Today, the Region Sports Network announces their 2008 “Coach of the Year”, “Blue Collar Player”, “Breakout Player” “Growler of the Year” and “Team of the Year” awards.
Friday on Regionsports.com we hand out Career Achievements Awards and salute other notable players from around the Region.
All the Right Moves
Russ Radtke’s lineup changes helps Griffith regroup to win fourth straight sectional
Written by: Nathan Laird
There were few known commodities on the Griffith roster entering the season. Region fans knew about the Butkus brothers, but with that last name, you tend to stick out a lot on the gridiron. Gone were starting quarterback Derek Hitt, fullback Doug Ashenbaugh and entering was a backfield with two sophomores (Ed Johnson and Orlando Turner) and a quarterback with limited varsity experience (Greg Joyce)
In Griffith however, there’s an expectation that despite all graduation losses, the Panthers won’t rebuild, they will reload and be the team to beat. But this year’s team started 2-4 and finished the regular season just 5-4. By mid-October the usually sold out Boneyard was half empty and it appeared as if the town had given up on the team.
Good thing for Panther fans that Russ Radtke hadn’t given up on this group. During the second half of the season, Radtke made several key personnel and position changes which help lead the turnaround and month long post season run. Looking back, this may have been his best coaching job to date and the late season success of his team, earn Radtke the 2008 Region Sports Network Coach of the Year award.
As impressive as Griffith’s turnaround in the second half of the season was, they had yet to beat a top tier opponent. After a win over East Chicago in the sectional opener, a sectional semi-final showdown with rival Hobart loomed. A fired-up Panther squad used their 19-0 loss to Hobart earlier in the season as motivation, dominating the Brickies 35-14. A loss to the favored Brickies would have meant an end to the 21-year old sectional championship appearance streak.
Two weeks later Radtke tried using revenge as motivation in the regional championship against Lowell. On a muddy night which brought up memories of the 1995 “Mud Bowl” the Panthers fell in a 19-13 heart-stopping contest – coming closer than anyone would have imagined just a few short weeks earlier.
RSN Blue Collar Player of the Year – Bryan DeSomer
Written by: Paul Honeycutt – RSM Correspondent
For high school football teams around the Region, a blue collar approach to success can be defined by hard work in the off-season, preparation during practice, and mental toughness. These three attributes demonstrate perfectly why Bryan DeSomer of Lowell is the Region Sports Network 2008 Blue Collar Player of the Year.
Lining up at fullback in front of the Region’s most lethal running combination in teammates Brandon Grubbe and Cody Midgett, DeSomer opened holes that William “Refrigerator” Perry could have fit through.
Besides blocking, DeSomer ran the ball well himself, averaging better than five yards a carry en route to 455 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. And DeSomer was a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield as well, averaging 17 yards a catch while grabbing twelve passes for 255 yards and a touchdown.
DeSomer also helped anchor one of the Region’s most stout defenses at outside linebacker, finishing second on the team in tackles with 58 stops, second only to teammate and RSN Defensive Player of the Year Justin Juarez. DeSomer also had seven tackles for loss and grabbed three interceptions as well.
And versatility could be DeSomer’s middle name, because he was on the field on kick-off and punt teams too, putting him on the field for virtually the entire season in 2008.
“Brian was our most versatile player,” said Lowell Head Coach Kirk Kennedy. “We would typically use him to blitz off the edge, but he could also play a two-deep safety for us. He was our most physical player and by playing in a few different positions, was our most versatile.”
While playing fullback doesn’t get much publicity, Kennedy believes DeSomer derived the most satisfaction from playing that position. “Brian ran the ball well for us,” said Kennedy. “He could catch the ball and run out of the backfield just as effectively as he executed his blocking assignments.”
A blue collar player is a guy who brings his lunch pail to work and is prepared to stay until the job is done; a guy who is the first one at work, and the last one to leave, putting the team before himself, which is the perfect description for Lowell’s all-everything de Somer.
“(And) as good as he is as a football player, he is just as polite and respectful (as a person),” said Kennedy. “Brian was just (totally) absorbed in the team concept that we are trying to build here at Lowell.”
Calumet’s George Ezell Caps Career with Super Senior Season
Written by: Rich Castillo
If speed, agility, strength, and a keen vision of the field are the qualities that make up a good running back, then George Ezell is a good running back. The Calumet Warrior all purpose back is the recipient of the inaugural Region Sports Network 2008 “Be All You Can Be” Player of the Year.
