MISHAWAKA – When Penn senior Matt Kominkiewicz saw his best friend, John Ohlson, go down in the Kingsmen's second football game of the season, he assumed it was a bone bruise and that Ohlson would be back in quickly.
Unfortunately, Ohlson's injury was much worse, a torn ACL and MCL in his knee ending his senior season early.
Since then, Kominkiewicz has been northing short of sensational, leading the unbeaten Kingsmen in both receiving and scoring, while also becoming one of the state's most dangerous return men.
"When John went down, I didn't want Matt to try and play like John, I wanted him to play like Matt,'' Penn coach Cory Yeoman said. "Thankfully, he's done just that and hasn't put any pressure on himself.''
On Friday, Kominkiewicz and Penn (12-0) will attempt to reach the Class 6A state championship for the second straight season when they travel south to play Carmel (8-4) at 7:30 p.m. in semistate action.
While Ohlson's season ended with his injury, Kominkiewicz says his friend has been with him throughout the Kingsmen's unbeaten season.
"I really feel that I'm playing for John,'' Kominkiewicz said. "I felt so bad for him when he got hurt, but I knew it was my time to step in and play because that's the Penn way.
"But John has been on the sideline all season and he's helped me so much," Kominkiewicz added, "just giving me advice on how to get past the defense or get around guys on punt returns. I don't think I would have had the success I have so far without him being there.''
The 5-foot-8, 165-pound Kominkiewicz has scored 14 touchdowns this season and has become the top target for quarterback James Iapalucci with 33 catches for 522 yards and nine scores. In addition, not only does Kominkiewicz have five special-team touchdowns, but his 29.4 average on punt returns often puts Penn in great field position.
For Yeoman, Kominkiewicz's success hasn't been a major surprise. Matt's father, Jim, is currently the athletic director at Grissom Middle School, but he's also coached both football and baseball in the Penn system and has worked with Yeoman in the past.
"I've literally known Matt since the day he was born and he grew up running around our program, so I know what kind of kid he is and how hard he works,'' Yeoman said. "He's always had great body control and great hands as a receiver. But like a lot of kids before their senior year, Matt really took it upon himself to work even harder in the summer to make himself better, and it's really paid off for him.
"He's always had a ball in his hand growing up and being a coach's kid has also helped him a lot. I think his football knowledge allows him to see things developing – especially in the return game – and he's able to find the open space quicker.''
Kominkiewicz already has a state championship ring in his possession, as he was a member of Penn's 2015 baseball title team. After coming up short to Center Grove in last year's football championship, Kominkiewicz would like nothing more than to beat Carmel this week and earn another shot at a title.
"This is a really special group of guys and our senior class is extremely close,'' Kominkiewicz said. "Obviously, we can't afford to look past this week, but we know what's out there and we'd love to get back to Indianapolis. That's all that matters to me right now, our team doing well.''