Signs of improvement

Photo by Robb QuinnLa Porte quarterback Robbie Kiner rushes the ball in a contest against visiting Portage on Oct. 18.

La PORTE — From playing an arduous schedule, especially the opening four-game gauntlet, to dealing with personnel issues, the transition to a new coach, learning a new offense and enduring a few quarterback changes, it was an uneven season for La Porte football.

Even though they struggled mightily through the first part of the campaign, the Slicers gradually improved as the season progressed, playing competitively in six of their last seven contests and posting a 3-4 record in that span.

While La Porte finished with a 3-8 record, including 2-5 in the rugged Duneland Athletic Conference, coach Jeremy Lowery remained appreciative of how his players persevered in his first year at the helm. 

“I'm just really proud of our kids,” Lowery said. “Without getting into specifics, we got dealt about every type of adversity you could get dealt. I mean from Day 1. Any time you take a new job, you know that's part of it. But you name it. On, off the field. But we hung in there. Our kids didn't blink. They went back to work and that's encouraging to me.”

Considering the Slicers had to face New Prairie, Penn, Valparaiso and Chesterton in its first four games, teams who combined records are 34-10, La Porte didn't waver after that.

Instead, it appeared to learn from those challenging circumstances and got better because of them.

That permitted the Slicers to defeat Lake Central 31-14 for their first victory of the season, then battled tough at then-undefeated Merrillville before succumbing 21-0. They were also competitive against Crown Point and Michigan City, but fell before besting Portage 20-14. They followed that win by topping the rival Wolves 14-10 in a Class 5A Sectional 9 semifinal, then lost to perfect Valparaiso in a sectional final last week.

After starting 0-4 and losing by roughly an average score of 36-7, La Porte could have continued to spiral downward.

It didn't let it happen.

Despite not winning as many games as it wanted to in the end, the team righted the ship and claimed a sectional contest to advance to the sectional championship.

"I feel like we just came back to work every day," Slicers senior safety/running back Isaac Alexander said. "I know that's what coach Lowery said, but that's really what we did. The first two games was tough, we had some seniors out. The younger guys stepping up was key. All the seniors coming back and working. The defense really took a turn."

Alexander was one of the Slicers who had to sacrifice for the betterment of the squad.

After being one of the team's primary running backs last year, he played almost exlusively on defense this campaign. Alexander saw the big picture though, and was delighted with how far La Porte progressed from Week 1.

"I'm real proud," he said. "Once a Slicer, always a Slicer."

Lowery recognized the primary reason why his squad improved drastically after the challenging start as faith in their teammates.

“Trust, trust,” he said. “We learned to trust each other. We learned to lean on each other. That's what you get from hard times. You either quit or you invest in each other. And that's what we did. We invested in each other. To me, that's the key to today's athlete, 'Can you get them to trust you and trust each other? And they did that.”

Next season, La Porte will return numerous talented players, including many offensive skill players in running back Jeremiah Ruiz, quarterback Robbie Kiner, quarterback/running back Collin Bergquist, running back Jayden Parkes, and tight ends Grant Ott-Large and Evan Cizewski.

Defensively, the team will welcome back linebackers Jaden Browder and Gavin Zolvinski, and cornerback Brady Bernth. 

It should help as well that the team doesn't have a lot of seniors, so roster attrition shouldn't affect the Slicers too much.

Roughly half an hour after his squad's season-ending loss to the Vikings, Lowery was already eager for the 2020 edition of La Porte football.

"I'll be watching the film tonight, see how we can get better," he said. "Going to work on Monday in the weight room. Physically, we've got to get stronger. The weight room's got to be our best friend. We need to start working tomorrow, start working yesterday. We've got a ton of work to do.”

Lowery expects a much more complete season next year from start to finish.

“The future's bright,” he said. “Our kids aren't afraid to work and we've got a lot of young talent coming up through the program.” 

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