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Football: Nick Serrato’s position switch helps Andrean’s run to regional final

Andrean's Nick SerraZack Kogut walk off field Friday night after 59ers w2A sectional championship over Rensselaer Andrean High School Friday

Andrean's Nick Serrato and Zack Kogut walk off the field Friday night after the 59ers won the 2A sectional championship over Rensselaer at Andrean High School Friday evening. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 8, 2012 11:45PM



MERRILLVILLE — In season isn’t the time for experiments.

Not with position changes on the football field, at least. Those kinds of moves are best left to the summer training camp and offseason workouts.

Sometimes, though, you do what you have to do to find a spark for your team, to make it better.

That is why Andrean coach Phil Mason took the rare step of moving Nick Serrato, a 6-3, 225-pound linebacker who technically had played as the 59ers’ drop end (hybrid linebacker/defensive end) to middle linebacker after the 59ers played Munster in their fourth game of the season.

Mason wasn’t sure where the defense was headed and he was looking for answers. The defense had lost 10 starters from last season so he knew this could be an issue.

“I had never done that before,” Mason said of making an in-season switch. “I just felt like we weren’t improving the way we needed to be. I felt like he (Serrato) was a big physical kid who could handle it.”

The move has paid off for the 59ers. They found their defensive groove after an initial letdown against Hobart, allowing 37 points.

The 59ers have allowed 17.5 points per game since they played the Brickies. That includes an impressive shutout against Boone Grove.

Serrato calls himself a “control” freak who likes to be in charge. The new spot is perfect for him. He gets to call out plays and direct traffic.

“I just love it,” he said.

So does Zack Kogut. Kogut plays next to him at one of the other linebacker slots.

“Nick and I are good friends,” he said. “We trust each other. I feel good with him next to me there.”

The 59ers’ steady ascension to the regional title game has been about staying in the moment and not getting lost in expectations.

Last year, Mason had talked openly about wanting to get past regionals and get to a state championship. When the 59ers had a melt down against Wheeler in the sectional opener, the disappointment from the loss was intense, even unprecedented given the fact that if there was a line on the game, the 59ers would’ve been three touchdown favorites.

This year, the conversation surrounding the team has been more subdued. Mason says this is a young team but that he doesn’t want to harp on its youth because it could become an excuse.

Players and coaches agree this year’s version of the 59ers is more even keeled and better prepared for what lies ahead as they take on Lewis Cass for the regional championship.

Both Serrato and Kogut said last year’s team was a terrible practice team. That doesn’t apply this year.

“We’re a good practice team,” Serrato said.

The 59ers have won seven straight after losing 37-28 to Hobart on Sept. 14. Mason called that a pivotal game.

They lost to a good team, perhaps the best team on their schedule with the exception of Merrillville, after they made a couple of mistakes late.

“That was a big deal,” Mason said. “We felt like we should’ve won that game.”

They rebounded the next week by giving Kankakee Valley its first loss. They haven’t looked back since.

The point with the 59ers is they didn’t get a chance to look back last year after Wheeler upset them 12-7 in the opening round of sectionals.

It’s hard to notice the score from this year’s first round of sectionals — Andrean 63, Wheeler 13 — and think that game from last year wasn’t on their mind.

Everybody has a different take on the affect that game had for this team this season.

Mason doesn’t think about it much.

“I always say every year you rebirth your team,” he said. “We didn’t focus on it going into the game. Obviously, there was a revenge type of thing. This team has a different personality. We didn’t sit there and wallow about what happened.”

Dennis Fielder, a senior offensive linemen for the 59ers, said it was a big deal.

“Personally, that loss drives me,” he said. “We fell short as a team. We were the better team. It breaks my heart to think of the guys who didn’t get to come back this year. I don’t want that to happen again,” he said.

The 59ers will be ready for tonight’s game. They made some mistakes and allowed Rensselaer to get back into the game last week in a 28-21 victory. A penalty in the first half inside the red zone likely cost them a touchdown and a second-half interception hurt them.

Mason was happy with the way the team responded.

He’ll be even happier tonight if the team can get its first regional title with him as the coach. This is Mason’s fourth try as head coach. He’d like to break the ice.

“There is no doubt this is what you want when we start the journey,” he said. “We would love to have the opportunity to play (Fort Wayne) Luers at home (in semistate).”



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