Bolda-Keavenen

Crown Point's Ryan Bolda takes a snap from Jake Keaveney. The quarterback-center combination have been close friends and teammates for years.

John J. Watkins, File, The Times

There isn't a closer connection on the football field than that of the center and quarterback, a combination that sets every play in motion.

"There's a huge trust that has to be there," Crown Point center Jake Keaveney said of quarterback Ryan Bolda. "I've been snapping to him for a long time. He trusts me to give him a perfect snap and to block for him and he's going to do whatever he can to help the team. We've been friends so long, we don't even have to think about it. It's just there. I always have his back and he always has mine."

The Bulldogs' seniors' ties go back over a decade. They grew up in the same Winfield subdivision and went to Jerry Ross Elementary School, graduating from backyard football to the Crown Point Junior Bulldogs. At the time, Bolda was too big to play a skill position, so he, like Keaveney started out as linemen.

"I was so big, I had a black stripe on my helmet, which meant you couldn't touch the ball," Keaveney said. "I wanted to have a chance to touch the ball, so I always played center. It's what I had."

Keaveney continued to grow, now weighing 320 pounds, while the 190-pound Bolda leveled off some. By middle school, he wasn't alongside Keaveney anymore. He was behind him, calling signals.

"It's been a good friendship that's strengthened, especially the last four years," Bolda said. "There's a chemistry we built with each other. If I change a protection, a play, he'll say whatever he'll need to say. If I make a mistake, he'll let me know and let the other linemen know to fix it. I don't see it as a shot, I see it as a friend helping me out."

A second-year starter, Keaveney was already in the lineup when Bolda suddenly became the starter in the postseason, and did everything he could to help ease the transition.

"Every game, we always do pre-snap and I'd make sure to tell him this is his team now, we all believe you can get the job done," Keaveney said. "I made sure to instill a lot of confidence in him. The whole team did. He's our guy. We believe in him. He's put in a lot of work and time and has become a lot better player. Last year, he was thrust into it. This year, he knew he'd be the man and it's been better preparing every week. He sets a good example for the team."

Bolda has progressed nicely this season and while C.P. remains a run-first attack, he shined in Friday's 14-7 win over Portage, completing 17 of 27 passes for 152 yards and two scores.

"The best part is after a touchdown," he said. "I go straight to him. Getting the chance last year to come in and ending up winning, that was the best. To do it again this year, that's the best accomplishment, winning back to back (sectionals) for the first time. We block out all the outside noise, focus on ourselves."

While last season may have been a bigger surprise, coming off a 1-9 finish in 2015, they flew under the radar once again this year, reversing a regular-season loss to the Indians.

"No one expected us to do much other than the people in the locker room," Keaveney said. "We fought together and we continued that mentality into this year. It doesn't matter what anybody says, it comes down to what we can do on the field."

Along the way, Bolda has remained more of the cool hand and Keaveney the energy accelerant.

"He can get pretty wild," Bolda said. "That's just his love for the whole game. He likes to really get the whole group focused. If I need to, I'll help out with that, but I let him handle most of that."

Keveaney enjoys the spark plug role.

"I tend to be pretty vocal," he said. "I'm an emotional kind of guy. Football's a game of emotions and I try to ride the highs as much as I can. I've realized over the years a lot of teammates need that extra voice to keep going. I try my best to provide that and a lot of them appreciate that."

Both relish another opportunity at Penn in Friday's regional, this time on Bulldog Turf.

"Probably the best thing is proving people wrong," Bolda said. "We love being the underdogs and I'm assuming we'll be the underdogs again this game."

"We couldn't ask for a better situation," Keaveney said. "We don't care that they've pretty much ruled the northern part of the state. We're going to control what we can control and it's going to be a game."

Whenever it ends, it'll likely be the final time the two share a field.

"It's pretty unreal to think this is the last year we'll be teammates," Keaveney said.

Bolda, a 4.43 student, is considering football or baseball in college, but academics will be first priority with Stanford and Vanderbilt among his options. Keaveney, a 3.8 student, hopes to attend Purdue and doesn't have immediate plans to play football. If they don't happen to both end up in West Lafayette, they fully expect to remain close even if the distance between them increases.

"Being friends this long, I don't think four years away is going to change that," Bolda said. "We'll keep in contact with each other. It's a friendship that will last a lifetime."

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Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.