NEW PALESTINE — Joe Izbicki will be playing for more than just a second-straight state championship. The Dragons senior middle linebacker will be playing for more than just 29-straight wins and back-to-back perfect seasons.
When Izbicki laces up his cleats for the final time today against Fort Wayne Snider at Lucas Oil Stadium, he will be playing for his father, who passed away when the hard-hitting senior was just a freshman.
He had been battling for seven years. First it was his liver, Izbicki said. Then cancer spread through his body. Finally, it was a collapsed lung that took Ed Izbicki’s life. His passing left Nechel Izbicki with her three sons — Justin, 33, Eddie, 30, and Joseph.
Going into his first year of high school, surgeries and appointments became a normal routine for the family. One day, however, Izbicki’s father, who only had one solid lung after countless surgeries, was told he had four hernias — another operation was needed.
“He made it through the surgery,” Izbicki said. “Then the next day things kind of took a turn for the worst. His lung collapsed. Everything kind of started to fail on him.
“It was something after seven years we kind of planned for but hoped never would happen but finally did.”
Instead of being thrust in a downward spiral, Izbicki channeled his emotions into football — a sport his dad loved dearly. More than anything, it’s helped him mature into the young man he is today, he said.
“That’s something (Izbicki’s games) he didn’t miss and something he lived for. He loved that I was an athlete and a good student,” Izbicki said. “I think more or less it’s kind of helped me grow up a lot quicker. I understood how lucky I was to get to play the game of football.”
A new football coach in town deserves credit, too.
“Meeting coach (Kyle) Ralph, especially after my dad dying, was one of the best things that could happen to me,” Izbicki said. “He set me on the right track. I couldn’t thank him enough.”
That experience has led the happy-hearted linebacker to an unforgettable senior season. Izbicki recorded a team-high 104 tackles (14 for loss) for a defense allowing just 11.38 points per game.
Even more impressive, Izbicki has registered double digit takedowns in each of New Palestine’s four postseason games.
“He’s mentally and physically intense. The way Joe plays is everything he has every single play,” Ralph said, who got the head coaching job about a month after Izbicki’s father passed away. “He is so into the film and gameplan. He knows the play before it comes.”
And Izbicki knows Fort Wayne Snider will be no pushover. The team boasts Division-I talent and is one of the state’s top football programs.
“They are going to have their plays, we’re just going to have to weather the storm,” Izbicki said. “They have athletes and great players. It’s a bend don’t break mentality.”
Nonetheless, despite the outcome, Izbicki knows his dad would be proud.
“He would probably say something like, ‘that’s my boy’,” Izbicki said. “He had a little chuckle. It wouldn’t even be just about me. Everyone in the senior class, he would say, ‘those are my boys.’”