TERRE HAUTE —
Any successful athletic team can expect to have more than its share of heroes, a good number of unselfish role players and a few competitors who have overcome adversity to succeed, and Terre Haute North’s high school football squad is no exception.
In senior back Kai Stratten, in fact, the Patriots have a player who has done all three of those things this year.
After a week off, the Patriots start their postseason play tonight at Castle in the first round of Class 5A Sectional 16 after achieving a 7-2 record that’s best in school history.
For the past few weeks, Stratten has averaged well over 100 yards per game in combined rushing and receiving yards, firmly establishing himself among the team’s heroes. He’d almost certainly have been making those contributions in earlier games except for a nagging injury, which addresses the adversity situation.
But here’s why Stratten has endeared himself to coach Chris Barrett and the other Patriots. It’s part of the answer when he was asked to evaluate his own season so far.
“I’m really proud of what I’ve done,” he said. “I practice really hard … I run sprints hard, I try to work on the little things like technique and footwork … and I’ve been pretty good at blocking for Ricky [Brookins, the only Patriot with more yards than Stratten] and the wide receivers.”
Barrett was not surprised that Stratten’s own offensive numbers (577 yards rushing, 7.4 yards per carry, 18.8 yards per reception on 12 catches, 803 total yards, nine touchdowns) didn’t come up.
“He’s such an outstanding young man and role model,” the coach said. “He’s a good student, a hard worker and a good athlete … he’s never going to talk trash, he never brings attention to himself — he’s just a humble, down-to-earth kid who loves to play football.”
Brookins has had a season that’s erased Anthony Thompson’s name from a couple of Terre Haute North records, and Stratten said this week it was no problem if he was occasionally overshadowed by his classmate.
“[Stratten has] accepted that role right from the beginning,” his coach said.
“Ricky is a great player,” Stratten said. “I know he has my back and I have his.”
“The two complement each other very well,” Barrett added. “That’s one of the reasons our offense is playing so well.”
One time the Patriot offense wasn’t clicking was the second half of the Terre Haute South game, which turned into one of those two losses. Stratten was limited that night after tweaking his Achilles tendon, Barrett said, and had to be limited — on one side of the ball, anyway — for a couple of games.
“We had to limit him offensively,” the coach pointed out, “because we couldn’t afford to give him up on defense [where’s he one of the Patriot cornerbacks]. … we ask an awful lot of him, because he brings a lot to the table.”
Stratten is starting for the second straight year on defense, after being a regular on offense since taking over a slotback position as a sophomore. He also earned a letter during his freshman season by being named player of the year on the North scout team.
Now he’s ready to get back to the action, after last week’s unaccustomed rest due to Class 5A being only half as large as the smaller four classes.
“It was kind of surreal without a game [last Friday],” he said. “Everyone was kind of depressed, a little sad. But we practiced hard that day, and I feel our team is set to recast our game.”
If the Patriots want to avoid any more Fridays without football the rest of this month, they need to keep winning.
“We want to go far,” Stratten said. “I trust my teammates; we’ll [play] to the best of our abilities.”
North beat Castle easily back in August, but Stratten doesn’t think the Patriots will overlook a team that had beaten them the two previous years.
“We know Castle is a great team,” he said, “and by this time they’ll be back to where they were last year.”