INDIANAPOLIS – The score was lopsided, the stats were nothing to text home about, and yet the North all-star high school football players still didn't want it to end.
This past week in Indianapolis was everything that's great about the game of high school football – the work, the sweat, the laughs, the camaraderie – and the players embraced it all.
So the South beat the North 27-6 on Friday in the Grange Insurance All-Star classic at North Central High School? Yeah, that stunk. But it was the end of a great week, one last prep farewell, that hurt worse.
“It's been one of the best weeks of my life,” Heritage graduate Conner Sheehan said, emotion showing in his voice. “It's just like most high school teenage boys who play football. You love playing and you wouldn't change a thing about it. You'd do it 10 times out of 10 times.”
You wouldn't think a group of football players, all with college on their minds, could bond as a team in a week's time. Yet as they said goodbye to new friends Friday night, the kinship was evident.
Football is a sport unlike any other, with its dependence on 11 players every play and 30 or 40 at least every game. Sometimes the results are spectacular. Sometimes they aren't, as the North stumbled and fell short time after time.
“It goes that way in all-star games,” said Snider coach Kurt Tippmann, who served as North's defensive coordinator. “We had chances and didn't capitalize, but that's the way all-star games go.”
If you want stats, here's a couple: Sheehan was 8-of-20 passing for 65 yards, North Side's Anthony Linnear carried 10 times for 40 yards and caught two passes for 29 yards. Churubusco's Jason Nicodemus carried seven times for 30 yards.
Charlestown quarterback Aaron Daniel was the South MVP, rushing for 60 yard and two touchdowns. He'll walk-on at Indiana University.
But stats don't tell the story of what the experience meant to those who played, as the Fort Wayne-area players expressed afterward.
“It is kind of bittersweet,” North Side defensive tackle Russell Collins said. “I'm going to miss playing with these guys, my teammate Anthony Linnear and all the brothers I met this week and became close with. I'm going to miss that.”
Besides spending the week at the University of Indianapolis – where Collins and Snider offensive lineman Ruben Holcomb will be playing this fall – the team spent time at Camp Riley for Riley Hospital for Children.
The players stayed as roommates at the U of Indy dorms, eating three meals and spending three practices a day with each other. Players from big schools and small schools, city schools and rural schools – it didn't matter where they started. They finished the week as the North team.
“It really surprised me how well we came together,” Nicodemus said. “I didn't expect to be able to bond with those guys like we did. By the end of the week, we were pretty close.”
Tippmann said the Fort Wayne players were great representatives all week. Sheehan and Holcomb were captains and Nicodemus was given an award for exemplifying what the North coaches wanted in an all-star.
Other local players who played Friday included Concordia Lutheran's Marq Rogers, Garrett's Drake Landes, Huntington North's Austin Garde and East Noble's Drake DeMuyt.
Snider tight end Addison Dellinger suffered a sprained ankle on Thursday and couldn't play in the game. But he was on the sideline, cheering on his new and old teammates.
“You saw that last kid, the Eastbrook kid (Austin Simison), thanking all his teammates, tearing up,” Tippmann said. “He's known them five days. They go through sweating and tough times and bond and the next think you know they're buds.
“For people that worry about the downfall of our society, they should come out and watch this and get an uplifting experience.”