INDIANAPOLIS – Kurt Tippmann carries some bias, of course, since he's established firm roots coaching football at Snider High School.
Yet when he looks at the Fort Wayne-area contingent preparing for the Grange Insurance All-Star Classic, he sees a wealth of quality other parts of the state are hard-pressed to match.
“You see that talent measured a little more when you're around talent from all over the state,” Tippmann said after the North team's practice Wednesday at the University of Indianapolis. “That talent measures up well. There's not a better running back than Anthony Linnear. There's not a better lineman than Russell Collins or Ruben (Holcomb), not a better tight end than (Addison Dellinger) the (Conner) Sheehan kid – there's not a better quarterback. Those guys are just some examples.”
It's telling of Fort Wayne's depth of talent that some of the “big dogs” as Linnear put it – players headed for Division I programs – aren't playing in the game at 7 p.m. Friday at North Central High School.
The recent graduates who are suiting up for the North are strong indeed.
The locals include Heritage's Sheehan at quarterback, North Side's Linnear and Churubusco's Jason Nicodemus at running back, Snider's Holcomb and Huntington North's Austin Garde on the line, Dellinger at tight end and Concordia Lutheran's Marq Rogers and Garrett's Drake Landes at wide receiver. North Side's Collins and East Noble's Drake DeMuyt are playing as defensive linemen and Homestead's Nolan McMahon is scheduled to participate as a kicker.
“It's unbelievable,” Sheehan said. “Everybody is better than I am so that makes things a lot easier. The Fort Wayne guys down here are probably the best players down here.”
All of those players are getting ready to continue their careers in college. Holcomb, in fact, will play for UIndy, the same place he's practicing this week.
But the players have embraced the chance to come together as a unit, with usual rivals such as Snider and North Side players joining forces.
They feel a real bond not only because of the Fort Wayne-area base, but as part of the bigger northern part of the state representation.
Tippmann, who is the North team's defensive coordinator, said there's an underlying drive to do their best and win that ties the players together.
“There isn't any difference in the ingredients for a good high school football player,” Tippmann said. “There's a certain skill level, but it's mostly the work ethic and the way they approach practice and the game that has more to do with them being good on Friday night.
“That's what you recognize when you see the Sheehan kid from Heritage compete with Linnear and Collins,” Tippmann said. “They get along great, they mesh well and they're going to be great teammates Friday night.”
Holcomb said he believes the North squad has an edge in talent over the South.
“We're definitely pretty stacked in every position,” Holcomb said. “We're getting after each other in practice, the offense and defense and the whole team.”
Nicodemus showed some of that fire when he flattened a defensive back at the end of a run. There's supposedly less contact with the shoulder pads and helmet practices, but Nicodemus isn't one who can necessarily turn it down a notch.
That's a common denominator for the North players overall, especially the ones from Fort Wayne.
“There's some amazing talent assembled here,” Tippmann said. “It doesn't matter where your school is – big school, small school – these kids are all coachable and they come here prepared. You tell them one time and they're able to do it. They have great attitude and great work ethic. It's a blessing and privilege as coaches to be around them.”