoming the third region team to win a state championship undefeated. Playing in Indianapolis on an NFL field only brightens the lights that are already on this team, this game.
Kish understands this and is ready to make another big block.
"We have to humble ourselves," Kish said. "We're part of something that's much bigger than you."
If you want to play, go outside
By Andrean senior offensive lineman Adam Kopil
We practiced in the Crown Point Dome on Monday. The air always feels thinner inside. It makes my throat burn and the rubber gets into your shoes. But we have to get ready. We're going to Lucas Oil Stadium (today) for our practice. The Crown Point Dome is weird because there's a baseball diamond in the middle of it. When planting on that stuff my foot seems to slide a little more. But everyone's quicker on it, even offensive linemen. I would hope my 40 time is under 5.
By Andrean senior offensive lineman John Zemkewicz
Walking into school was amazing on Monday. Right when you walked in the building there was a big sign that said, "Win State." There were a lot of congratulations from the students and teachers. The football moms decorated our lockers. They showed a slide show at lunch on Tuesday with highlights of the season. I had a chicken wrap, some chips and a water. Oh, and a cookie. The whole atmosphere is, well, big. We had mass on Tuesday and they talked about what we did and what we're hoping to do on Friday.
-- as told to Times sports writer Steve Hanlon
MERRILLVILLE | Phil Mason stood outside the end zone on Nov. 5, 2004. He saw the ball cut through the cold night air. He saw the catch that cemented a legacy.
Andrean quarterback Tommy Finn tossed a "Hail Mary" pass into the Griffith end zone on a 4th and 26 pass play which set up a fake extra point and the two-point conversion that gave the 59ers a remarkable 36-35 win.
Finn would lead Andrean to the Class 3A state championship a few weeks later, Finn passed for 170 yards and one score and rushed for 95 yards and two more touchdowns in the 59ers' 21-14 win over Heritage Hills.
"I remember the reaction of the Griffith players after the play," Mason said. "It was devastating. What a play. Probably one of the greatest plays in region postseason history."
Mason was at Wheeler then. Now, he's at Andrean, leading the 59ers into Friday's Class 3A state championship game against Indianapolis Brebeuf. So he's heard the question.
It's the same one fans all across the area have heard all autumn long. Who is the greatest Andrean quarterback? Finn or current senior Matt DeSomer?
In that glorious '04 campaign, Finn went 225-of-366 for a state-best 3,238 yards for 36 touchdowns. He rushed for another 795 yards and 13 TDs.
Heading into Friday's game, DeSomer is 121-of-199 for 2,374 yards and 24 scores. He's rushed the ball 143 times for 1,546 yards and 18 TDs.
Both wore No. 3 and both were and are fantastic.
"They are very similar," said Munster coach Leroy Marsh, the only Northwest Crossroads Conference coach to go up against both players. "Both are great athletes who lead their teams well."
Marsh said that his memory tells him that DeSomer has more foot speed, but Finn threw a better ball on the move. He said DeSomer is a more pure passer, but Finn was right up there.
Marsh said that Finn's team played a tougher schedule because some of the teams this year's Andrean team played were better nine years ago. Marsh also thought Finn's team had a tougher postseason test.
Finn was a volunteer assistant coach on Andrean's baseball team when DeSomer was a freshman. They talk from time to time.
"Matt has made vast improvements each year," Finn said. "Last year he was an athlete. This year he's an athlete who can throw the ball and read defenses much better."
Both players come from rich football families. Finn's brothers, Billy and Bobby, played quarterback on Broadway, too. Bobby led the 59ers to the 1997 Class 3A state game, a 27-23 loss to Indianapolis Chatard.
Tommy Finn was on three Andrean state finalist teams but didn't win until his senior year.
DeSomer's uncle, Ryan King, played on Lowell's 2005 Class 4A state championship team. His brother, Bryan, was on the Red Devils' 2009 state runnerup team.
"Yeah, I've heard it," Matt DeSomer said of the debate. "I honestly don't remember (Finn). I know I went to the Lowell-Andrean games in middle school, but I wandered off and didn't watch the games.
"Once I got here everyone talked about Tommy."
In Finn's 21-14 win over Heritage Hills, he passed for 170 yards and one score and rushed for 95 yards and two more. His 10-yard run with 56 seconds left in the third quarter was a game-changer.
