BENTON — Fairfield junior quarterback Cory Lantz has endured plenty of pain during his three years of playing varsity football.
Typical football injuries have slowed Lantz down, with those health issues being a sprained ankle and a torn ligament in his wrist last year and an ankle injury suffered a week ago in Fairfield's 35-0 win over Prairie Heights in Class 2A sectional semifinal action.
But Lantz will be ready to go this Friday at 7 p.m. when Fairfield visits Eastside for the sectional championship.
"I think his foot would have to come off for him not to be able to play," said Fairfield football coach Matt Thacker.
An injury won't stop Lantz because he's endured a more damaging pain. The pain of a football program just trying to field a competitive team.
That was the case last year, as Fairfield went winless.
• A lack of numbers and injuries forced the Falcons to cancel their game in week four against Culver Academy.
• The Falcons didn't score their first points of the year until their fourth game against West Noble.
• Fairfield finished the year being outscored, 493 points to 27.
Those extremely difficult circumstances would have made many quit the team.
That wasn't Lantz's mindset.
"No," said Lantz about quitting. "I never thought about doing that. It was a down year and it wasn't fun, but I just tried to keep looking forward to the offseason and my junior year and getting after it."
Lantz credit his parents (Jim and Jodie) for helping him have a positive mindset, despite the adversity.
"I was raised with the attitude that quitting is never an option," Lantz said. "If something goes wrong you just have to work to improve and get better."
Jim and Jodie haven't missed a game this year watching their son.
What they've seen has been remarkable.
While many high school football teams have hung up their cleats this season, Fairfield is still playing.
The Falcons are an amazing 6-5 entering Friday's sectional final against 9-2 Eastside.
With a win, Fairfield can win its first sectional championship since 2009. That's the lone sectional title in the school's history.
Thacker appreciates the commitment Lantz and his teammates have made to the program.
"It says a lot about (Lantz) personally and about his parents," the second-year coach of the Falcons said.
"But I have a lot of kids like Cory that have learned about perseverance. They won't give up because they have a great family. A lot of our kids want to succeed for the kid next to them and for Fairfield High School. It's really cool to see."
The joy of being part of this season's success can be heard in Lantz's voice.
"It has been so much fun and a great experience compared to last year," Lantz said. "There's positivity and family-type atmosphere surrounding the program.
"I'd say what we've done has been a little bit of a surprise. You just have to say the hard work and the time we've put in has paid off.
"Overall, guys have another year of experience. We had only one senior on last year's team and we have guys back from last year. In the offseason, we worked in the weight room and worked at getting stronger and better."
Leading the Fairfield offense, Lantz has been a threat throwing and running. He's completed 43 of his 81 passes for 780 yards and seven touchdowns. On the ground, Lantz has carried the ball 155 times for 652 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Early in the season when he was needed at cornerback, Lantz had 22 tackles, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
"He's just gained confidence," Thacker said about Lantz's player at quarterback. "He just understands the offense and being able to read defenses. Things have slowed down for him. Things were flying 100 miles an hour around him last year. It was difficult to comprehend everything. There was a new coach, a new offense and you're playing varsity football."
Lantz had touchdown runs of three, five and one yard last Friday against Prairie Heights. He rushed for 58 yards on six carries and completed 3-of-4 passes for 42 yards.
"My offensive line has provided me really good protection," Lantz said. "I felt like I played with a lot of confidence. I tried to make good reads and the team clicked together really well."
Eastside reached the sectional finals after beating Fort Wayne Luers, 13-6, last Friday. The Blazers, who have won eight straight games, have outscored their opponents 313 points to 126.
"We've watched a lot of film on (Eastside)," Lantz said. "They have a really good record and they have a lot of good players. The key for us is for everyone at their position to do their job. If we do that we'll be just fine."
Whatever the outcome on Friday, Fairfield's season has been a success.
"It has been 100-percent successful," Lantz said. "We've gone from winless to at least finishing .500. That's a huge accomplishment. It has been a positive year for everyone."