Bryce Catherman’s first opportunity to lead the Wheeler football team came when he was a young sophomore, forced into the quarterback position due to injury. Nearly two years later, Catherman is getting a second chance at making a first impression.

Catherman took over for an injured Griffin Belt in the second game of the 2017 season. He held down the position until Belt returned late in the year, finishing the season with 522 passing yards and six touchdowns to go along with eight interceptions. Belt won a contested battle in training camp last season and Catherman was relegated to a part-time slot receiver and running back role with the Bearcats.

“I was really young back then and I really didn’t have any kind of experience,” Catherman said. “Now I’m back in the position and I love it. It’s exciting to get the ball on every play. I really enjoy it.”

Catherman showed how far he has come in Wheeler’s season-opening 17-0 win over River Forest last Friday. The senior quarterback threw for 59 yards and a touchdown while adding 158 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown.

“Bryce is just a really good athlete,” Wheeler coach Adam Hudak said. “He can make plays with his athleticism. We want to get him the ball.”

Catherman’s skills go beyond the football field as he won the regional title in high jump last year. While he loves the personal nature of high jump, Catherman loves the combined skill it takes to execute properly on the football field.

“They’re two completely different sports,” Catherman said. “In high jump, everything you do comes down to just you. Football is the ultimate team sport. We win and we make plays as a team.”

Last Friday’s win was notable for the Bearcats as it was Wheeler’s first shutout victory since beating Hanover Central 45-0 on Oct. 3, 2014. Catherman played a key role for the defense as a two-way player, starting at cornerback and collecting two tackles and pass breakup. Catherman is expected to play both ways once again this Friday against Kankakee Valley, the same school that he made his first varsity start against at quarterback two years ago.

“Defense wins games, but we need the defense to do its part so the offense can do theirs,” Catherman said. “It’s going to be a big game.”

Rodriguez fully healthy for Pirates: Merrillville started its season with a statement victory over Andrean in the Battle of Broadway, and quarterback Peter Rodriguez was a big reason why. The senior totaled 11 carries for 119 yards and three touchdowns in the 48-20 victory, and coach Brad Seiss thinks his performance was not only a testament to his talent but also his perseverance.

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During the 2018 campaign, Rodriguez rushed for 492 yards and only two scores after returning from a significant injury.

“Peter is a year healthier,” Seiss said. “Last year he played well for us, but he was coming off an ACL tear as a sophomore. Now, he feels that he can cut and be even more explosive in the run game, so it was nice to see him run the ball well.”

On the Pirates’ first possession of the year, Rodriguez marched them down the field with five plays and finished it off with a 3-yard touchdown run. The drive, which lasted just two minutes and 19 seconds, also allowed him to show off his arm with a 48-yard pass to senior wide receiver Xzavier Shell.

Rodriguez completed all three of his pass attempts for 74 yards, while Aarhic Whitehead shouldered most of the workload through the air. The fellow senior went 12-of-16 for 170 yards and three scores, and Rodriguez said he won’t mind sharing the quarterback responsibilities as the season wears on.

“We’ve been working on this all summer,” Rodriguez said. “We just gotta stay with our tempo. If we keep up our tempo, we can beat any team.”

Historic win for Valpo: Valparaiso started off the 2019 season by making history against one of its storied rivals. The Vikings have opened every season since 1997 by playing Penn, often to a disappointing result. Entering last Friday’s game, the Vikings were just 3-19 against the Kingsmen in season openers and 7-25 overall, including a handful of postseason meetings.

Valparaiso’s 34-14 win over Penn was historic in that it represented the most points the Vikings have ever scored against the Kingsmen. The previous high came on Nov. 7, 1975 when Valparaiso won 31-19. The Vikings would beat Carmel 14-13 a week later in the state title game.

“It was brought to our attention that this was the most points we’ve scored against them,” Valparaiso coach Bill Marshall said. “By the time we found this out, it was already Saturday night or early Sunday morning and we had already met with our team and started preparing for Griffith. At the end of the season, that will be time to look back on what was a game for the ages.”

Marshall is justifiably looking ahead and that’s where the arrow is pointing for the Vikings after beating Penn. In the seven seasons that Valparaiso has knocked off the Kingsmen dating back to 1975, the Vikings have averaged 11 victories.

Times staff writer James Boyd contributed to this report. 

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