State finals at Lucas Oil Stadium
Class A: Lafayette Central Catholic (13-1) vs. Indianapolis Scecina (11-3), 3:30 p.m.
Class 2A: Bishop Luers (10-4) vs. Indianapolis Ritter (14-0), 7 p.m.
Class 3A: Hamilton Heights (13-1) vs. Indianapolis Chatard (12-2), noon
Class 4A: Mishawaka (11-3) vs. Indianapolis Cathedral (9-5), 3:30 p.m.
Class 5A: Snider (14-0) vs. Lawrence Central (14-0), 7:05 p.m.
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Go ahead and name the Snider High School football team's star player. We'll wait.
Here are some choices: running backs Je'Norie Smith, Tyrell Swain and Nick Reese, quarterback Brandon Phelps, tight end Addison Dellinger, wide receiver Quinton Daniels, linebackers Rahju Blackmon and Devontay Reese and defensive tackle Weston Painter. Don't forget tight end/punter/kicker Josh Spitnale, either.
Tough decision, huh?
The lack of a single star is exactly what Snider coach Kurt Tippmann loves, and a major reason why his undefeated second-ranked Panthers (14-0) are playing No.1 Lawrence North (14-0) for the Class 5A state title on Saturday night in Lucas Oil Stadium.
"It's fostered the unselfishness of this group," Tippmann said. "When you have a so-called star, everybody is looking for that guy to make things happen. They wait for that guy to make things happen. This year, everybody has a role in doing it."
Tippmann clarifies the thought. He's not against star players. If he had that one stand-out NCAA Division I recruit, he'd make the most of him.
But this team is different, deeper and more experienced across the board with high-quality players of similar abilities.
"Everybody has a role in doing it for us," Tippmann said. "We've had those years where we had go-to guys and that allowed us to be successful. This is a unique year and this is what we wanted with this large senior class. It really fosters unselfishness and shared leadership in that group."
The shared load has worked quite well. Snider averages 37 points per game and the significant stats are all across the board: Smith and Swain both have over 1,000 yards rushing. Nick Reese have 17 touchdowns, Smith 15 and Daniels 10. Phelps has throw 20 touchdown passes. Blackmon leads in tackles, Painter in sacks and forced fumbles, Devontay Reese in interceptions.
Perhaps there was no better example of the team's shared stardom than its incredible last two minutes and overtime in a 36-35 win over Fishers in the regional championship.
Down by two scores, Snider rallied and needed several defensive plays, scores from Phelps, Daniels and Smith, and a two-point conversion run that relied on the even more unsung heroes of the offensive line.
"To be perfectly honest, not every guy on that sideline believed we were going to win (in the last two minutes), but enough guys did," Tippmann said. "When the guys that do believe are the leaders of the team, everybody else is going to follow. That's our senior class."
Seventeen of the Panters' 22 offensive and defensive starters are seniors. Phelps will be starting his 29th game Saturday, a total Tippmann calls rare at the Class 5A level.
The perfect example of the shared load comes at tailback, where Smith, Swain and Reese share the load. They have different skills, different gifts, and Tippmann and his coaches have found a away to use all three.
John Nelson carried the bulk of the load last season as a senior.
"Je'Norie is a more quick guy with good vision, he sees holes consistently and he's a tough guy to bring down," Tippmann said. "Tyrell has that track kick. He's our home-run hitter kind guy who can burst through a hole. Nick's a combination of both. He's a power runner but also has a burst."
Sharing the load benefits all three.
"It keeps them fresh and they enjoy watching each other run," Tippmann said. "They're all unselfish kids, they're not worried about 'I've got more carries than you' or 'I need more touches.' That's unique in high school."
Tippmann is in his fourth season as Snider head coach. He played at Snider under coach Mike Hawley and was an assistant under Hawley's successor, Russ Isaacs.
This will be Snider's sixth state championship appearance, and the Panthers are seeking their second title. They won it in 1992.
"We aren't going to settle for mediocrity, and that starts with the coaches," Tippmann said. "I learned that from Coach Hawley. Mediocrity is not acceptable. And that's not about the end results but about the effort. We're not going to give mediocre effort."
The shared effort is part of the shared stardom, so to speak.
Snider faces a tough task in Lawrence Central, which has three players with 1,200 or more yards rushing and a stingy defense.
Tippmann expects the usual full team effort to be the key to finishing the season off with the ultimate win.
"This team is very unique, and unique to the teams we've had these last four years," Tippmann said. "If you wanted to model it, you'd say this is how you'd want your team to be."