Spartans are athletes for all seasons
The football season will end within the next week for St. Joseph-Ogden.
Many of the athletes in prominence throughout the fall will continue to stay in the limelight and move directly into a winter sport.
Among those expected to report to basketball — where coach Brian Brooks has worked with a skeleton crew the first two weeks — are Nick Barnes, Cole Berry, Ty Brown, Brady Depratt, Hunter Hart, Rylan Housenga, Connor Janes, Jake Pence, Jake Stewart and Dalton Walsh.
The wrestling roster will expand, too, once Orion Ciota, Austin Hedrick, Wesley Kibler, Gage Haga, Jordan Hartman, Dylan Koss, Ryan Koss, Gunnar Meeker, Skyler Pumphrey, Matthew Sanders, Shane Skinner and Ronnie Violante make the switch.
Football coach Dick Duval is a proponent of coaches sharing athletes.
“Multiple-sport athletes are so important,” Duval said. “You learn just as much from that, how to compete, being part of a team, as you do sitting in the weightroom lifting weights.”
At SJ-O, participation in sports throughout the school year isn’t reserved for those projected as major impact performers each season.
“They want to be part of a team accomplishing something,” Duval said.
One example is Hart, who recently signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Indiana University.
“He had a great summer in baseball and was wavering (about football),” Duval said. “He sensed that maybe he should stay out of sports until baseball to make sure he’d be OK.”
Duval didn’t do any arm-twisting.
“His friends were playing (football), and he thought he needed to be with them,” Duval said. “He knows he’s not the superstar, like in baseball, but he’s part of a good team. Jake Stewart feels the same way.”
The impact of Hart and Stewart is undeniable. Hart leads the Spartans in receptions (28) and receiving yards (425). Stewart leads the area in interceptions (seven).
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Hart and Stewart are part of a bigger SJ-O group than athletes who move from one sport to another as the seasons change. They are among the 17 seniors on the football roster.
“I always felt you win with seniors,” Duval said. “They have more invested.”
While Duval said it’s difficult to compare one team to squads from different years, there is one trait that each SJ-O team that played for a state championship held in common.
“Every one of them that made it to the state finals was senior-dominated,” he said.
The Spartans’ football-playing members in the Class of 2014 have developed a strong camaraderie.
“The senior group is close on and off the field and has been for many, many years,” Duval said.
The Spartans take a 10-2 season record into Saturday’s 2 p.m. Class 3A semifinal game at 12-0 Greenville. This is the 10th time in school history — all with Duval as coach — that SJ-O has reached double figures for wins in a season.
“I thought we had a chance to be pretty good, but I didn’t know we had a chance to be this good,” Duval said. “I was a little leery about our offensive and defensive line. We’re not very big, but we have enough depth we could survive and not have a lot going both ways.”
Greenville is averaging 51.4 points a game and hasn’t scored fewer than 28 in any game. In the last six games, the Comets have scored 63 points in three of the games.
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Some might wonder about projections for the future of SJ-O football after a 17-member senior class graduates.
This year’s junior varsity record was 7-1. The freshmen won all eight of their games.
While this year’s top varsity rusher (Hedrick), top passer (Walsh), top receiver (Hart), top tackler (Wyatt Sage), top tackler for loss (Jake Rahn) and top interceptor (Stewart) are all seniors, the team runner-up in all categories are underclassmen: rusher (Ciota), passer (Eli Oltean), receiver (Janes), tackler (Chase Gadau), tackler for loss (Janes) and interceptor (Pence).
Gadau and Janes are the only Spartans this year who’ve scored touchdowns by rushing and by receiving. Ciota has scored 47 points with his foot, 44 on extra points. Ciota is one of 12 Spartans who’ve scored touchdowns.
The SJ-O seniors are Barnes, Jacob Bowman, Jacob Buoy, Depratt, Logan Deweese, Seth Griswell, Hart, Hartman, Hedrick, Dylan Koss, Ryan Koss, Jack Long, Ty Poole, Rahn, Sage, Stewart and Walsh.
Class 3A semifinals
St. Joseph-Ogden (10-2) at Greenville (12-0), 2 p.m.
Comment: SJ-O has one of the two Class 3A postseason shutouts
Stillman Valley (10-2) at Aurora Christian (9-3), 5 p.m.
Comment: Aurora Christian chasing third straight state title