WHITING | Handing out uniform numbers to freshmen is like the yard-sale director handing out leftover stained, knit potholders after a 12-hour, mad-rush day.
There's not a lot of deep thought. Just a "Here, take this one."
When Whiting's Tom Dabertin got his number, 76, from the bottom of the freshman pile four years ago, he was ecstatic, especially for a young man who had one year of organized football under his belt.
"That number meant a lot to me," Dabertin said.
His great uncle, Al Stasny, wore the same number in the early 1940s before a standout career at Indiana State and in semi-pro ball.
"Tommy is like having a coach on the field," Whiting coach Jeff Cain said.
Dabertin was voted a captain by his peers. He is the vice president of his class, Booster Club treasurer and a member of the National Honor Society.
And just for kicks, the 3.8 GPA student was named homecoming king.
He also volunteers at the Carmelite Home in East Chicago, playing football with the disadvantaged kids.
He is one of three returning leaders off last year's regular-season undefeated team. With all the holes needed to be filled, Whiting has yet to lose and is ranked No. 4 in the state's Class A poll.
Seldom do you get a leader like this who is in a three-point stance most of the game.
Whiting was losing to Clark at halftime of the season opener and it was the linemen who did much of the screaming, or talking, at halftime. The Oilers came back and won, and Dabertin went home barely able to speak.
Cain is proud of his entire offensive line -- Dabertin at left tackle, a three-year starter, Jake Jacobson at left guard, Justin Cevallos at center, Matt Wooden at right guard, Chris Stewart at right tackle and Chris Dietz at tight end.
"Any time I see a freshman, I look at their parents and Tom's dad is huge," Cain said of Tommy's father. "Tommy's a prototypical offensive lineman. He's worked very hard in the weight room. He's typical of a lot of kids we've had in this blue-collar community.
"When there's hard work to be done, Tommy never misses."
Cain has been impressed by Dabertin's no-fear attitude about competition. If someone is behind him at a position, the senior will help that player anyway.
"Tommy wants everyone to succeed," Cain said.
Dabertin is proud of his weight-room success. He has benched 300, squatted 475, dead-lifted 430 and has hit 240 in power clean.
Trine and Hanover are a few of the Division III programs who are interested in Dabertin's services. But the 6-foot-2, 230-pound leader is hoping schools like Valparaiso or Butler hear his name.
He plans in majoring in business or engineering.
"It feels good when we score a touchdown, if our player ran through my gap or I set up the block that helped him get there," Dabertin said. "Offensive linemen don't get a lot of glory, but it still feels good."
And Dabertin is very happy the Oilers have the same record as last year, even though the names and numbers have changed.
"It felt great blowing everybody out last year, having 40 points at halftime," he said. "We won conference for the first time. But we didn't do what we wanted in the sectional. This year we're learning to play all 48 minutes because we've had to.
"We're not there yet. But we're getting better."