Cleaning up some things
BY TOMMY WILLIAMS Post Tribune correspondent December 1, 2012 11:42PM
Andrean football coach Phil Mason is photographed on the field in Merrillville, Ind. Wednesday November 21, 2012. Mason is the Post-Tribune Football Coach of the Year. Mason has been with Andrean for seven years, with five as head coach. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 3, 2013 10:51AM
MERRILLVILLE — Take one look at Andrean’s Phil Mason and you’ll see a guy who looks like a football coach.
The powerful physique, the voice that could crack granite, the square jaw, and a glare that any Andrean player would like to avoid, tells you that Mason is a man who has spent more than just casual time on football sidelines.
And let’s not forget a few other tools of the Mason trade that helped him become this year’s Post-Tribune Coach of the Year: The vacuum cleaner, the dust rag, and no audibling in the laundry room ... whites go in hot water, colors in cold.
Why would things identified more with Mr. Belvedere be so important to a football coach?
“On Thursday nights I go to bed early and he is cleaning the entire house,” said Mason’s wife Dee. “He does all the laundry and the house is perfectly clean for the weekend. That releases all his nervous tension.”
That’s fitting because Mason’s road to being the P-T Coach of the Year begins with a perfectly clean regular-season record last year that led to a not-so-perfect postseason. An upset loss to Wheeler in the sectional opener led to some offseason tension, which led to the best clean-up job Mason has ever achieved.
“I had to do some self examination,” Mason said. “I had to ask myself where did I want to take this program.”
“At first it was difficult because we went 9-0 with the schedule we played,” Mason said. “We had very high expectations for the year, so it was really tough.”
Several factors got Mason through the tough offseason.
One was his wife of 21 years.
“I have a demanding job and he’s the one who normally helps me get through things,” said Dee, who is a speech pathologist at a long-term care facility. “But this time the roles had to be changed to help him out of his depression. He felt like it was his fault and he felt bad for the kids. It was very, very hard.”
The second factor? Seeing his very young returnees hard at work in the offseason, and Mason making sure he had multiple leaders on this year’s team, especially quarterback Matt DeSomer, wide receiver Nick Serrato and running back Zack Kogut.
“It’s so hard to get kids to lead these days,” Mason said. “I was hard on them to grow and to stand up for themselves and what they believed in. Later in the year they told me how they appreciated me getting on them like that. They all became excellent leaders.”
The game that was the first hint that things were heading in the right direction? The 50-28 loss to Merrillville in Week 2.
“We competed with them for a half and we were really excited about our kids, our offensive line and where DeSomer was.” Mason said.
Where DeSomer was had to be an improvement over the season before. Last year his role was to hand the ball off to Mason Zurek. This season, the junior’s role expanded, and so too did the 59ers offense.
“Practices were a blast. They enjoyed getting better, they enjoyed our offensive and defensive schemes and they enjoyed being leaders. We’re starting to see that more often and that’s important for their character and their lives.”
And it showed on the scoreboard. The 59ers were almost as dynamic in the regular season as they were the year before, finishing 7-2. And the big offensive numbers continued in the playoffs with the 59ers scoring 60-plus points three times.
That third trip to the 60-point mark was a doozy. It was the Lewis Cass regional game in which the 59ers trailed 12-0 early and fought back to take a 28-12 halftime lead (“that was the best quarter I’ve seen Andrean play in my seven years here,” Mason said). But Cass came back to take a three-point lead late before a Matt Anderson 37-yard field goal sent the game into overtime.
During the third overtime, Andrean got the ball first, scored, but missed the extra point. Cass came back, scored a TD and only needed the extra point to win.
“We’re setting up our kick-block defense and then I go to Kogut and say ‘if things don’t work out tonight, understand that Andrean is about character. We’re going to show sportsmanship’ ... and Zack says to me, ‘Coach, I don’t want to hear that!’
“So I’m kneeling down saying ‘Dear God, please let me get through this speech I have to give to these kids’ when I hear two thuds.”
The kick was blocked. Two OTs later, Andrean won.
“You knew that someone would eventually make a mistake in that game and you were hoping that the mental toughness and the preparation we put in that we would be the ones to stay the course,” Mason said.
Eventual 2A state champ Fort Wayne Luers ended the 59ers’ season the next week, but Mason expects good things from his team next season. DeSomer is back, as are several other key players.