North tries to build around its core four
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- Joanna Chadwick's Two-Minute Drill recap (9-13-13)
- Fridays top performers (Sept. 13)
- How ranked teams fared Friday (Sept. 13)
- Late-game heroics lift Buhler over Collegiate
- Cheney rushes past Independent
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- Read how Week 2 football unfolded live on Twitter
- Fridays Wichita-area box scores (Sept. 13)
- West beats East with touchdown in the game’s final seconds
- Monty, Kapaun turn back Southeast
When the 2012 North High football coaching staff tagged seniors Sean Bernard, Daniel Mathiasen, Caleb Franklin and Kaelen Elliott with the “Big Four” moniker, it was simply an easy way to refer to a talented foursome when college recruiters visited.
But the name is fitting because these are the four North is trying to build around.
They’re the most talented — Mathiasen (6-foot-8, 330 pounds) has interest from Kansas State and Bernard (6-3, 230) has an offer from Toledo. But they’re also leaders.
“Teams are built around those blue-collar, hard-working kids who love the game of football and want to run around and hit people,” North coach Joe Belden said. “They want to be a part of the team setting, they want to be a part of the team.”
The Big Four are the epitome of blue collar-type players. They’ve put in the work in the offseason and they’re the ones grinding it out during practice, showing the younger athletes the kind of effort necessary to win.
Not that they know a whole lot about winning.
These four, all seniors who are 0-2 after a loss to Carroll on Thursday, have had two wins in three seasons, ending a 17-game losing streak in the final game of 2011. North won the final game of 2012 to advance to the Class 6A playoffs.
Losing hasn’t been fun.
“It’s pretty tough,” Bernard said. “Growing up, ask anybody who’s the most competitive, and it’s me. I’d get mad over pickup games.”
But they haven’t transferred to a better football school. Haven’t quit. And they won’t.
“It may get tough sometimes, but I always trust my teammates and trust their ability to get better and learn. I always have optimism,” Mathiasen said.
Franklin added: “It’s been shown that it takes a program four years to turn around if you have a change in coaches. We realize that, but we do believe that we can kind of break that. We can have a successful season.”
For North to win, it’s going to take more than the Big Four. But, wow, what a group to build around.
They are part of the reason Belden returned as North’s coach. He coached from 2002-05 and was 8-3 in 2003, tying North’s best record since 1979.
“They are hard working, they want to be led, they want success and they are willing to pay the price to have that success,” Belden said.
North has bought into Belden’s emphasis of Sisu, a Finnish term that has been described as determination, perseverance and handling adversity.
“When we’re training and running hard and we’re all exhausted, he’ll add more sprints,” Franklin said. “He’ll say, ‘Sisu up!’ That’s our key to dig down and give 100 percent and go beyond our abilities. That as a whole makes us better as a team and individuals.”
Each of the Big Four plays defense and offense. Mathiasen is an offensive guard and defensive tackle, Elliott (6-3, 215) a linebacker and fullback, and Franklin (6-2, 220) is a defensive end and running back. Bernard is a linebacker and running back.
All four have stepped up as leaders. Mathiasen is a funny guy who emphasizes trust.
“It’s important when you have 11 guys who are willing to play on the field and give 110 percent for each other,” Mathiasen said. “They aren’t confident in themselves, but they see us, who are all confident in ourselves and our team. That will build trust.”
Belden points to Elliott as the most vocal, characterizing him as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sort — quiet one moment and then running up and down the line as his team stretches, slapping everyone’s hands.
“Enthusiasm is contagious,” Belden said.
It’s difficult not to follow the leadership of Bernard and Franklin, who are basically described as beasts by Belden and their teammates.
“Caleb, he has a great work ethic,” Belden said. “You know you can depend on him to fight every single down. A lot of times kids get fatigued and they take breaks. You know he’ll fight every down. He’s a warrior.
“Sean is a lot like Caleb. He, too, is a warrior, a fierce competitor. He’ll be there every day on time, he’ll raise the level of play of everyone around him.”
In the next breath, Belden compared Bernard to Elbert Mack, who played for Belden in 2003 and went on to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The offensive prowess of these four is huge, especially with Mathiasen leading the way.
“If we run trap or power off tackle and he’s pulling at you, you better be prepared,” Belden said. “Because if you’re not, you have 6-8, 330 hit you, it’s quite a load. He runs upfield and when you see him pulling around the end on a sweep, it’s kind of scary. Not too many defensive backs are going to want to come up and take that on.”
Defensively, the foursome is fierce. Asked who is the biggest hitter, Mathiasen refused to answer.
“We all hit pretty hard,” he said.
And they do. They’re strong, powerful and intelligent defensive players. But will they be enough to lead North to a winning record?
They believe so. Regardless of the final record, the Big Four are leaving a foundation they hope future North players will carry forward.
“When we leave, we want the underclassmen to know it’s their time to step up,” Elliott said. “It’s their time to shine, to set the legacy for North.”