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“Candy drill!” Coach Young, senior Carl Young’s dad shouted. The tight-knit group of 4th grade football stars were delighted. It was their favorite drill and an annual Halloween tradition.
The defensive players lined opposite the offense with one goal: to claim the bag of candy behind the offensive line. If the boys could touch the bag within three seconds, they were granted the reward every grade school boy dreams of – a big handful of candy.
For the past eight years, not only has a winning football team been in the making, but the story of a friendship has been written. It may have been on a different field, a different team and a different school, but it was the same 12 best friends that always had each other’s backs.
Now, in their senior year, the boys have become the leaders of a powerhouse Varsity team: Peter Haynes, Matt Schotte, Sky Tate, Eli McDonald, Carl Young, Luke Kaiser, Ryan Kahle, Logan Cleaver, Zac Medley, David Goldstein, Parker Shirling and Eli Kurlbaum.
First stepping on the field as a self-proclaimed “fat fourth grader,” Haynes’ expectations were set pretty high for positions and field play in general – he thought he would be the quarterback, which was every new player’s assumption according to Haynes.
Most of the boys eventually came to the realization that they would not be playing starting quarterback for their Football and Cheerleading Club of Johnson County team. Instead, most were told to play offensive line.
They spent their days in Linwood Park, where they would practice their stance, perfect their double teams and build their chemistry. That was five years ago.
Now, as seniors, the practice tempo is faster, the hits are harder and the stakes are higher. An average Varsity practice consists of drills like “perfect play,” where the team runs through all 60 plus of Delaney’s plays. If anyone makes a mistake, no matter how small, that play goes to the back of the list and has to be run until it’s perfect. It’s two hours of sweat, hits and hard work.
“It’s in those times when you’re dead-tired and you’re ready to stop, but you just look over and give a little head nod to the guy next to you just to keep you going,” Varsity captain Young said. “And it’s in moments like those when you really feel like you know somebody.”
The game was no longer solely about the love for the sport, but the fact that they get to spend every day together during the fall season. Practices, games and tough hits, the boys said, aren’t as bad when they have each other.
“Knowing you’re not the only one suffering in the heat and getting hit all the time really helps you keep going,” Kurlbaum, or as his teammates call him, Kurly, said.
Their bond is evident from the crowd as well as the field. Whether it be tossing the Gatorade squirt bottle back and forth on the bench or stretching each other out before the game, they work towards preparing each other for success.
“On the sidelines, they’re never not laughing [or] messing around with each other or a manager for that matter,” team manager Mari Long said.
Whether it’s laughing about the first time they had to do squats for four minutes, thinking “this [coach is] crazy” or joking about seeing each other at a high school reunion.
“[At a reunion] we’d definitely go over some plays and maybe run a couple,” McDonald said.
“I know we would be tempted to throw on some pads,” Schotte agreed.
Although the boys can’t look forward to the candy drill anymore, they still have a reason to keep pushing and fighting for the team.
“Coming out to practice everyday and doing drills is a grind. It’s hard. So a lot of the days, you’re not gonna like it and you’re not gonna want to be there,” Haynes said. “But what keeps you coming back is knowing that these are the guys you’ve been playing with since fourth grade. You can’t quit on them and they won’t quit on you.”