After turning in a 2,000-yard rushing season, Jack Rhoades would have every right to gloat about what he's accomplished. But in the midst of Woodlan's return to the state finals for the first time since 1981, the senior running back has learned some valuable lessons.
The first dates back to his sophomore year, when he and the Warriors were admittedly “too confident” before a semistate loss at Whiting. A pair of regular-season defeats this year, including a loss to Adams Central that kept Woodlan from winning the ACAC championship, showed Rhoades that “We can be beat at any time. We have to take everything serious and not take anything for granted.”
Perhaps the one with the biggest impact, however, stems from the sectional championship game. After scoring his second touchdown of the first half, officials ruled that he kicked an opponent. The resulting penalty included an ejection and a suspension for the Warriors' regional clash at North Newton. But Woodlan was still able to emerge with a win, and Rhoades' unexpected personal bye week actually provided some positives.
“I got enough rest to where my body felt healthy,” Rhoades said. “I didn't have any bruises that week, so it was nice. Being at practice the whole week and watching my team be very focused, and on point with every rep, it lifted me up and kind of boosted my confidence that we were going to get the win.
“While I sat out, it made me look back on things and not take anything for granted. This only comes around so much, it opened my eyes a little bit.”
Rested and refreshed, and perhaps a bit energized, Rhoades and the Warriors knocked off No. 1 Eastbrook in the semistate to earn the right to represent the north in the Class 2A state title game as Woodlan (12-2) faces Southridge (12-2) at noon Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
As Rhoades explained, perhaps fate has intervened a bit: the regular-season losses guarding against overconfidence, a week without the bumps and bruises that accompany a postseason game.
“I kind of have the feeling that this happened for a reason,” Rhoades said.
While Woodlan has to prepare for what the Raiders will bring, conversely, Southridge has to contend with Rhoades out of the backfield. He credited his offensive line of Dane Castleman, Sebastian Spieth, Jacob Gerbers, Isaac Meyer and Spencer Roberson, for helping him run for 2,089 yards, currently seventh-best in the state.
“It's a great team accomplishment in my eyes,” Rhoades said. “They've all worked their tails off all season and I've appreciated all they've done.”
Further lending credence to Rhoades' sentiments, the Raiders run the Wing-T offense, which can cause confusion for defenses with its reliance on misdirection. When considering, however, that this will be Woodlan's third consecutive opponent to run this particular offense, Rhoades, who also plays defense for the Warriors, thinks his team will be ready.
“They pass a little more, so we're going to have to get our reads right,” Rhoades said. “They're in shotgun, which is different, but I think our defense can handle it.”