At Lucas Oil Stadium,
Laf. Central Catholic (13-1) vs. Indpls. Scecina (11-3), 3:30 p.m.
Bishop Luers (10-4) vs. Indpls. Ritter (14-0), 7 p.m.
Hamilton Heights (13-1) vs. Indpls. Chatard (12-2), noon
Mishawaka (11-3) vs. Indpls. Cathedral (9-5), 3:30 p.m.
Snider (14-0) vs. Lawrence Central (14-0), 7:05 p.m.
Admission: $15 per day
Radio: 1450 AM (Luers); 1250 AM (Snider)
FORT WAYNE — Two days before Thanksgiving now, and here is Tyvel Jemison, sunglasses deployed, belting out “This Little Light Of Mine” like they shipped him in from Vegas. Here is the pep band reaching back to pull up a little “Ghostbusters” and Beach Boys, and of course a whole lot of the school fight song.
And here is interim Luers football coach Steve Keefer walking out onto the gleaming gym floor, all those championship banners swaying above his head like glory’s own laundry.
“You see the product we put out on the field on Friday night,” Keefer tells everyone gathered at Bishop Luers on Tuesday for yet another going-to-state pep rally. “But you don’t see all that goes into it.”
No, you sure don’t. Especially this year.
Maybe out there in the world, north toward Chicago or west toward Lafayette or down in Indy where unbeaten Ritter awaits in Friday’s Class 2A state championship game, there is nothing out of the ordinary about any of this. Bishop Luers has won three straight 2A football titles and 10 in all, and, about 10 seconds after they pummeled Evansville Mater Dei last Thanksgiving weekend, everyone was penciling them in for next year. And now it’s next year, and here the Knights are.
Same-old, same-old, in other words.
So how do you tell all those people out in the world that nothing is the same this time?
Maybe you start by taking them back to mid-September, when the Knights were still being coached by nine-time state champ Matt Lindsay. And then, over one weekend, Lindsay was gone, dismissed as coach and athletic director.
Lindsay was fired from Luers after officials there found “inappropriate” videos on both his work-issued and home computer.
And Keefer, who coached Luers to its first state title in 1985, was handed the reins.
It all could have gone south right there, because even a team as experienced as Luers – 24 seniors, all of them with three rings – is still composed of high school kids, and high school kids are notably vulnerable to upheaval.
And this upheaval was seismic.
Here’s the thing, though: Instead of going south, Luers went forward.
“My message was ‘Hey, we’re not going to look backward, we’re going to look forward and be positive,’ ” Keefer says. “That was our mantra and the kids bought into that.”
Didn’t take a lot of selling.
“We knew we had a lot at stake,” Jemison says. “So we just moved past what happened with coach Lindsay. We had to move on because you can’t keep looking back.”
And so they did. After a four-loss regular season, they beat Woodlan and Eastside and Churubusco in the sectional, came from behind on the road to knock out Tipton in the regional and rolled over Andrean in the semistate.
“You know, actually that first week, we had a very good week of practice,” says offensive coordinator Kyle Lindsay, who coached one game before Keefer was appointed. “The kids came out, and they looked at it as, ‘Hey, there’s nothing we can do about the situation, we just have to work and get better as a team.’ And they did that.”
Credit those 24 seniors, and a coaching staff that’s been together forever and a day, for making it happen.
“It’s been a very tough year,” Notre Dame-bound Jaylon Smith says. “We’ve overcome by staying together as a group. Just had to rally around each other.”
As never before.