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It was the first play of his varsity football career, and Columbus North High School’s Luke Teague, then a sophomore, felt like a statue.
He was standing still on the kickoff return team and everything else was moving around him ... really fast.
North was playing Carmel; and Teague, a sophomore linebacker, had been brought up from the junior varsity squad to get some experience.
It wasn’t the experience he was expecting.
“I was just kind of there,” he said after a North football practice last week. “It was like, ‘Wow.’ I have to step up and pay attention.”
Did he get a block?
“Not really,” he said. “Everyone was a lot faster, and the guys were bigger. You have to concentrate on what you are doing. It was a wake-up call.”
North coach Tim Bless knows that it’s a big adjustment when junior varsity players move to varsity. But he also knows that players like Teague, who improved so much last season that he was going to start in the playoffs before suffering an injury, can make the transition surprisingly fast.
“No question, it would be nice to get their first Friday in a low-stress situation,” Bless said. “But that’s not always the case.”
Bless lives his coaching life worrying about the next play, so that doesn’t allow him to slowly blend his inexperienced players into the lineup. Whenever possible, he tries to groom players. It’s just not that often he gets that luxury.
Therefore, Bless and his coaching staff hope that players such as Teague can do their maturing in the offseason, so they don’t have that deer-in-the-headlights look when they become varsity starters.
“I’m so close to them because I see them every day,” Bless said. “So most of the time it’s not a surprise how far they’ve come. But there are times when you say, ‘He’s turned into a man.’”
Teague knew he had a lot of work to do if he didn’t want to be a bystander, so he put in the hours.
“I just worked on my technique more,” he said. “I knew I would have to out-technique them if I was going to play.”
He came so far that he was going to start in North’s playoff game against Martinsville. But the game before, against Bloomington South, Teague was playing on punt coverage when he got hit in the back and his cleats caught in the turf. He broke his ankle.
“It was two months until I could run again,” he said.
The injury also meant that he missed most of the wrestling season, but he finally was able to start working toward his goal to earn a starting role on the football team.
Although he sat out Monday’s practice with a shoulder injury, it appears that he has a good shot of accomplishing his goal. Bless said Teague has a chance to be an impact player at outside linebacker.
Now a 6-foot, 195-pounder, Teague said he is more prepared for varsity football.
“I just get after it every day,” he said. “I try to outwork everyone on the field.”
Bless said one of the joys of coaching is to watch players who have paid their dues and earned their time.
“Luke is a rock-solid student who has come along through our program,” Bless said. “Plus, he’s a two-sport athlete, which I really appreciate. He is one of the top leaders in his class.”
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