Timeout football: East Chicago coach Stacy Adams enjoying a season to savor
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or firstname.lastname@example.org October 18, 2012 11:28PM
East Chicago's Martayveus Carter waits in the backfield on defense during practice Tuesday afternoon at East Chicago. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: November 20, 2012 11:15AM
EAST CHICAGO — On a balmy, windy fall day earlier this week, Stacy Adams was relieved to peel off his school clothes, slip into his Cardinals red sweats, put a hat on, a whistle around his neck and officially leave the hard part of his day and have some fun as the East Chicago football coach.
“It’s always easier when you’re winning,” Adams says through that permanently implanted smile on his face.
The kids are practicing hard, the Cardinals are winning like they haven’t won since 1991 and the core of this team is juniors. What is not to like about that for the affable, feel-good coach who is just one of those guys that makes you want to pull for him?
Why? Because Adams is relentlessly, hopelessly positive and yet very real in the face of what others might’ve viewed as a difficult situation at best.
That basically means it’s not easy to coach football at East Chicago Central, a school that draws it identity from basketball.
It’s not easy because football is rugged, demanding sport that requires a level of commitment that most of the kids don’t understand.
It’s not easy because the Cardinals, a 4A team, won’t ever have 50 or 60 or 70 kids out for football, like some of the schools their size do.
It’s not easy because in the five seasons prior to Adams taking over at EC, the Cardinals had only finished .500 once. They have a long history of being OK — decent some years but not even that good in most years.
It’s not easy because Adams and his coaches spend their mornings and evenings in the summers picking kids up and taking them home after workouts so they do their workouts.
But he is perfect for the job — one he got after five seasons as the Valparaiso University football coach, which eventually wore him out.
Consider what Adams, a 1984 graduate of Lew Wallace, said about what his players need from him.
“These kids don’t care about how much I know about football, “Adams said. “They don’t care who I know. They just care that I care. They care that I show them I care. That’s the relationship I have with them. I tell them I love them, I give them hugs and high fives and we go to work. If a kid gets something here that he’s not getting somewhere else, that is fine with me.”
Adams can say this because he has lived in their world, growing up in Glen Park, playing at Lew Wallace for Dave Templin, a coach who worked hard on and off the field at maximizing potential for his players. And a guy who cared deeply about the kids in ways that you don’t have to at suburban schools.
This year has been a bonanza for Adams and EC.
He knew his junior class, which has 22 players in it, 10 more than the Cardinals’ average class, was going to be good. In eighth grade, they finished their season undefeated.
What he didn’t realize is that they’d be 8-1 with a legitimate chance to win the sectional title. Their 35-0 victory over Griffith last week was huge for them. They had never beaten the Panthers in five previous games, losing by an average of 39.
Adams started to believe this year could be different when the Cardinals played Lake Central tough for a half before losing 49-6.
“That’s when I thought, ‘Wait a minute, we might have something special here,’ ” he said.
They are special partially because of a group of skilled kids that are really good.
Start with Martayveus Carter, a 5-11, 180-pound running back. Carter was part of the Cardinals’ 400 relay team that finished sixth in state last year. His speed and ability to cut back have made him virtually unstoppable. Carter, a junior, has rushed for 978 yards on 65 carries. That’s an average of more than 15 yards per carry
Adams believes that he is a Big Ten talent.
“I’ve never quite seen anything like it in 21 years of coaching,” Adams said.
The other big skill guys are wide receiver Tre’Quan Burnett (10 receptions for 318 yards) and defensive end Jalen Alston (nine sacks).
Burnett, at 6-3, played tight end last year but he was moved to wide receiver. For Alston, a senior who just started playing football last year, this season has been a blast.
“I’m really happy I came out,” he said. “I really have learned to love the game.”
Adams has always loved the game, too. That love has grown a little stronger this year.
His day job is a grueling one. He is the dean of students. That means he is in charge of discipline at the school.
That is an emotional grind. He can see up to 30 students a day and hand out as many as 10 to 15 suspensions a week (always a last resort).
Adams knew what he was getting into when he took the job. Craig Buzea had the same job at Michigan City before he left for Homewood Flossmoor.
That’s why getting onto the football field is actually soothing for him.
It’s even more soothing when the success factor is like it is this year. The last time EC was this good was in 1991 when the Cardinals finished 10-1. They lost in the second round of the state tournament that year.
Carter called the season fun and said he’s been inspired by Adams.
“He told us after the Lake Central game there is no team better than us if we work hard,” Carter said.
The Cardinals haven’t lost since that game.
Adams wants to think the winning is the start of something more permanent for his program. Alston said there is a “little buzz” at school about the team as they prepare to play Hammond. Adams wants the buzz to last longer than this year. He wants EC to be a football/basketball school. For now, he said the team is getting better athletes but not necessarily more players.
“I don’t need 100 kids,” he said. “I’ve only got three or four coaches. Forty or 50 is enough.”
Whichever way it goes from here, Adams will be smiling, happy to work at a place that fits him like a glove, helping kids that are growing up in the same kind of neighborhood he did.