FORT WAYNE – The next step revealed itself between one Friday night and the next, between a giddy triumph squared followed by what amounted to a building collapse.
The first Friday was that roaring sectional comeback against South Bend Adams, a 44-35 victory for the Carroll Chargers that put the stamp of authenticity on the previous week, when the Chargers shocked mighty Penn 14-13.
The second Friday was the regional championship game, when Merrillville simply overwhelmed them, 50-21.
One taught the Chargers what it takes to win championships.
The other taught them how much further they have to go to actually do it.
“We look at both those things,” says Carroll coach Doug Dinan, who returns a bushel of key seniors from a team that posted Carroll’s best record (10-3) since 1998. “Here’s how we win championships. Here’s where we have to improve.”
Senior defensive end Tyler Hands agrees.
“I think we take away the leadership aspect of it,” he says. “We know what it takes, and our leaders are seniors now returning. We know how to push the kids, how to be better. We know what we need to work on. So I think it was a great learning experience for us, and it’s also an unfinished mission.”
And they have the pieces to carry it out. First and foremost are standout Drue Tranquill and his younger brother Justin, who led Carroll in scoring with 90 points apiece last year and combined for 1,849 rushing and receiving yards and were Carroll’s top punt and kick returners to boot. There is Hands, a second-team All-NHC pick in 2012. There are senior receiver Spencer Leatherman, junior offensive lineman Connor Burgess, junior defensive end Seth Johnston and senior linebacker Stallone Yovanovitch.
It’s pretty full deck, and one Dinan is looking forward to dealing.
“Anytime you have a group of seniors that are returning that have experience, you take that experience and you try to embellish that a little bit and produce more championships from it,” he says. “We’re not at the top. Nobody in this room probably feels that they are as well. We feel there are things we need to fix, things we need to improve on, positive things that we’re doing that we want to continue with as well.”
All of which are clearly much easier to do when you don’t have to start at ground zero.
“When you go into June and start your football activities, you don’t have to reinstall everything,” Dinan says. “The kids already have an understanding of the game. You’re tweaking all little things. You don’t have to start from scratch.”
Or anywhere near it.