HOBART | Gerald Valenzuela sat in an empty coaching room Tuesday afternoon speaking to the media. That's what kind of week this is. A buzz fills the football-crazy community as the Indiana state playoffs kick off Friday.
Hobart travel s to Kankakee Valley for the opener in the Class 4A Sectional 10 tournament.
“Hey Hollywood, when you're done we'll be out on the field,” a joking assistant coach said through the crack in the door.
The unassuming lad had a confused look on his face. When asked if Hollywood was his nickname, the senior offensive lineman said, “No.”
“Everyone calls me Gerald,” Valenzuela said. “That's why I didn't know what he was talking about.”
Valenzuela was raised in Missouri. Sports wasn't even on the list of things to do. Really, early on Valenzuela had a greater chance of being a couch potato than a star football player.
“All I did was play video games,” he said. “I'd go outside and play now and then. But I didn't go out very often.”
Fate, though, would soon quicken Valenzuela's pulse.
His mother was transferred to the Ford plant in Chicago Heights. A new life began. A short, initial stay in Merrillville was followed by a final stop in Hobart. But it took some time for Brickie football to touch the soul of the now 5-foot-10, 290-pound trench dweller.
“I'm 5-foot-10 and a half,” Valenzuela said with a smile, like a child telling family members the age is “5 and a half,” not just “5.”
Current teammate Anthony Burgos spent most of their shared seventh grade year trying to talk Valenzuela into playing football. Burgos didn't win the debate in time. Valenzuela didn't play his first down of football until he was in eighth grade.
“My first practice I thought these guys were crazy,” Valenzuela said with a soft smile.
He played on the defensive line for two years before he was moved over to guard. He played there for a year-plus, solid, but not yet breaking through. But in last year's Munster game, two Hobart centers were injured during the clash.
The depth chart looked like Swiss cheese.
“We were teaching him what to do on the sidelines,” Hobart coach Ryan Turley said. “He went in and did great. We haven't moved him since.”
In Week 4, Hobart fell behind K.V. 21-7 before making a comeback. The Brickies lost 27-21 in Wheatfield. They say it was a wake-up call. Hobart hasn't lost since.
Turley credits the play of his offensive line for playing great football this autumn. He knows this must continue in the postseason.
It is led by Valenzuela, who wowed people at the Michigan camp this summer.
"We'll go as far as our line takes us," Turley said. "K.V. is well-coached and they play hard. We felt like we were sleep-walking the first three quarters. In life, you don't always get a second chance. We feel like this is ours."
"This is like erasing a bad mistake," he said. "This is our second chance. We have a chance to erase and rewrite this. If we do that people will forget what happened in Week 4."