Now, it's DeSomer's turn to see what he can do on the state's biggest stage. And Finn has some advice.
"It's such a neat time in the life of an 18-year-old," Finn said. "Savor the moment. Enjoy it. Then, go out and play your game."
DeSomer said he's ready.
"I didn't get here by myself, it took the entire team and I have to thank my family," DeSomer said. "We haven't been in this game since 2004. Our team is hungry. We want to finish this season off like we should."
There will be a long line of people in the Finn camp. And another line of folks following DeSomer.
Mason has a good way to sum up the argument.
"To be honest, what does it matter?" Mason said. "Both are great quarterbacks and both are great young men. Tommy calls me all the time and asks if there's anything he can do to help. I know they send texts to each other.
"At some places you have some jealousy between teams from different eras. We don't have that here. I know the 2004 team is rooting for us to go down there and win it."
MERRILLVILLE | Jamie Johnson thought about the game of football as a lad. He wondered what it would be like to play the game. But his experience with the game was like a kid at a candy store, looking in from the storefront window.
"I wasn't allowed to play," Johnson said. "My mom wouldn't let me. She said it was too tough and she was afraid I would get hurt."
Like kids in a store full of sugar looking for someone to buy them chocolate after mom said no, Johnson went to his grandfather, Ron Jenkins. He spoke to Nicole Robinson about the venture and mom gave the green light.
No one is happier about this decision than Andrean football coach Phil Mason.
"It's been huge," Mason said of his 5-foot-7, 155-pound wide receiver. "You can't single cover him. And if you do he's gone. So if you give him the coverage he deserves, that opens things up for the rest of the guys on the offense."
Heading into Friday's Class 3A state championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium, Johnson has 25 catches for 692 yards and nine touchdowns. Top-ranked Andrean (15-0) will play No. 7 Indianapolis Brebeuf (11-3). Kickoff is at 2:30.
Johnson played baseball growing up and does at 5959 Broadway, too. But he didn't get football whiskers for the 'Niners until this season. His first day of football was when he was in the eighth grade.
"I always watched my friends play and they never got hurt," Johnson said. "It took me a little while to figure it out."
Mason said two years ago coaches had to point out what the route was because he didn't know.
"I've gotten a lot better this year," Johnson said. "I used to run just straight fades. Now, I can run any route pretty well."
After a postseason on mud, Johnson is pumped to play in the home of the Indianapolis Colts.
"This has been extremely fun," he said. "We're all close. This is a brotherhood. We can't wait to get down there. I believe I will be one or two steps faster on the turf. I hope I can blow by everyone."
INDIANAPOLIS | Phil Mason was talking about finding a bucket. Mic Roessler was talking about trying to kick “the bucket.”
That sums up the talk on Monday morning at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis as the IHSAA held its news conference for the 41st state football championships.
Top-ranked Class 3A Andrean (14-0) will play No. 7 Indianapolis Brebeuf (11-3) on Friday at “The Luke,” with kickoff at 2:30 p.m.
“I've got to find a bucket,” said Mason, Andrean's coach. “(Matt) DeSomer has a tradition of throwing up before every game. He's done it his whole career before kickoff. This place is too nice, so I've got to find a place for him to do that or find a bucket.'
Mason was in awe walking into the building that Peyton Manning built, the home of the Colts.
“Overwhelming is the word,” Mason said of the palace in which his team will compete, “and super gratifying. When I think about all the hours we've put in, all the sacrifices our family's made, it's amazing.
“But really, it's all about the kids. It's special for them. We want to finish. That's what this week is all about.”
This is the first time since 2004 that the 59ers have returned to the state finals, and is Mason's first trip.
For Roessler, the Braves' coach, everything is new. Brebeuf won its first sectional, regional and semistate titles this year. While he had wins on the biggest stage at Indianapolis Cathedral as an assistant, this is all new for his players.
“They have a tremendous quarterback and we have to find a way to contain him,” Roessler said of DeSomer. “We haven't been able to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback this year. We're going to have to find a way to disrupt him a little bit.”
In Saturday's 35-14 win over Gibson Southern in the South Semistate, Brebeuf's LeVante' Bellamy was the star. The junior running back had touchdown runs of 60, 11 and 67 yards. The D-I recruit carried the ball 11 times for 176 yards with only one second-half carry.
