Timeout Football cover story: Sizing up the new class system
By Mike Hutton 613-0141 or firstname.lastname@example.org. August 22, 2013 10:36PM
Updated: September 24, 2013 6:04AM
The tweaks in the state playoff format haven’t changed one irrefutable fact for the largest schools in Northwest Indiana: They still are a long shot to win the state title in 6A in football.
How hard it is to win? So far impossible.
Northwest Indiana has never won the state title since the format was changed to five classes in 1986. The last time a team from the region went to the state title game was Valparaiso, led by Jeff Samardzija, in 2001. There have been five NWI teams in the 5A final. Highland, a 14-7 loser to Ben Davis in 1988 and Lake Central, a 33-27 loser to Bloomington North in 1993, came the closest to bringing home a state title.
The middle of the state dominance could be extended to Northern Indiana. Penn, which won it five times under Chris Geesman, lost by an average of 52 points in its last two state final appearances.
The new playoff format is set up to make every class more equitable except 6A. Everyone agrees that no amount of manipulating the system can change the fact that the Indianapolis teams have a vice grip on the largest prize, the state title, in playoff football.
Any expectation to alter that outcome is just hopeful conjecture. MaxPreps.com just ranked Indianapolis as the third best metro area in the country for high school football behind Dallas and Los Angeles.
The gap between the quality of football in Northwest Indiana and even Northern Indiana and the middle of the state is significant.
“The brand of football down south is a bit better than football around here,” Lake Central coach Brett St. Germain said. “It’s just a fact.”
There are three factors that are launching points for discussion of why the playoffs typically end at semistate — and frequently even the regional level — for the 6A schools in Northwest Indiana: the size differential between the biggest schools in Indianapolis and the rest of the state, the speed factor and resources.
Merrillville coach Zac Wells, who perhaps knows better than any large-school coach around, throws in another issue that NWI teams have to deal with: the constant high level of competition that the Indianapolis schools compete against.
They have a familiarity with each other and they have lots of good players.
Ben Davis, the largest school in the state with 4,687 kids, is roughly the size of Valparaiso and Crown Point combined. More than any sport, because of the almost certain potential for injury, football is about depth.
“We just can’t just go four or five deep,” LaPorte coach Bob Schellinger said. “If you take away a starting linebacker from us or a defensive back, we might have to make four or five adjustments. The big schools just bring in the next guy.”
In 2006, the Slicers had their best ever state tournament run in 5A, making it to the semistate where they lost at Camel 34-0.
His team had one good series — the first one, when the Slicers drove the ball down field into Carmel territory.
They never had a chance after that.
“Speed was the difference,” he said.
Portage coach Wally McCormack, whose school has 2,640 students, said the resources are completely different between the two areas.
He points out that 60 percent of his students are on free or reduced lunches while Carmel is annually ranked as one of the best places in the country to live and it is one of the most affluent. Carmel High School has 4,685 students — second most in Indiana. Warren Central boasts a full-time strength coach, according to McCormack — something no school around here can afford.
“If you don’t know when you are going to eat, your kids aren’t eating protein shakes,” McCormack said.
Lake Central, which is the sixth largest with 3,271 kids, has one of the worst fields in America, according to St. Germain. The Indians will play on a new one in 2015.
The disparity between the size of the schools is 2,752 — Lafayette Jefferson has 1,935 kids while Ben Davis has 4,687. That number alone — 2,752 — would be enough to put a school in the top 10 in the state.
The size difference between the largest and smallest schools in the other five classes ranges between around 700 for 4A and 5A to 300 for the other classes.
It’s a problem that coaches acknowledge but one that won’t be rectified soon.
“This should be interesting,” McCormack said. “I hope the Leroy Marshes of the world are happy.”