NEW PALESTINE — Old habits die hard or so New Palestine football player Garrett Kuhn discovered as he strapped on the pads again this week.
Almost seven months removed from the 2014 Class 4A football state championship game, which he and the Dragons won in November, Kuhn is back in the heat, putting in his work, one last time.
“I didn’t know how much I missed it until this week of practice came around,” said Kuhn, who will participate in the 15th annual East-West Football Classic tonight. “It brings up good memories. We had a few good moments last year.”
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Another way to say it would be that the Dragons made history.
Winning the program’s first state title by dismantling New Prairie 77-42 at Lucas Oil Stadium, Kuhn and his teammates walked off the field just as they arrived: perfect.
New Palestine finished 15-0 on the season and set 15 state finals records while tying another two to hoist the trophy in celebration.
It was supposed to be Kuhn’s final game before he departed for the University of Iowa and a future squarely fixed on academia.
Selected as a member of the East team, Kuhn has been practicing every evening this past week at Knightstown High School in preparation for the meeting against the West at Anderson High School.
“I’m proud to represent New Pal one last time,” Kuhn said. “I’m still going to count my last actual game as the state game, but it’s going to be a fun way to end it.
“To end my senior season without losing game sounds pretty good to me.”
Along with his New Palestine gridiron brothers James Young (Rose-Hulman-bound running back) and Sterling Curran (future Marian University Knight), Kuhn and the East team are determined to keep the streak alive.
Coached by New Palestine’s Kyle Ralph last year, the East avenged their 2013 heartbreak with a decisive 56-17 victory against the West. Ralph’s team came out sharp in all faucets.
No easy task, though, said Ralph, who calls coaching all-star teams one of the toughest tests any sideline general will face.
Getting players into rhythm and unison is a goal typically crammed into a five-day period. This year, it’s East coach Mike Roeder’s responsibility. The key, Ralph emphasized, is making the experience fun and something to remember.
“It’s fun and challenging,” the coach said. “Obviously, for people that are competitive it’s a really great environment. It’s a unique thing to be a part of, getting to know the kids you only know during the season from film. … Getting to know their personalities and who they are is what’s most special about it.”
The New Palestine trio will provide coach Roeder with plenty of character and ability.
Young rushed for 1,632 yards on 255 carries and 35 touchdowns while establishing three individual state finals records. Curran had 11 rushing touchdowns as a senior and led the team with 157 tackles at linebacker.
Kuhn hauled in 27 passes for 626 yards receiving and nine touchdowns.
Other Hancock County representatives on the East team are Eastern Hancock’s Cooper Henderson (Manchester) and Logan Splater (Ivy Tech).
Henderson paced the Royals rushing attack with 1,057 yards and 22 of his team’s 38 touchdowns. The versatile back also has five receiving touchdowns and 581 yards.
Splater, a linebacker, supplied 82 tackles as a senior, including 28 for a loss.
Mt. Vernon offensive lineman Wyatt Gutierrez (Wabash) and Greenfield-Central defensive tackle Zach Phillips (University of Jamestown) are also on the East roster.
“I know quite a few of the guys on the East team that didn’t go to New Pal, so it’s going to be fun to play on the field with a bunch of friends,” Kuhn said. “It’s definitely different when you’re on the same team instead of trying to kill each other, but you push each other out there. We’re all trying for the same goal.”
Hancock County’s Magnificent Seven
The county is sending seven representatives to the 15th annual East-West Football Classic at Anderson High School tonight. Last year, the East team defeated the West 56-17 under the guidance of New Palestine head coach Kyle Ralph. This year’s area all-stars look to keep the streak alive as members of the East squad.
Here are your 2015 East-West Football Classic All-Stars:
Garrett Kuhn;New Palestine;WR;6-2;185;Iowa
Logan Splater; Eastern Hancock;LB;6-2;195;Ivy Tech
Cooper Henderson;Eastern Hancock;DB;5-10;180;Manchester
James Young;New Palestine;RB;6-0;210;Rose-Hulman
Sterling Curran;New Palestine;LB;5-9;195;Marian
Wyatt Gutierrez;Mt. Vernon;OL;6-2;270;Wabash