Lazerus: North-South All-Star Classic special for LaPorte’s James family
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or firstname.lastname@example.org July 11, 2012 11:04PM
LaPorte High School boys co-coaches Bob James, left, and Tim Beres, right, who were named boys track coach of the year, are seen at Kiwanis Field in LaPorte Thursday, June 16, 2011. \ Lisa Schreiber~For Sun-Times Media
When: 6 p.m. (central) Friday
Where: North Central HS, Indianapolis
Thomas Brown, Calumet OL
Alfred Dickey, Morton DB
Jake Grossnickle, Valparaiso LB
Taylor Jams, LaPorte FB
Giorgio Karallas, Mich. City LB
Joey Little, Portage OL
Ike Spearman, Lake Central LB
Mark Strbjak, Munster P
Mason Zurek, Andrean RB
Head coach: Brett St. Germain, Lake Central
Assistant coach: Ivan Zimmer, Calumet
Managers: Emily LaMere, Crown Point; Grace LeRoy, LaPorte
Updated: August 13, 2012 2:04PM
Most high school football players want to make the North-South All-Star Classic roster.
Taylor James had to.
“Tons of pressure,” the LaPorte grad and University of Indianapolis-bound fullback said.
That’s because James’ older brother, Tyler, played in the game in 2007. His other brother, Kyle, was a team manager for the North in 2009. And his dad, Bob, was an assistant coach for the North in 2009.
And Tyler reminded Taylor of this all the time.
“In my family, we’re very competitive, so I’d hear it from him every day,” James said. “‘Hey, where’s your all-state patch? Hey, have you gotten selected to the all-star team yet? No? Oh, that’s too bad.’ Every day.”
By the time James finally got the call — his dad, an assistant coach at LaPorte, pulled him out of class to give him the news — he was a wreck.
“This and the all-state team were by far the biggest goals on my list,” said James, who has attended every North-South game since 1998. “And really, when the season ended, I was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been. I didn’t even want to look at the paper, I was so scared I wasn’t going to make it.”
Every year, the North-South game surprises players, coaches and fans alike by how important it feels, how intense the practices are, how real a game it is. This isn’t the Pro Bowl. To these kids, this is the Super Bowl.
You know it’s more than just an exhibition when you hear every year tales of players getting laid out in early week practices.
“The first time I got the ball, (Lake Central linebacker Ike Spearman) met me in the hole,” James said. “I told him, ‘Man, I’m never going to get used to hitting you. It’s not fun, every time. We just started laughing. We don’t like hitting each other, but we have to.”
You know it’s more than just an exhibition when you hear every year about the rapidly escalating smack talk that goes on between the teams at dinner. James said Wednesday’s meal was getting particularly nasty.
“Weirdest thing I’ve ever been involved in,” he said. “I’ve never played a team from the South, so I don’t really dislike them. So I just sat there like, ‘OK, I’m just going to eat my dinner.’ It’s going to be one hell of a game, for sure.”
And you know it’s a lot more than just an exhibition when you hear Bob James break down in tears on the other end of the phone, just talking about the lifelong friendships he forged during that one week in 2009 when he was an assistant coach.
“Friendships that’ll last forever,” he said, before composing himself and rattling off the people he stays in regular contact with — coaches such as retired NorthWood coach Rich Dodson and former Portage coach Jeromy Flowers; and players such as Cass’ Kitt O’Brien (now at Ball State) and Lafayette Harrison’s F.N. Lutz (now at Indiana State). “You’re eating and sleeping and playing football for however many days in a row, so you really get to know the guys pretty well. When I was at the game last year, David Leas, the running back from (Southern Wells) came up to me and said, ‘Coach, remember me?’ I said, ‘Yeah!’ and he was shocked. But how could I forget?”
The strangest part for the kids every year is how arch-rivals become teammates, and quickly become friends during the week in Indianapolis. There are nine Northwest Indiana players on the roster (there were 12 selected, but Merrillville’s Will Isabell is already at Alcorn State, and Merrillville’s Kourtney Berry and Chesterton’s Kyle Schmidt are nursing injuries), and many have been longtime foes.
“It’s odd, I’m not going to lie,” Taylor James said. “You see Jake Grossnickle from Valpo and Ike Spearman from Lake Central. I’ve seen those guys a lot. So it’s kind of weird having them say, ‘Hey, let’s win this game, big guy.’ It’s also a lot of, ‘Hey, remember when we beat you?’ and “Yeah, but remember when we beat you?’ It’s odd, but at the same time, it’s kind of cool.”
The teams have been in Indy together since Sunday, with up to three practices a day mixed in with team meals, a trip to the Hall of Fame in Richmond and Wednesday evening’s excursion to Camp Riley to support the Riley Children’s Foundation.
The intense, whirlwind week really does live up to the hype.
“It’s been rough, but it’s really cool,” James said. “The thing that everyone always says is that you’re going to be friends with these people for a long time. You’re skeptical, but it really does happen. We’re all really close already. It’s kind of like a fraternity.”
And within that exclusive fraternity lies an even tighter one — the men of the James family.
Each one an all-star.
“When they announce my name, and I step forward, that’s going to be a big moment for me,” Taylor James said. “A lot of guys here talk about all the big games they won, the sectionals and regionals and state finals. But this game is probably the biggest game I’ll play in my life. This game, for me, is something my family will remember.”
The pressure’s not off Taylor James just yet, by the way. Not only have his brothers and dad been all-stars, the James family is undefeated in the Classic — something that Bob James loves to rub in on his boss, Bob Schellinger, who lost in his stint as head coach.
“We’re perfect,” Bob James said. “So far.”
No pressure, Kid.
“If we lose, oh, man,” Taylor said, laughing. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”