By Scott Springer, firstname.lastname@example.org
On a night they had planned on playing at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, several St. Xavier High School football players found themselves off Forest Road in Anderson's gymnasium.
Thanks to a 21-14 loss to Colerain in the regional final Nov. 17, the Bombers were denied a Division I state semifinal game and thus wouldn't make the trip to Canton. It was just their second loss of the year, but it ended the football careers of many.
For Chase Wolf, Andrew Wittrock, Bobby Jefferson, Luke Pellot, Nathan Stockman and Chris Payne, it was time to hang up the cleats and dust off the sneakers. Instead of preparing for the marquees game of the OHSAA's football season, it was sprints, lay-ups and bounce passes.
Fortunately for the Bombers, their size and athleticism carried them in their opener, the Tipoff Classic with Anderson 74-51. Bobby Jefferson, who's big enough to play football without shoulder pads, scored 14 points and hauled down seven rebounds, aggressively ripping the ball away from anyone close. He was named the game MVP.
Nate Wilkins of Anderson tries to stop the shot of St. Xavier power forward Bobby Jefferson. Jefferson had 14 points and 7 rebounds as the Bombers beat the Redskins 74-51 Dec. 1.
"It kind of depends on the season," Jefferson replied when asked which sport he liked best. "When I'm playing football, it's football. When I'm playing basketball, it's basketball. It's one of those type things."
Jefferson was second in the GCL-South in sacks, while Wittrock caught 49 passes (10 for touchdowns) for 868 yards. Like his quarterback Chase Wolf, he had just returned to basketball practice so his initial playing time was limited to the second half.
"Colerain left a bad taste in our mouth, so it's good to transition to basketball and get that out of our system," Wittrock said.
Luke Pellot is a 6-foot-7 215-pound offensive lineman on turf and an imposing pivot in basketball. The Bombers have Brandon Gilbert, who's the same size as Pellot, and another pair of 6-foot-9 players. Instead of chugging 10 yards or so downfield after a pancake block, Pellot is now trying to block basketballs and get his running legs.
"They're still getting back," Pellot said. "I have to get back in shape from football season. We're one of the biggest, if not the biggest, team in the GCL this year."
Nathan Stockman is a safety who recorded 47 tackles this season on the gridiron. His transition to basketball guard came easily and he led all scorers with 17 points against Anderson.
"My favorite sport is basketball and I think a lot of people know that," Stockman said. "We're looking to get Chase (Wolf) more involved. He's just getting back from football and so is Witt (Wittrock). They took a week off to get their bodies rested. Once we get them incorporated I think we'll be a different team."
Wolf comes from a legendary basketball family with a father who played at North Carolina State and Xavier, multiple uncles and cousins who have played in college and a grandfather who used to coach the NBA Cincinnati Royals. Make no mistake, the genes are there, but this Wolf is one of the better quarterback recruits in the country. His career at St. X ended against Colerain, but it will begin soon at Wisconsin in the Big Ten.
"Our goal was to win a state championship, but Coach (Steve) Specht talked about how it's not about metal rings and plastic trophies," Wolf said. "When it turned out that wasn't going to be our reality, we realized what we had was very special."
The Bombers finished 11-2 and were ranked as the top team in Division I for much of the season. The year prior they limped to the playoffs at 5-5 and scratched out a title, proving that numbers and prognostications don't always tell the story.
"That's the beauty of sports in general," Wolf said philosophically. "You can't crown someone at the beginning of the season."
For now, Wolf will work on his conditioning. Despite limited action, he was still winded from his first outing indoors. His father, Steve, generally steers away from football advice, but likely will offer up some court wisdom. Coach Jimmy Lallathin sat nervously through an entire football season and is now glad to have some classic, tough GCL-South reinforcements.
"We've been really focusing on defense in the offseason," Lallathin said. "That's something we really need to improve on as a program. Our length and athleticism is conducive to that. These guys going through the rigors that they do in football have slowly come back. We're still missing Chris Payne (running back/guard). We're going to be there. These kids are fantastic."