Lazerus: Ex-Dogs make new memories at Crown Point
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or firstname.lastname@example.org November 9, 2011 11:16PM
Jeffrey D. Nicholls/Post- Crown Point's Matt Jansen goes for the endzone in the fourth quarter to make the score 16-13 Merrillville.
Updated: December 13, 2011 8:38AM
CROWN POINT — Matt Jansen and Nick Ciochina don’t cry themselves to sleep every night, thinking of that fateful Friday night in November of 2005.
“Well, I might a little more than Matt,” Ciochina says with a chuckle.
But that doesn’t mean the memory of that game — one of the most memorable in recent region history, as second-ranked and undefeated Crown Point lost 16-13 to Merrillville in front of an overflow crowd at Demaree Stadium — has released its grip on the minds of Jansen and Ciochina, both of whose standout football careers at Crown Point came to an end that night.
“It was rough,” said Jansen, the Bulldogs’ quarterback. “I remember quite a bit from that game, actually. It’s something you can’t really forget.”
So it was particularly sweet for the two to be on that same sideline at that same field on Friday night, watching the underdog Bulldogs upend the Pirates for the sectional championship.
Only this time, Jansen and Ciochina were assistant coaches. Jansen works with the quarterbacks, Ciochina handles the linebackers.
It doesn’t replace or erase that memory of 2005. But it creates a new one that will last just as long.
“It’s definitely different to do it as a coach, but it’s still very fulfilling and exciting to be on that stage and see the kids you work with day in and day out achieve that goal,” Ciochina said.
Both former players are new additions to Chip Pettit’s staff this year. Ciochina was the head coach at Grimmer Middle School last year, his first year as a teacher since graduating from Butler. For Jansen — who gave up football to pitch at Purdue — it’s his first year coaching.
And while it took some time for the two to get used to calling Pettit by his first name, instead of simply “Coach” or “Sir,” they’ve been welcome additions and have played a big part in Crown Point’s run to Friday’s Class 5A regional at Penn.
“I think it’s great,” Pettit said. “Bringing them on was one of the things we wanted to do because these are the guys that these kids looked up to. These guys, Matt and Nick coming back, they’re bleeding red and white. There’s something to be said for that.”
Neither played football in college, aside from dominating unprepared undergrads in intramural flag football. But neither lost his love for the game, and coaching — which requires even more hours of work than playing — has only served to increase that passion.
“It’s different coming back after not being around it for a couple of years,” Jansen said. “But it’s really fun.”
Frustrating, too. You can spend countless hours working with a quarterback on reading defenses and making the smart throw, or working with a linebacker on proper technique and angle of pursuit. But once they’re on the field, it’s up to those kids to make the right throw, to bring down the ball-carrier — to win or lose the game, really.
“It’s just a different feeling when you’re part of the team, out there playing and having control over it,” Jansen said. “As a coach, you teach them what you can, but at the end of the day, they’re the ones who have to go out and play the game.”
That’s why Pettit shrugs off the idea that Jansen and Ciochina somehow avenged that 2005 sectional championship loss with last Friday’s win.
“I guess you could look at it that way, but really, that’s the kids’ sectional championship,” said Pettit, who won the 1991 sectional as Crown Point’s quarterback. “We all played at one time, but this is about the kids. We’re trying to give the kids the best chance they can to succeed. But ultimately, it’s about them — they have to go out and perform.”
Which is what makes coaching so rewarding yet so frustrating. Even for Pettit, who’s been doing this for 12 seasons now.
“It’s very different,” he said. “As a high school player, you have a really short memory. From success to failure, it’s about an hour. But adults tend to have a harder time getting over things.”
So does that mean that 2005 loss still keeps Pettit up at nights? Even after winning the title the following season? And again this year?
Pettit just offered a wry smile. An assistant walking by grinned widely, nodded his head and mouthed the words, “Oh, yeah.”
No, Jansen and Ciochina won’t soon forget that night in 2005. But now that they’re back in Bulldogs red and white, they’re adding plenty of new memories to help that one fade away.