High school football is a great sport that includes everyone and waits for no one. You play 10 games – a few more if your team's a playoff contender – and it's over.
The relative brevity of the season and its exclusive Friday nights keeps football special among all prep sports. Don't get me wrong. I love a thrilling basketball game as much as any lifelong Hoosier. Give me a baseball game, a lawn chair and a 72-degree spring day and I'm more than content for a couple hours.
Yet football stands out as different. It's a weekly ritual and near-religion, and nothing stays the same for long.
Bishop Luers and Churubusco – one a Catholic school, the other a small community school – have won way more than their fair share of games. Yet today they have unproven teams with new coaches and 10 weeks to show where they are now.
Jaylon Smith, the must-see player from Luers a year ago, has moved to Notre Dame. A new must-see player – Carroll's Drue Tranquill – takes his place.
Tranquill, who's now being courted by Notre Dame after announcing he'd chosen Purdue, is a marquee guy everyone knows. You need them for the conversation. You'll find players like him, with varying degrees of college potential, all around the area.
Yet the heart of prep football lies in the unknown players as much as the stars. For most prep players, this brief-snapshot-in-time sport is as good as it gets.
Every season brings a new group of players who spend their summer and fall days pounding each other, wearing daily bruises and cuts, all for the fun and camaraderie of football. Unlike basketball or baseball, football requires numbers. Thirty players might make an impact in one football game. The nature of the sport breeds a brotherhood unlike any other.
I stopped at New Haven this summer and ran into a couple of players, Adam Hoffer and Jordon Holle, heading for the weight room. This wasn't an organized practice.
These were just high school kids looking to keep moving forward as football players.
Holle expressed well the desire of hundreds of players who play the game for Friday night's inherent joys.
“I'm very excited to start the football season because I've just been on JV,” Holle said. “I've been waiting for my chance to get on varsity and show what I can do.”
How many players are like that? How many players have put in the weight room time, run those gut-busting, never-endings sprints to finally get their chance to show they can play?
Stars like Tranquill know they'll have their moments of glory. They know they'll get to shine and watch themselves on the Friday night television highlight shows. They deserve the spotlight; they're fun to watch.
But football is more than a handful of stars.
One of my favorite moments covering the playoffs last year was an interview with Luers' then-senior center Will Nolan. He was one of those guys reporters rarely interview because we're busy talking to the stars. But Nolan enjoyed being part of Luers' team last season, his first as a starter at center, as much as anyone. He said he was “living in a dream.”
I enjoy watching gifted players, no question. But it's those others, who do it for the love of the game, that make the game as great as it is. Look at a basketball game. There are seven or eight players who play the bulk of the time. Most teams have three or four seniors, max. In football, there's a spot for everyone willing to work and put in the time.
I remember a conversation I had with Bishop Dwenger coach Chris Svarczkopf about this topic. He has players who work year after year and spend most of their time standing on the sidelines. But if they put in the time, they have a place their senior year. Maybe it's special teams. Maybe it's a play or two a game. But they will play. And sometimes that play makes the game-changing difference.
Who's ready for Friday night football? It's here now, and it'll be gone before we know it.