Linebacker Stu Dillon picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown in the first minute of the game.
Brebeuf also recovered two first-half onside kicks, and Adam Iffert returned a punt early in the second quarter 49 yards for a score.
But the Braves were penalized 15 times for 140 yards.
“That's been our Achilles heel all year,” Roessler said. “We can't do that against a team like Andrean.”
Bellamy has carried the ball 250 times for 2,273 yards for 35 Tds. Quarterback Aaron Banks is 135-of-236 for 1,825 yards and 14 scores. Jack Roberts (46 catches for 851 yards and 5 TDs) and Chandler Grau (21 receptions for 379 yards and 3 TDs) are the leading receivers.
Dillon leads the defense with 162 tackles, with 32 coming for loss.
“We spread the ball around a lot,” Roessler said. “We have some good athletes. (Bellamy) is a big part of what we do, he's a great young man and a good football player.
“(Andrean) is built to stop the run. We may have to find some different ways to move the ball."
Friday's game was unbelievable. It was a pinch-me moment. I had to remind myself to stay humble.
We have to finish this thing off. Everyone was talking about playing at (Lucas Oil Stadium) “The Luke.” It hasn't set in yet. It won't until we practice there on Wednesday.
I got a ton of text messages on Friday night after the game. My whole family. I had cousins in Wisconsin who watched it online. I got calls from college coaches. It was amazing. — As told to Steve Hanlon
After we won on Friday, it was chaos once the students hit the field. It was the greatest moment of my life so far.
In the postseason, the offensive linemen have made a tradition of going to Hooters after each win. We had a few appetizers. As far as the waitresses go, they had their better squad working after we beat Jimtown. We won the semistate and we got their JV, but that was all right.
It's hard to comprehend what's going on right now. Since Andrew Luck got to the Colts I've watched a few more games. Now, we get to play there. It's like the Coliseum. The Roman one. — As told to Steve Hanlon
EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. | When an offense piles up yardage and touchdowns the way Mount Carmel does, the defense can be overlooked.
That's a mistake. Edwardsville knew how tough the Caravan defense was going into Saturday's 7A semifinal game – the five shutouts this season stand out on the Mount Carmel record – and still it didn't help. A trio of Edwardsville turnovers, two of them triggered by Caravan defensive back Deontae Brown, was as big a factor in Mount Carmel's 34-7 victory as anything the offense created.
For the second straight week, the Caravan defense held their opponents to numbers that resemble a typographical error. Edwardsville, which entered the game undefeated and left it a stunned 12-1, was held to 3 yards rushing and 142 passing. Mount Carmel (12-1) has allowed only 14 rushing yards on 38 carries in the last two weeks.
Brown's interception of Edwardville quarterback Dan Marinko set up the second Mount Carmel touchdown in the game's first six minutes. He ran to his right, went into the sky for the ball at the Tigers' 33, and returned it to the 7. Four snaps later, Jimmy Mickens was in the end zone and it was 13-0.
"I just wanted to make a play on the ball," Brown said of his pickoff.
He came up as big on the ground in the second quarter, when the Tigers were threatening to score. D'Anthony Knight crashed off left tackle from the 2, and not only never crossed the goal line, but lost the ball. It ended up in the hands of Brown.
To Caravan coach Frank Lenti, stopping Marinko was the key to the outcome.
"He could play for anyone in our half of the state," Lenti said of the stylish junior. "We had to control him."
Blitzes accomplished that in the early going, though Marinko was able to move the ball, passing for 100 yards, most of it with the wind, in the first half. Yet, in the crunch, Mount Carmel's players made the necessary plays.
"We always tell our kids we're one play away," Lenti said, noting the adage applies to both good and bad.
As a result of all the good plays, it was 21-0 before the first quarter ended. Bad plays in the form of penalties for a late hit and pass interference, the latter as imaginary as a warm day in November, contributed to Edwardsville's only scoring drive, a five-play, 53-yard march late in the third quarter. Marinko hit Darius Crochrell on a 1-yard toss for the score, but after that, it was once again all Mount Carmel on both sides of the ball.
