Kroner: Unity putting it on the line
TOLONO — Football is a snap these days for Cameron Swearingen, but it hasn’t always been that way.
Now a senior at Unity High School, Swearingen was primarily a defensive lineman for the Rockets during the regular season in 2011.
An injury to starting center Gage Bolt last fall meant the state-ranked Rockets were entering the postseason without an established regular at the position.
“In seventh grade, I was the center,” Swearingen said.
Among varsity players, Swearingen was the most experienced candidate last October. He took over the position, and it became his new home on the football field.
Bolt is back for his senior year, but now he is the one playing mainly on defense.
Both players are thriving, as is the Unity program, which has moved into the state semifinals in Class 3A for a school-record fourth consecutive season.
At first, Swearingen missed the position where he was most comfortable, but he’s glad the switch was made.
“I love defense,” he said, “but on offense, I can take my aggressions out more and hit someone on every play. It was different from what I used to do.”
With most of Unity’s plays starting from shotgun formation, Swearingen’s role is to do more than deliver the ball to a quarterback under center.
“We take for granted how easy that 4- to 5-yard flip is,” Unity head coach Scott Hamilton said. “At times, we ask a lot, snapping the ball and then blocking.”
The 6-foot-1, 290-pound Swearingen is up to the task thanks to his summer commitment.
“He had a tremendous offseason,” Hamilton said. “He was a huge leader and worker in the weightroom, and he dropped 25 to 30 pounds.”
The offensive linemen, a unit that also includes tackles Christian Moore and Kendall Neverman along with guards Dalton Grimm and Joel Ping, seldom find their names in the headlines or in the television highlights.
They are, however, not totally anonymous.
“If you get the blocks, you feel they (backs and receivers) have done it for you,” Swearingen said, “and they give you credit.”
Neverman ranks as one of the Rockets’ most consistent linemen this year. He is a two-year starter, but that designation is deceptive, Hamilton said.
“Playoff success is not only great for the community but I believe it allows you to continue having success,” he said.
“In two years, Kendall has played close to three seasons. He is starting his 26th game (today).
“Kendall has gotten better and better. All those practices and all those reps pay off.”
For athletes whose schools do not advance to the playoffs, they would only have the chance to play 27 games after three full seasons on varsity.
The extra experience led to more confidence for Neverman.
“At one point, we were struggling (offensively),” Hamilton said. “At a timeout, he said, ‘Run it to my side.’ I thought, if that’s what he wants, here we go.
“We’ve developed into more of a left-side dominated team, and a lot of that has to do with Kendall.”
Neverman is fine with not having the spotlight directly on him.
“I know I did my part,” he said. “I wouldn’t want all the limelight on me.”
He will start his eighth postseason game when Greenville (11-1) comes calling. It’s much easier to be in those one-and-done games now than it was a year ago.
“You know what it takes to play in those games,” Neverman said. “The experience is great.”
Logan Sehie had experienced both sides of the football spectrum before transferring to Unity High School as a junior.
He earned some varsity minutes as a freshman at Flora, where he had grown up, for a 7-3 squad that qualified for the Class 2A playoffs. As a sophomore living in Mansfield, he played for a 1-8 Blue Ridge team.
“It breaks your heart,” Sehie said, “when you put that much work into it.”
The 6-7, 330-pounder is now a member of the Rockets’ defensive line.
His toughest move was leaving Flora, where “I had lifelong friends,” he said.
From workouts at Personal Performance Training, in Urbana, Sehie knew Swearingen and Derek Hooker by the time he moved to Tolono. In his new surroundings, he received a warm reception.
“They were open and nice, and included me in a lot of things,” Sehie said.
Football, for him, was not what it had been in his past.
“This was a totally new level,” Sehie said. “I had to learn their schemes and be retaught everything.”
Hamilton brought him along slowly as a junior, though he saw potential.
“He had pretty good feet and moved pretty well,” Hamilton said. “He needed an understanding of how we play.”
Sehie participated in Unity’s recent summer program and followed that with an individual workout with former Rocket Jordan Reinhart.
“He did a lot of extra work,” Hamilton said, “and now he’s a big part of our defense.”
Sehie said the effort was worthwhile.
“I put my nose to the grindstone and ran all the time,” he said. “I never imagined I’d come this far. It’s a whole different world. I wish everybody could experience this.”
After high school, Sehie hopes to pursue a career in law enforcement. For now, he’ll take satisfaction in being one of Unity’s defensive enforcers.
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette’s prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @fredkroner.