The 2019 Elkhart Central football team looks to be one of the best Blue Blazer teams in recent history.
Strong coaching. Talented players. A running game you can count on when the weather turns cold. One of the top defenses the area has seen in quite some time, led by a player receiving big-time Division I offers.
And although their Class 5A sectional is strong and the regional is even tougher, the Blazers are good enough to win the Northern Indiana Conference North Division and make a run in the state tournament.
So what could stop the Blue Blazers?
Right now it seems like the answer is ... the Blue Blazers.
Friday night, in a win over Jimtown, two Central players were thrown out of the game and will be suspended by the IHSAA for next week’s game against Benton Harbor at Rice Field. To be fair, a Jimtown player also was tossed.
The week before, Central head coach Josh Shattuck had to suspend six starters prior to the Blazers’ win over Goshen.
Shattuck said on Friday that Central’s lack of discipline reflects badly on him and his coaching staff. And while the buck does stop with Shattuck, sometimes there is little a coach can do.
I’ve seen Shattuck and his staff at Blazer practices. He has the players’ attention and they answer him yes sir or no sir.
So what happens when the bright lights come on?
Do players suddenly channel their inner Antonio Brown or Odell Beckam Jr.? Has some success gone to their heads after just three weeks of the season? Why feel the need to chirp and taunt an opponent?
Stories coming out of Friday’s win over Jimtown aren’t pretty. Not only were the two players ejected from the game, but sources say there was an ugly confrontation on the sideline with a Jimtown coach that could have gotten more players in trouble.
This really needs to stop.
I don’t expect players to listen to me about their actions. If they’re not listening to Shattuck and his staff, why would they listen to some writer.
But just in case, think about these scenarios, guys.
In two weeks, you play South Bend St. Joseph and officials are already becoming more aware of the reputation this team is carrying. A bad word here or a taunt there and you could be thrown out.
That would mean you miss the showdown at home against Mishawaka the following week.
What about week nine against New Prairie? The Cougars could come to Rice Field ranked No. 1 in Class 4A and it may be a battle for the NIC North title.
New Prairie runs an option offense and it’s easy to get frustrated at times trying to find the football. Once again, a blow up here or there and you could be ejected.
What would that mean?
A suspension for the first week of the IHSAA state playoffs and a possible matchup with Concord or Mishawaka or another game with crosstown rival Elkhart Memorial.
In other words, if you’re a senior, your career could end with a temper tantrum if Central were to lose without you.
Not exactly the legacy anyone wants to leave.
Elkhart Central has been called for 21 penalties for 225 yards in their last two games – wins over Goshen and Jimtown. Too many of them have been unsportsmanlike conduct calls.
There is no easy answer, of course. Kids are kids and when they see their heroes on Sunday acting like a 12-year-old, it’s a short trip to acting that way too.
In the days before social media and 24-7 ESPN overcoverage, Mickey Mantle or Pete Rose or the 1977 Oakland Raiders could stay out all night, cause some trouble and play the next day like nothing happened.
Now Brown is fighting his general manager, posting YouTube videos of a conversation with his coach, getting released a day before the season begins and ending up on the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
Quite a role model for young athletes to emulate.
So what can possibly be done to help the Blue Blazers become a more disciplined football team?
Shattuck can do his best to control the environment and work the process.
His coaches can whisper in the players’ ears or get in their face when they act up.
The Blue Blazer captains can try to lead, but if everyone wants to do their own thing, that point is moot.
No, it’s up to the entire Elkhart Central roster – from the smallest sophomore to the most veteran seniors – to come together, realize they could do special things this season and act like men the coaches, school and city can be proud of.
Before it’s too late.
Ken Fox is the the sports editor of The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @KenFoxTruth on Twitter.