Indiana Thoroughbreds coach Ryan Thompson looked at a few local football players with astonishment.
"I don't know what you're feeding those kids up there," Thompson said, "but you guys sure know how to produce some outstanding young football players."
Thompson was referring to Jordan Jusevitch, of Lowell, and Michigan City's Cobi Boyd, Braden Fiske and Mason Kaletha.
All were stars for their respective local Pop Warner teams that have advanced to the PW National Championship over the past few years. Now, they're playing for the Indiana Thoroughbreds eighth-grade football team, who will be competing in the Football University National Championship starting this weekend.
The four players made the 35-player roster from a tryout field of 360. Thompson, who is the head coach of the team, isn't regretting his decision.
"Jordan (Jusevitch) has been solid at middle linebacker and can play some fullback," Thompson said. "Braden (Fiske) is one of our top defensive players at defensive end, and we call Mason (Kaletha, whose father Scott Kaletha is part of the coaching staff) the 'hawk'.
"At defensive back he already has eight interceptions for us. He always finds the ball."
Then there's Boyd, who plays middle linebacker, running back and several other positions.
"We played in the Tyler Genneken Memorial Football Tournament (in Center Grove), and Cobi was voted MVP by the coaches," Thompson said.
So far the Thoroughbreds are 6-0 going in the FBU tournament, which runs Saturday and Sunday at ATI Field at Joliet Stadium. In the event of filled brackets, all opening-round teams will play two games in two days.
"That's why I'm glad our second team is about as good as our number ones," Thompson said.
The winner from Joliet advances to Dublin (Ohio) Jerome High School the following weekend for a chance at the Final Four taking place Jan. 3-5 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
The Thoroughbreds are the first Indiana team to participate in the FBU National Championships.
"The thing about this team that makes it so special is that out of the 35 players we have, 28 are 4.0 (grade-point average) students," Thompson said. "It's nice to have sheer speed, strength and talent, but what happens when the guy lining up across from you is just as fast and strong?
"That's when the more mentally tough and disciplined player wins. And yeah, we were looking for players like that when we selected this team."
Thompson is assisted by several former NFL players, including Justin Snow and Anthony Haygood. Thompson never played professional football, but he did play nine seasons of major league baseball and hit a career-high 18 home runs for the New York Mets in 1994.
"I love baseball, but I always had a great passion for football," said Thompson, a Maryland native, who was an all-state running back in high school. "I also played basketball, and did well in that, too. But (at 6-foot-4) I didn't have any guard skills, so I knew I could only go so far with that."
Thompson's son, Brok, is a wide receiver for the Thoroughbreds.