TERRE HAUTE —
Tyler Gustafson was inspired to play high school football after watching one of the all-time great Indianapolis Colts and he’s shown that in recent weeks.
The West Vigo junior’s play this season might also remind Viking fans of a couple of different Colts, members of the current team who are on their way to all-time great status themselves. That’s fine with Gustafson too, he said this week.
Gustafson has been a two-way standout for West Vigo, although fans could be excused for not noticing. All season, he’s been a disruptive force defensively, spending lots of time in opponents’ backfields, but he’s an end on offense. Early in the season, that position was similar to being in the witness protection program.
As Gustafson said, “I love defense. We really don’t throw on offense, so I look forward to defense.”
Opponents don’t look forward to seeing Gustafson there quite as much. For one thing, they don’t usually know where he is, and why should they? The Vikings don’t have a real clear description of what he is.
“There are a couple of guys we move around [defensively],” West Vigo coach Jeff Cobb said.
“Lately, because of the teams we’ve been playing, [Gustafson] has been a stand-up end, but against other teams he drops back in coverage. He’s strong enough and he’s got speed, so he can pull that off. We call him a linebacker.”
“I kind of play a hybrid [position],” Gustafson explained. “I’m a stand-up defensive end — pass rush, contain on running plays. I practice with the linebackers, but I play defensive end.”
Whatever. At neither of those positions do you expect to find a team’s deep receiving threat, however, and that’s what Gustafson has become offensively in the past three weeks as the Viking aerial attack has started to emerge.
Four weeks ago, for example, West Vigo threw a short pass on the first play of the game, surprising the opposing defense so much that it went for a touchdown. The Vikings didn’t throw another one, though.
The following week, however, Gustafson caught a bomb from Jimmy Maples for a touchdown, and he added two more scores — West Vigo’s only two scores — last week. Two weeks ago, he didn’t get in the end zone, but he got under another long pass from Maples to set up a score.
“Call it what you want,” he said when asked if he truly had become a deep threat. “I love being a receiver. Marvin Harrison is the reason I play football.”
While Harrison certainly was a deep threat in his day, no one remembers him offering to take a few reps to give Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis a rest. And, according to Cobb, we still haven’t discussed what Gustafson does best.
“He’s a kid who has made himself into a good player,” the coach said of Gustafson this week. “I don’t think he’s missed an off-season workout … and he’s become so physically strong. His No. 1 role is blocking; he’s really a team leader at blocking and that helps us a lot.”
“Me and [fellow end] Chris Neidlinger block for the outside [running] plays,” Gustafson said in describing the Viking offense, “and we throw an occasional pass in there sometimes.”
Gustafson isn’t complaining about the many roles, though. Just the opposite, in fact.
“I like the variation,” he said. “I never get bored with it … I really never come off the field, and I just love playing. I get lost in the game and I don’t pay attention to anything else.”
“He’s very busy, both on offense and defense,” Cobb agreed. “He’s a linebacker now, but he was a defensive back the [previous] two years … it’s nice to have that speed on the outside.”
Gustafson’s love for the game has been enhanced this season because of his team’s success. After opening with a pair of one-sided losses — one reversed by forfeit — the Vikings are playing for the Western Indiana Conference championship as they host Sullivan at 7 p.m. today.
“When we got trampled the first two games, the whole team was kind of down,” Gustafson admitted. “But we got that first win, that gave us some confidence, and we started playing more together. Now we’re 5-3 and playing for the conference championship.”