As a result, the Caravan is within a victory of its 12th IHSA state championship. The Caravan, which faces Lake Zurich (12-1) is 11-5 in title games, including last year's championship in Class 8A, the 10th crown earned by a team guided by Lenti.
"For once, we were an underdog," Lenti said, noting Edwardsville's No. 1 seed.
He'll be able to say that again this week, for Lake Zurich is the top see in the other bracket, but the defensive numbers tell another story.
"We play Mount Carmel football," Brown was saying as his teammates whooped it up in front of a hearty number of Caravan fans. "We just attack."
MERRILLVILLE | Holding the opponent to 13 positive plays in its first 28 is pretty ominous.
Scoring on the first six drives and punting for the first time when 6:04 remains in the third quarter, a nine-year dearth of semistates is about to end.
Finding another gear defensively in a perfect season in which exactly one of 14 foes was within sniffing distance of a lead, it’s time to book passage and lodging in Indianapolis.
Andrean led 35-0 at halftime and did everything right, playing its most complete meaningful playoff game in a decade to keep the red and gold train rolling to the state finals for the first time since the 2004 team won it all, beating visiting West Lafayette 52-7 Friday night to win the Class 3A northern semistate at Father Eckert Stadium.
“We definitely came in with a chip on our shoulders after last year (a home semistate loss to Fort Wayne Luers),” senior tight end and linebacker Tylor Petkovich said. “We’ll finally be able to look up in a game and not see sky. We’ll see the dome.”
The 59ers (14-0) will play the winner of today’s southern semistate final between Brebeuf (10-3) and Gibson Southern (13-0) at 2:30 p.m. Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Overall it’s the fifth state finals appearance for Andrean, which broke through for the first time in 1997.
“We’re going to the dome; it’s a pretty big win!” said Andrean coach Phil Mason, who earned his first trip to state in 13 years as a head coach.
Andrean senior quarterback Matt DeSomer has only lost eight games in his career, and after favoring an injured ankle early in the week, he came out determined to show that his wheels were ready and he wasn’t going to lose a second consecutive home semistate.
DeSomer ran for a 39-yard touchdown on Andrean’s third play from scrimmage and finished with two rushing TDs and two passing, getting a big boost from the team’s defensive effort.
Andrean tallied 449 yards, compared to 154 for West Lafayette (12-2).
“Offensively I think we just dominated,” DeSomer said. “The line did their responsibilities, and everyone did what they were supposed to do. Basically it’s a balance. If you focus on one person, the others will do something.”
Andrean’s scoring ledger was once again populated by the same menagerie of names.
Trevor Berg ran for 135 yards on 22 carries and scored twice. Donovan Chandler and Jamie Johnson each caught a touchdown from DeSomer, and backup Cameron Bosak led the second string on a touchdown drive that finished with his rushing TD.
Mike Gore added a late field goal to finish with 10 points kicked.
The Andrean defense had several killer Bs, including Josh Barajas, who had a big interception in the second half and was part of a unit that held West Lafayette star Maurice Woodard to 73 hard-earned yards on 30 carries, including the shutout-breaking touchdown, his 35th of the season, in the final minutes.
Barajas is playing in a state championship game for the second consecutive year, but he was playing at Mount Carmel last year when the Caravan won state in Illinois.
“I’m just blessed with this opportunity,” Barajas said. “Hard work pays off. It’s a great team. I’m speechless.
“We don’t back down from any fight. They had a great player, but our defense was great.”
FORT WAYNE | East Chicago Central’s dream season didn’t come with a perfect ending.
The Cardinals, who reached the semi-state for the first time in school history, fell behind early and lost to Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, 38-0, in the Class 4A Northern Semi-State on Friday night at Zollner Stadium.
“Things didn’t go our way tonight,” E.C. Central coach Stacy Adams said. “We didn’t hit. We didn’t tackle. We didn’t complete passes. We just didn’t mesh today. We just didn’t have it tonight.”
The Saints (11-3) took control of the game with a three-touchdown effort in the second quarter.
Ryan Cinadr capped a 10-play, 67-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run. A successful 2-point conversion put Dwenger ahead 17-0 with 7:50 left before halftime.
The Cardinals (11-3) turned the ball over on downs on the following possession when quarterback Carlos Fernandez was stopped on 4th-and-1.
Five plays later, Ryan Watercutter hauled in a 27-yard touchdown pass from Mike Fiacable on 4th-and-10 to increase Dwenger’s lead to 24-0.
