The Chicago Bears and Region football were polar opposites this fall. The yin and yang is young men chewing on mouth pieces on the grid.
In August, all of Chicagoland was believing the hype that Da Bears were going to be shuffling to the Super Bowl. And, yes, the boys in blue and orange have played well the last month. But the concept of playing deep into January is done dead. Ancient history. Kaput in cleats.
There wasn’t any great conversation in August about any teams from the 2-1-9 getting to Lucas Oil Stadium for Thanksgiving dinner. There was hope like always, but no one was reserving hotel rooms in Indy at the start of the season.
Be honest. That wasn’t happening at all.
But in week 14, there were four teams -- Andrean (2A), Hobart (4A), Valparaiso (5A) and Merrillville (6A) -- playing in semi-state games. Just one win away from the big stage.
This was a remarkable season and all who competed in it should take a bow. So before all attention goes to the orange balls dribbling in gyms, I’d like to give out my awards for this campaign.
Coach of the Year: Chris Skinner from Andrean, Craig Osika at Hobart, Bill Marshall from Valparaiso and Brad Seiss of Merrillville are all at the dinner in tuxes to see who I pick. And Calumet’s Rick Good, whose team won nine games and lost in overtime in the sectional final, can also sneak into the banquet hall wearing principal Oxfords.
Great job, gents. You gave your kids, school and community a lot of joy this autumn. You made some history.
But the trophy goes to Marshall, who stepped in at Valpo in extremely muddy waters and found a way to get to the state final. His Vikings also played New Palestine, one of Indiana’s top programs, down to the wire before falling 27-20.
Tommy Burbee rushed for 108 yards and a score for the Vikes. CJ Opperman threw for 292 yards and a score, almost looking like Mitch Trubisky the last two weeks. Antonio Osorio caught five passes for 130 yards and a score and teammate Luke Patterson had five catches for 126 yards.
Valpo’s defense was very stingy in that game, and all fall. Maxen Hook had 12 tackles against the Dragons, Richard Clevenger had nine takedowns and Aven Jones had eight.
Great job fellas. But I have to ask a question. Is Valparaiso a basketball town anymore?
Defensive Player of the Year: This is a tough one with so many great defenders in the area this season. But I will pick Hobart’s Bobby Babcock as my best of the season. The junior linebacker had 15 sacks and eight forced fumbles. I got to see him play at Andrean and he was a one-man wrecking crew. He reminded me of Lowell grad Jordan Jusevitch, an absolute game-changer.
Others in the hunt for this honor were Hobart’s Matthew Benton, who had 12 picks and scored three defensive touchdowns. Valpo’s Dylan Dingman (13 sacks) and Cooper Jones. Both will be back next year. Merrillville’s Nick Price (7.5 sacks, 10 TFL) and Khris Walton (DAC Player of the Year) are on my list, along with Chesterton’s Ben Slatcoff (seven picks).
And I’ve never been a big-school-only sports scribbler, so Clark linebacker Fortune Woods was also in the hunt. If you’ve never seen him play he’ll be on TV next fall at Bowling Green.
Offensive Player of the Year: This treat goes to Merrillville’s Jeremiah Howard. The Northern Illinois signee caught 54 passes for 987 yards with nine scores. The standout wide-out was a big reason the Pirates were able to get to their first semi-state since 2012. He was surrounded by a great group of teammates who all helped to brighten the lights on Broadway this year.
Others in the OPY hunt were Valpo’s Burbee and Opperman, Chesterton’s Chris Mullen, Crown Point’s Ben Uran, and Andrean’s JJ Wadas and Ryan Walsh.
Yes, it was fun, wasn’t it? It’s always better when things happen that aren’t expected. Except, of course, when it concerns the Bears.
This one thing I know. Matt Nagy would not have needed a tux for my awards. I would’ve had him parking cars for all these real football coaches.