ANDERSON — While carpooling to Knightstown this week, former New Palestine football stars Joe Izbicki and Duke Blackwell continued to circulate around one particular conversation.
Approximately six months removed from the field of play, Izbicki and Blackwell, who helped the Dragons reach back-to-back state title games, will soon head for their respective college of choice.
However, on Friday, the pair has one more opportunity to play together — or on the same team, anyway.
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“We both agreed something about putting our New Palestine gear on (for practice this week) made us just have a different kind of swagger, which is pretty cool to feel again,” Izbicki noted, describing Blackwell trying on his helmet again for size while riding in the car. “There is just a certain bond that our team had.”
Izbicki, who will attend Marian University, and Blackwell join former New Palestine teammate Andrew Yazel, as well as Eastern Hancock’s Matt Bowman, Caleb Beyers and Austin Smith in preparation for the Indiana Football Hall of Fame Classic at Anderson High School.
Mt. Vernon’s Jimmy Campbell and Blake Slunaker will also have a chance to buckle up the pads one last time.
Immediately after the game, though, Izbicki, and Blackwell will turn to rivals.
Blackwell, who led Class 5A No. 1 New Palestine in receiving yards and touchdowns, will further his playing career at the University of St. Francis. Both Marian and St. Francis play in the Mideast League of the Mid-States Football Association.
Izbicki, a relentless linebacker, led the team in tackles (104).
“We get to pad up one more time together, and then we have to act like we hate each other for at least one week every year,” said Izbicki, who also added five sacks. “It’s really bittersweet; he’s one of my best friends and the same goes for Yazel.”
Yazel, the starting center, helped the Dragons’ (13-1) offense rush for nearly 5,000 total yards in 2015. He will attend St. Joseph’s College (Rensselaer).
“It’s always an honor when you get selected for an all-star game,” Ralph, who helped coach in the same event two years ago, said. “We’ve been fortunate to have multiple guys be able to play in different all-star games since I’ve been here. It’s nice to be able to add another chapter to your high school career.
“It’s a good tuneup for college before they head off to their respective school.”
Eastern Hancock, which finished 10-1 last season after a loss to Indianapolis Howe in sectional play, has been practicing close to home. Although, temperatures haven’t been exactly what the kids are accustomed to compared to the fall.
“It’s a nice reward for the kids who did well in high school,” Royals head coach Jim O’Hara said. “It gives them the opportunity to meet some other guys from other schools that they competed against and basically have some fun.
“It’s probably been a little adjustment for them. It’s been 10 to 15 degrees hotter on the Knightstown turf. It’s good for them.”
Bowman was the county’s top dual threat in receiving and rushing, racking up over 500 yards in each. He finished with 591 yards on the ground with 12 touchdowns and 523 yards through the air with four scores.
He will attend Defiance College in Ohio for football.
Smith, the Royals’ leading receiver, pulled in 784 receiving yards and found the end zone seven times. Beyers, who will attend Anderson University for college, tallied 93 tackles, three interceptions and seven passes defended for the Eastern Hancock defense.
Slunaker was an offensive lineman for a Mt. Vernon offense that racked up 2,852 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns. He will attend the University of St. Francis.
A large portion of those went to Campbell, who played in just six games due to injury. He finished with 602 passing yards and 510 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns.
Campbell will attend Trinity International University for football.
Izbicki also finished with fourteen tackles for loss while Blackwell finished with 1,1148 receiving yards (52 receptions) and 17 touchdowns for New Palestine, which lost in the 5A state title game to Fort Wayne Snider, 64-61, after a valiant comeback.
The Indiana Football Hall of Fame sponsors the annual Football Classic, which began in 2000. It includes graduating seniors from approximately 48 East-Central Indiana high schools.
Once players have been selected for the North-South All-Star game (July), players may be nominated by their respective coaches to participate in the Hall of Fame Classic.
*All statistics during 2015-16 regular season
Jimmy Campbell, Mt. Vernon
602 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, 510 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns
Blake Slunaker, Mt. Vernon
Helped Mt. Vernon rush for 2,852 yards and 33 touchdowns
Matt Bowman, Eastern Hancock
Running Back/Wide Receiver
591 rush yards, 12 TD’s, 523 receiving yards, 4 TD’s
Caleb Beyers, Eastern Hancock
93 tackles, 3 interceptions, 7 passes defended
Austin Smith, Eastern Hancock
784 receiving yards, 7 TD’s
Joe Izbicki, New Palestine
104 tackles, 14 for loss, 5 sacks, 3 fumbles recovered
Duke Blackwell, New Palestine
52 receptions, 1,148 yards, 17 TD’s
Andrew Yazel, New Palestine
Helped New Palestine rush for 4,827 yards
What: Indiana Football Hall of Fame East-West All-Star Classic
When: Friday at 7 p.m., Anderson High School
Who: Eastern Hancock’s Matt Bowman, Caleb Beyers and Austin Smith. New Palestine’s Joe Izbicki, Duke Blackwell and Andrew Yazel.