After an E.C. Central turnover, Dwenger needed just three plays to find the end zone again. Fiacable threw another touchdown pass, this time finding Gabriel Espinoza on a wheel route for a 59-yard score to make it 31-0 at halftime.
The Cardinals had five possessions in the second half, with four ending in interceptions. E.C. Central’s final drive of the game ended with Cardinals being stopped on 4th-and-goal from the 2.
“I told the team at halftime that we could do two things: we could start running the ball and get out of here early, or we could keep fighting,” Adams said. “The answer they gave me was to keep fighting.”
Martayveus Carter finished with 91 total yards for E.C. Central. Juan Sepulveda added 51 total yards. Fernandez threw for 88 and added 28 on the ground.
“I grew a lot in my football career,” Sepulveda said of the season. “I became better at the things I wasn’t good at, and I am a better football player now.”
E.C. Central’s seniors finished their high school careers with 32 wins in four seasons.
“We set a lot of records at the school and these players did a lot of great things,” Adams said. “I just feel great for these kids because they will remember it for the rest of their lives.”
TIPTON | It wasn’t how Rensselaer wanted its season to end Friday night at Tipton.
It was all Blue Devils as the hosts shut out the Bombers 27-0 in the Class 2A northern semistate to earn a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium for next week’s state championship.
Tipton (11-3) will face Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter for the 2A state title next Saturday.
“Tipton is very deserving, a great football team,” Rensselaer coach Chris Meeks said. “I think they will challenge for that state championship next week.”
It was Rensselaer’s third loss at the semistate in three tries, all coming since 2009.
“Our big-time players just didn’t step to the plate tonight,” Meeks said.
The Bombers (11-3) had their best opportunity in the opening quarter when they recovered a muffed punt at the Blue Devil 30-yard line. A holding penalty in the backfield thwarted the scoring opportunity.
“We needed to capitalize right there and put pressure on them,” Meeks said. “All night long we didn’t put pressure on them at all.
“I thought our defense hung in there, and they just wore down at the end. Offensively, we didn’t make the plays we needed to.”
Tipton’s dual threat quarterback Austin Hooker ran for all four touchdowns and the 6-foot-2 senior finished with 79 yards rushing to go along with 162 yards passing.
“It wasn’t so much me coming back, but the whole team just changed their mindset,” said Hooker, who missed three regular season games with an injury including a 9-7 loss at Rensselaer on Sept. 13. “That’s what really did it for us tonight. (Rensselaer) is a great team, a great history with their school.
“They don’t give up until the time is out.”
Hooker scored his first of two first-half touchdowns with an 11-yard run with 2 minutes and 23 seconds left in the first quarter. Nate Hein’s 38-yard run set up the score.
Tipton scored again when Hooker snuck in from a yard out for a 14-0 count with 3:20 left in the second quarter.
Rensselaer moved the ball on the ensuing drive all the way to the Tipton 18-yard line before a sack pushed it back. Luke Roberton’s 43-yard field goal attempt was just short with eight seconds left in the first half.
Hooker added TD runs in each the third and fourth quarters.
Rylan Arihood finished with 95 yards rushing, including a 55-yard run in the second half.
Dylan Wright added 55 yards rushing but competed just 2 of 22 passes for 24 yards.
“We have a whole lot of underclassmen playing tonight,” Meeks said. “There’s a lot of juniors, and they got a taste of it. There’s no doubt in my mind we’ll be back here next year.”
TIPTON | Apparently, Rensselaer's going to have to keep pounding on the semistate door before the Bombers can knock it down.
For the third time in five years, Rensselaer got within one game of the state finals, and for the third time in five years, the Bombers were emphatically turned away.
"That seems to be the formula for us," said Rensselaer coach Chris Meeks, who had four teams lose in the regional before they were able to break through in 2008. "It takes a few losses for us to get there. We're going to work hard to get there. There's no doubt in my mind we're going to be back next year. It's our goal to get back and go beyond next year."
Rensselaer's skill players, whose talents weren't too evident in Friday's shutout loss, are largely juniors.
"(Tipton) had a go-to player," Meeks said of quarterback Austin Hooker, a 220-pound battering ram. "We're looking for a go-to player. We didn't make the plays we needed to. We had open passes. We had a lot of drops."
