MERRILLVILLE – Three years ago Doug Dinan was hired to lead the Carroll High School football team and he walked into his first team meeting and saw kids with potential, but not much on their resumes.
Fast forward to Friday and a lot of those kids walked off the football with tears in their eyes after being beaten soundly 50-21 by an ultra-quick Merrillville squad in the IHSAA Class 5A regional. But don't think for a second that the Charger players don't have a lot to brag about.
“Our senior class, I give credit to them,” Carroll junior athlete Drue Tranquill said. “They pulled us through this season and coach Dinan came in and really turned this program around.”
This story could be about the Pirates jumping out to a 50-0 lead or the Pirates shutting the normally reliant Charger passing game completely down through the first half. But if you view this program through the scope of 48 minutes on Friday, you are really missing the point.
Prior to Dinan's arrival, the Chargers won 11 games… in four previous seasons combined. This group nearly accomplished that (10-3) in less than three months.
“There's been a lot of maturity,” Dinan said “The seniors (there are 19 of them) took a lot of responsibility onto their shoulders. They've done a tremendous job. I can't say enough for their commitment to the program and the success that they have had.”
Which is quite a bit of success.
As sophomores, this class of 2013 won five games which was a step in the right direction and certainly was an indicator of things to come. Last year, that number grew to eight victories. But it was this season where everything came together.
The last time that Carroll won this many football games, these players weren't even in school yet (11 wins in 1998), and the sectional crown won a week ago was the first for the program since 2001.
“It was our heart this year,” Tranquill said. “Unfortunately we came out (tonight) we didn't play our best in the first half.”
Following the loss, Dinan said it was “easy” to turn the program around from his perspective. Sure, grueling weight-lifting sessions in the off-season are anything but easy, but what he meant was, these kids didn't make it difficult on the coaches to guide them to this point.
“Honestly, it's been easy,” Dinan said. “Because of the commitment and the relationship that these guys have with each other, it's been very simple.”
The Chargers finally found a rhythm in the second half on Friday. With 8 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Carroll finally crossed into Merrillville (11-2) territory for the first time all evening.
Later in the quarter, Charger quarterback Chris Terry found Tranquill for a 29-yard touchdown for the first Carroll points.
The same duo hooked up for an eight-yard score with less than seven minutes left in the season, and then Tranquill ran for the Chargers' third score with 1:17 remaining.
“It was the senior leadership,” Dinan responded as to why this team achieved to this degree. “It was an investment in each other. We are very fortunate to have the kids that we do.”
Merrillville will travel to Snider on Friday at 7 p.m. for the IHSAA Class 5A semi-state.