TERRE HAUTE —
Two coaches who know something about replacing legends are getting their first tastes of all-star fun this week, culminating in tonight’s ninth annual Wabash Valley Football Coaches Association All-Star Game at Memorial Stadium.
Kickoff for the game, featuring players from 32 different high schools, is 7:30 p.m. Tickets will be available at the gate.
Jim Sullivan of Casey will coach the Black team; his first season as head coach of the Warriors included a postseason run to the Illinois Class 2A quarterfinals, where Casey lost a 2-point decision to eventual state runner-up Belleville Althoff. Sullivan had succeeded Keith Sinclair at Casey, and Sinclair was a member of the WVFCA’s 2012 Hall of Fame class just a few months after announcing his resignation.
“It’s been fun,” Sullivan said of his first week of all-star practice.
“Since it’s my first year [on an all-star staff], I didn’t really know what to expect but the players are great. They all want to do well. Most of them were captains of their high school teams, and they’re all try-hard kids.”
The last two Wabash Valley high school football teams standing in Indiana during postseason play in the fall both suffered their only losses of the season to eventual Class A state runner-up Indianapolis Scecina, North Vermillion in the regional and Linton in semistate play.
That might have given Steve Weber of the Miners a slight edge over Brian Crabtree of the Falcons for the other all-star head coaching position, except that Weber has moved on to the coaching job at Bedford North Lawrence. Crabtree then, in effect, is replacing an all-star legend in Weber, who by last year’s contest had lost track of just how many times he’d been a WVFCA all-star head coach.
“I’ve gotten to be an [all-star] assistant and an offensive coordinator, but never a head coach,” Crabtree said after one of his Gold team’s practices earlier this week. “This is always a great week. You’re getting to work with high-caliber football players, and you’re getting together with the other coaches and enjoying all the camaraderie that goes with it.
“For a lot of these guys, this is the last time they’ll play football,” Crabtree continued, “so the effort is really outstanding.”
Two of the players who have impressed Crabtree this week, he said, are from Terre Haute North. Brother Scank figures to get plenty of opportunities to run the ball tonight, while Vasco Bilberry is the leader of the Gold defense along with North Central’s Dante Rehmel.
Sullivan’s Payne Fortner and Cascade’s Colin Smith figure to share the Gold’s quarterback position, while Edgewood’s Derek Driver has been impressive as a receiver.
With Greencastle’s Nick Gilliam running the show, the Black team will “run the option,” Sullivan said. “That’s probably a first for an all-star game. We’ll spread it out sometimes as well.”
The offensive and defensive lines could be the strength of the Black team, Sullivan added, while Terre Haute South safety Dillon Bell is “the captain of our defense; he’s making plays all over the field,” the coach noted. Other impressive Black team members during the week have been Greencastle’s versatile Mac Shuee and Mattoon wide receiver Skyler Hartbank.
Gold may have the best set of kickers in all-star history with Linton’s Dyllanne Deischer and Riverton Parke exchange student Jan Ackerman. Ackerman’s parents arrived from Germany this week and will watch their son play American football for the first time tonight.
“Dyllanne is very consistent; she’s the national record-holder for points [in high school football] by a girl,” Crabtree pointed out, “and Jan has an outstanding leg [for longer field goals and kickoffs].”
Driver has also been impressive as a punter for the Gold team, but Sullivan feels his team’s kicking game is also in good hands with Marshall’s Daniel Littlejohn.
The Black team also has what might be an all-star first: two sets of twins. Sullivan said he’d been enjoying the interactions between Matt and Shawn McCown of his own Casey team as well as Danny and Dylan Banks of Terre Haute South.
At least five players will leave tonight’s game with scholarships: the Pete Varda/WVFCA Hall of Fame Scholarships presented to one player from each team voted by his teammates; the “coaches pick” scholarships from each team, sponsored by Sir Thomas Automotive; and the Brett Eitel Scholarship presented to the player or players with the top academic standing.
The 2013 WVFCA Hall of Fame inductees — David “Pudge” Bennett, Nick Mourouzis and Dick Ranard — will also be introduced after being honored at Friday night’s banquet.
What: Wabash Valley Football Coaches Association All-Star Game
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Memorial Stadium
Tickets: Available at the gate