The Bombers will return with high expectations in 2014, something the current senior group didn't have when they started out.
"I remember when we came into high school, after the seniors almost won semistate," senior Beau Boswell said. "Everybody thought Rensselaer football was going to be nothing after that. We loved that we were the underdog. We worked hard to try meet those standards."
Winning a sectional and a regional, I'd say they came pretty close.
"It's a group that's come a long way," Meeks said. "They made the most of their talents, above and beyond. They can be proud of what they've done for Rensselaer football."
That provided a little solace for Boswell, standing about 20 yards from a Tipton victory celebration.
"It's tough right now, especially getting this far, knowing it could've been us going to Indy and it's not," said Boswell, who has likely played his last football game. "But I don't want one less to affect our season. We had a great season. They just got the best of us. It hasn't hit me right now, but it will pretty soon."
As for the legacy of Rensselaer's senior class, which numbered 11, it will be one of leadership.
"It's a big thing we try to instill," Boswell said. "This was one of the best classes to ever come through Rensselaer as far as leadership. We had great team chemistry as well. They're going to be good (next year). They've got some real quick athletes. They just need to get in the weight room. Like the coaches say, you can't control how big you are, but you can control how big you get."
Trevor Hill, Rylan Arihood, Dylan Wright and Ab Kiger will comprise a solid core of skill players on offense in 2014. The zero under the guest side on the Tipton scoreboard should provide them with plenty of motivation.
"We've got a lot of kids who were playing their first full season of varsity football," Meeks said. "There's no doubt in mind they're going to step up and play at a higher level next year."
FORT WAYNE | Nearby, the Fort Wayne Dwenger Saints were jumping up and down, screaming about advancing to the Class 4A state championship game.
But E.C. Central coach Stacy Adams would not be out-shouted. He gathered his Cardinals together and had a few words for the world to hear.
“Keep your head up,” Adams said. “You've had a fantastic year. Yeah!”
In this current age where many believe that winners are all that matter and everyone else is a chump, you're wrong. Dead wrong.
The biggest winner at Zollner Stadium wasn't Dwenger, who won 38-0. It was a group of guys from East Chicago who made it this far. If Dwenger wins state next weekend, it won't be as big as what E.C. did.
Not even close.
The seniors, all 28 of them, gathered at the left goal line. Some were on their hands and knees weeping. Again, Adams screamed loud enough for all to take in.
“Lock up. Arm and arm. Grab your brother.”
They started walking. Surely thinking about a listless 5-5 campaign when they were freshman. Their feet slugged through the mud, the conditions that Martayveus Carter said was difficult to get traction in. The 7-4 sophomore season surely drifted through their minds.
Tears were streaming down every cheek at midfield, where memories of 9-2 junior year were recalled. Then, in the end zone more emotions erupted.
A Dwenger assistant coach saw this and said, “Wow. That is neat.”
The players turned around and did one last 100 yards together, arm-in-arm, step by step. When they got to the other end zone they huddled, one more time.
The history book is now closed. A school-record 11-3 mark. The school's first sectional championship. The same for the regional.
Six fan buses made the miserable drive down U.S. 30 to the game, probably 700 fans. E.C. athletic director Trino Cavazos had nothing but pride talking about his student-athletes.
“Let me start with, 'Wow,'” Cavazos said. “To feel the energy in the building, in the community, for a football team and a traditional basketball town, it's amazing. I am so damn proud of them.
“This coaching staff has put a map out there of what this school accomplished.”
Back in August, The Times wrote about the concept of Urban Renewal. It is difficult for city schools to have great success in a system and format that is more suburban.
But the 2013 E.C. Central Cardinals showed, proved, it can be done.
“We've had some ups and downs,” Carter said, with tears freezing on his face. “We started at the bottom. We worked hard. We put our school on the map. We're not a basketball school anymore.
“We never quit.”
E.C. fought hard in the second half. The Cards hit. They blocked. They gave everything they had. Sometimes the guy on the other side is just better. That's life.
Most were moved watching the “Brothers in Arms” moment after the game. I know I was.
“These guys accomplished what a lot of people didn't think they could do and I love them for that,” Adams said.
On this night what the scoreboard said didn't mean a damn thing.
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