At six feet tall and 191 pounds, the fleet footed Ezell possesses speed that few can match. Clocked at 4.37 in the forty yard dash, the senior tailback was described by head coach Ivan Zimmer as one the greatest players he’s ever coached. Zimmer said of Ezell, “he has great hand eye coordination, exceptional speed with great acceleration and beautiful long strides”
As one of the captains on this year’s team, Ezell was looked up to by his teammates because of his physical talents but he also became the emotional leader of this year Calumet club.
Rushing for 13 touchdowns this year, Ezell had the capability of changing the momentum of game at any time. According to his coach, Ezell was “a threat to score every time he touched the ball”.
Ezell rushed for 924 yard on just 97 carries, for an impressive 9.5 yard average. His talents didn’t stop on the offensive side if the ball, as he turned out to be quite valuable on special teams as well. The senior gave his team good field position on many occasions, by returning kickoffs at an average of 26.3 yards per return, breaking one for 80 yards.
A well rounded player Ezell also returned punts averaging 33 yards per return. On thirteen occasions Ezell was call upon to punt giving him a 37.9 yard average.
Because of his do-it-all talents as well as his leadership qualities, Ezell will go down as one of the all-time greats at Calumet High School.
Merrillville’s Big Guy, Aaron Kaczmarski Named Growler of the Year
Written by: Nathan Laird
Like most linemen, Merrillville’s Aaron Kaczmarski isn’t as well known to Region football fans as the other 2008 RSN award winners, but the 6’6” 250 pound defensive lineman was one of the driving forces behind the Pirates 6-3 regular season record and second straight sectional championship. His effort in the trenches garners him “Growler” of the year status as Region Sports Network Top Lineman of 2008.
Merrillville coach Zac Wells was impressed with his captain’s unselfish play and knew that Kaczmarski would do anything to help the team.
“Aaron put aside his stats for the good of the team,” Wells said. “He started the season at defensive end and we needed to make changes defensively. We needed to move another player out to the end and Aaron moved inside. This move typically comes with less tackles as you are constantly in a position to be double teamed. Aaron made this move and our defense benefited as a result of it.”
After a slow start by the Pirates, Merrillville played their best football as the season went on, something Wells saw in Kaczmarski, due to his work ethic.
“I can honestly say that Aaron continued to get better as the season went on and I think his best football lies ahead of him. During the season, Aaron would come in the morning to work out before school. He is a really positive influence on the team.”
Even though he switched positions, Kaczmarski still tallied impressive numbers for a defensive lineman. On the season, Kaczmarski finished with 39 solo tackles, two sacks, five tackles for loss, two sacks and a notable 21 quarterback hurries.
Munster’s Turnaround Earns the Mustangs “Team of the Year”
Written by: Matt Douthett
Few people outside of Munster expected the Mustangs to be a factor in their conference or sectional this season after winning just three games and being bounced from the first round of last year’s playoffs in 2007. As it turned out, the Mustangs were not only a factor, they were a force. It’s this kind of improbable turnaround that has earned the Munster Mustangs the 2008 Region Sports Network Team of the Year award.
Playing in one of the toughest conferences in the state, the Mustangs went 7-4, including a 23-0 blanking of Lake Central in the opening round of the sectional.
The RSN’s Chris Lannin said a couple of teams were in the running, but in the end, it was the ‘Stangs turnaround and the way they dealt with adversity, that gave them the edge. “I first saw them in the Andrean game and I was impressed with how physical they were. They were really getting after people on defense,” said Lannin. “But what was more impressive was that during the week after flood, the Munster kids were all out sandbagging and helping out people in the community. They weren’t even able to practice that week, but on Friday night, they came from 14 points down at the half to beat a good Morton team. They really believed in each other and used adversity as a rallying point to draw them closer together.”
Munster’s sectional victory over Lake Central was impressive not only because it was its first postseason victory in 5A, but because the Indians had defeated Munster 20-19 in the first game of the season. All Munster did after the opening loss to Lake Central was rattle off a five-game winning streak, capped by a 17-14 victory over Griffith, the programs first over the Panthers in the past five seasons.
The bulk of the Mustangs’ offensive attack started from the left arm of quarterback Joe Gill. The senior southpaw fired a Region-leading 19 touchdown passes (tied with Clark’s Micah Rooke) and finished with 1,709 yards through the air, good for third highest in the Region.
Munster’s season came to an end with a 37-7 loss to Merrillville on Halloween night. While the Pirates dominated Munster, the heart and desire of the Mustangs to rebound from their 3-7 2007 campaign while competing as one of the smallest schools in 5A is something they should be able to build upon in upcoming seasons.