Seniors leave strong legacy

Tom Batters

On the day before Thanksgiving, Metamora football coach Pat Ryan sat in his office and watched assistant coaches Jared Grebner and Nick Delinski draw up plays on the wall-sized chalk board.

Ryan laughed and said, “We’re already thinking about next year. We don’t know what to do with ourselves this week. I almost went down to the practice field, just to see if anyone was down there.”

The season is over, of course.

Nobody is at the practice field, or in the locker room.

The sophomore basketball players, coached by Ryan’s brother, Curt Ryan, had already taken over part of Ryan’s office.

“I’d much rather be preparing for a game,” said Ryan, who was upbeat, even though anyone could see that he has not quite gotten over last week’s 50-17 loss to Rochester, which ended the Redbirds’ run for a second straight state championship.

“It wasn’t the way we wanted it to end. We made some mistakes and didn’t play our best game,” he said. “But, these kids, especially the seniors, have nothing to be ashamed of. They accomplished a lot, and they represented this school very well. I’m proud of them. Saturday was just one game.”

Ryan reminisced about the senior class, which, he said, exemplified what Metamora football is all about.

“We emphasize trust and mutual respect,” he said. “And, we asked a lot of our players. It takes a strong commitment. These players bought into that. They trusted each other and the coaches. They cared about each other and they worked extremely hard.”

There were the “headline” players such as all-state quarterback Michael Fay (more than 6,000 career total yards) and big-play specialist David Tracy, and there were unsung heroes like nose tackle Drew Cullett and offensive lineman Lane Mitzelfelt.

“Michael (Fay) gets a lot of the attention, and rightfully so, but we had a lot of really good senior players on this team,” Ryan said. “There were a lot of success stories — guys who came a long way and became very good players...

“Drew (Cullett) was a little more quiet and reserved than some of the other players. When he first came into the program, I didn’t know what to think because he didn’t say much,” Ryan said. “He became one of the better defensive linemen in this area. He was so quick, and he forced people to double team him, which gave us an advantage at other positions on defense.”

He said Mitzelfelt, a 315-pound lineman, became more mobile and confident and exceeded the coaches’ expectations over the past two years.

“Honestly, a couple years ago, we weren’t sure if he would become a starter,” Ryan said. “But, he worked hard and improved a lot — a real success story.”

Ryan said the offensive line was full of success stories.

He said Devin Taseff, Keven Peters and co-captain Tyler Burch all overcame adversity.

“Devin really matured and blossomed into a very good player and person. Keven started playing football later than some of the other players, but he played really well, especially after Tyler’s injury. It was very hard to see his season end (a knee injury Oct. 8).

“And, Tyler was what a captain should be. He really cared about his teammates. His injury (he missed the first four games) was a tough thing to go through. He had some tough days, but he stuck with it.”

Tight end Andrew Jones and center Preston Butner started on both sides of the ball all season.

“Andrew had some great catches, and we ran behind him a lot at tight end,” Ryan said. “Preston is one of those players you have to find a spot for on both sides. He plays hard and helps you so much wherever you put him.”

Ryan said senior Beau Geier helped the team in countless ways on both sides (as a defensive back, receiver and backup quarterback), but his character made the most lasting impression.

“Beau was probably disappointed that he didn’t get to play quarterback as much this year. We know he has the talent to be a college quarterback,” Ryan said. “He never complained. He went out and worked on his defense. In this day and age when people are always asking ‘what’s in it for me,’ Beau just went out and did whatever he needed to do for the team. I can’t think of a better example for a younger player to learn from.”

Co-captain Brett McKinney, the team’s leading receiver, also made big plays in the defensive backfield.

“He became a complete player on defense,” Ryan said. “He was a good cover guy and a good tackler.”

Co-captain Bryan Love, a fullback and linebacker, rushed for more than 100 yards and made several tackles in the week one win over Bloomington Central Catholic before suffering a severe ankle injury in week two. He returned for the Morton game six weeks later only to re-injure the ankle and miss the rest of the season.

“We felt so bad for him,” Ryan said. “He was one of our captains, and he put in so much time and effort coning into this season. It was sad to see him get hurt so bad.”

Tom Bieneman became a standout linebacker, and several players picked up the slack on the offensive side after Love’s injury.

“Tommy (Bieneman) had a really good year for us,” Ryan said. “He’s another one of those quiet guys who doesn’t get a lot of the headlines.  He worked hard every day and did a great job.”

Jake Ferguson and Colton Willett were two seniors who filled in at running back.

“Fergie was the same whether he got 20 carries or zero carries. He always did what we asked,” Ryan said. “Colton became a good blocker and we felt confident giving him the ball, too.”

Tracy, who missed most of last year with injuries, became the team’s leading rusher, receiver and playmaker on defense down the stretch.

“He just had a knack for making the big play,” Ryan said. “He was a complete football player.”

Ryan called safety Mark McDaniel a “big-hearted kid” who gave it his best effort every play.

“He got the most out of what he had,” he said. “He wasn’t the biggest kid (5’8”), but he was all heart.”

Ryan described kicker Brennen VanMieghem, who broke the  state’s all-time points record this season, a “real weapon” because of his ability to make field goals and drill kickoffs into the end zone.

“I wish I had a dollar for every hour he had invested,” Ryan said. “He worked on his kicks, and he spent a lot of time in the weight room, too. He will have a lot of success at the next level.”

As for Fay, Ryan paused and searched for the right words.

“He’s just a winner. That’s how I will remember him,” he said. “Great player on the field. Great kid off the field.”

Correction

Metamora played in its fifth straight semifinal game. That was reported incorrectly last week.

“Let’s not forget about that 2006 team. They were pretty good, too,” Ryan said.