Hoops can wait: South’s Stevenson, others make impact in football
South Side High School quarterback Mikale Stevenson takes off scrambling and hears all about it later.
“Everybody tells me my jukes and moves are basically basketball moves,” Stevenson said. “Everybody tells me that.”
That’s an understandable analysis. Stevenson is a point guard. He played football when he was younger, but considers himself a basketball player first and foremost. His family is full of basketball players, including his uncle, former South Side and Purdue University player Cam Stephens. In the age of specialization, Stevenson’s sport was hoops.
Then South Side coach Roosevelt Norfleet stepped in. With the blessing of Archers basketball coach J.J. Foster, Norfleet persuaded Stevenson to see his sports life as more than hoops.
“I told him I did all three (at Northrop),” Norfleet said. “Actually, I did four. I ran track for a year. I played baseball, basketball, football. Multi-sport athletes are the ones recruiters are recruiting. Some of these guys have the misconception of specializing too early.”
Past basketball coaches haven’t always been as receptive to basketball players playing football, Norfleet said.
Foster, in his first season at South Side after moving over from Bishop Luers, joins Norfleet in encouraging basketball players to branch out.
“I’m old school, where you played three sports,” Foster said. “You can learn so much more from multiple sports and from more good coaches. A good coach is a good coach. The more good coaches you can put with a kid, the better.”
Foster points to former professional players, and friends, including Rod Woodson, Trai Essex and Charlie Ward, as examples of those who have excelled in multiple sports.
The trend of specialization in sports remains a topic, and it’s one that anecdotally seems to be trending back the other direction.
Norfleet, who has worked tirelessly trying to build a struggling football program at South, is a leading proponent of multi-sport participation. In addition to Stevenson, South’s football team also includes former basketball specialists in wide receiver Demarque Perkins and kicker Jaci Jones.
Jones, the first female to kick an extra point in South Side history, made a tackle after a fumbled snap during the North Side game, a move that caused South girls basketball coach Juanita Goodwell to cringe just a bit. “She was shocked when I did that,” Jones said.
“It was a nice form tackle, too,” Norfleet said. “Jaci caught him from behind and took him down.”
All three basketball players have had success, led by Stevenson’s impact at quarterback.
Stevenson initially joined the team as a wide receiver. But Norfleet soon moved him to quarterback.
Stevenson, a junior, is still learning the game – he played as a receiver when he was a freshman – but has thrown for 200-plus yards three times. He passed for 186 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown in a 49-27 loss to Class 6A No. 9 Homestead last week.
“I wasn’t sure at the beginning of the season. I didn’t have the passion for it,” Stevenson said. “I ended up liking it better than I did. At first, I didn’t want to take the hits, so I played receiver. But I ended up playing quarterback and that was better for the team, and better for me.”
Norfleet says Stevenson’s potential with more time in football is limitless.
“Mikale could be the best quarterback in the state, that’s how much I feel about his talent,” Norfleet said. “He sees this as a second sport, but he’s starting to love it so he knows he can play. You see him play, he has a savvy about him.”
Stevenson is among a number of outstanding basketball players who have excelled on the football field this season, including Woodlan’s Ah’lan Howard and Aaron Hahn, Homestead’s Trevin Taylor, Grant Raber and Jake Archbold and Wayne’s Craig Young.
New Haven boys basketball coach Bruce Stephens points to six basketball players who are part of the Bulldogs’ football team: Zel Banks, Kentrel Thomas, Davion Harris, Damario Robinson, James Gardner and Antwone Washington.
“I was a football player, and I still coach football at the middle school,” Stephens said. “I definitely encourage my guys to go out. Football makes them tougher, both physically and mentally. They come back stronger.”
Homestead boys basketball coach Chris Johnson has coached at four high schools where football played a major role in the school’s culture: Elder in Cincinnati, Merrillville, Bishop Dwenger and Homestead.
Three of Johnson’s key players – Archbold, Taylor and Raber – are weekly putting their bodies on the line, and he encourages it.
“We want our athletes to play as many sports as they can,” Johnson said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime period.”
One key to make it work is a strong relationship between the football and basketball coaches. There are going to be occasional scheduling conflicts. Johnson said his basketball players regular participate in summer activities and balance the time needed to be in football activities, too. The key at Homestead is cooperation between Johnson and football coach Chad Zolman.
Also, the coaches have to understand that sometimes a player’s other sport will take some time away.
“If I have a kid whose bread and butter is football and they need to go on a visit or some kind of showcase event, go do that,” Foster said. “We’ll still be here.”
Another issue for basketball players, their coaches and their families, can be the fear of injury on the football field.
“My brother (Ryan Norfleet) played basketball at Saint Francis and ended up getting three concussions,” Norfleet said. “There’s a chance for injury in football, but you can’t be scared of that. You have that in every sport.”
As for Stevenson, he’s learned to deal with the physical side of being a quarterback.
“I’m not a big fan of getting hit a lot, but it happens in football,” Stevenson said. “I came out and took the hits and played well. There’s a lot of heart in my (offensive) line to keep me safe back there.”
His basketball moves have translated to football, but the court always remains nearby, calling his name.
“I have football Monday through Friday,” Stevenson said. “Saturday and Sunday are enough time for me to play basketball for now.”