The Herald Bulletin

October 14, 2013

Otis Shannon: The Man to Beat

Former Cathedral star's record being chased by Elwood's Sammy Mireles

By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

INDIANAPOLIS — On the October night 13 years ago when Otis Shannon set Indiana's high school rushing record, Sammy Mireles had not yet begun grade school.

At age 5, Mireles still was one year away from taking his first snap on a football field. And, in some ways, he remains in a world removed from Shannon's bright lights, big city career.

On Friday, however, the players' paths could overlap in a very meaningful way in Alexandria.

Mireles, now a senior at Elwood, needs 211 yards in the regular-season finale against the rival Tigers to surpass Shannon's career total of 7,560 amassed from 1997 to 2000.

It's the culmination of a quest Mireles set for himself almost immediately after the 2012 season ended with his second-straight 2,000-yard rushing campaign. But he still has much to learn about the Indianapolis Cathedral star he's been chasing.

"I hadn't heard anything about him until here recently," Mireles said, adding that he began doing a little research on the running back when the record came on to his horizon.

The Fighting Irish have a proud football heritage that includes 10 state championships and the past three Class 4A titles. Shannon won two of those state crowns during his career, playing alongside seven classmates who went on to college football's highest division.

Two of Shannon's teammates — offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood and then-tight end Mathias Kiwanuka — currently play in the NFL. Trueblood with the Atlanta Falcons and Kiwanuka as a defensive end with the New York Giants.

Yet, it's the 5-foot-9, 188-pound Shannon who stands as the program's only Mr. Football award winner.

About three years ago, Cathedral head coach Rick Streiff noticed Shannon standing behind the sideline during a game. He invited the former star to come out to practice and address the team. Some players knew who he was and what he'd accomplished, others did not.

Shannon's jersey now hangs in the Irish's locker room as a constant reminder of one of the program's legends.

As he recalled Shannon's career during a recent telephone conversation, Streiff talked about the challenges a running back faces in approaching the rushing record.

"It takes a special breed of kid," he said. "You've got to be lucky. You've got to stay healthy. You've gotta be the guy nobody gets a clean shot on because you get hurt that way. It all kind of adds up."

If Hollywood was casting a record-setting running back, he'd probably look a lot like Darren Evans — the former Warren Central star who played at Virginia Tech and spent time in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans.

And, indeed, the 6-foot, 227-pound bruiser ranks sixth in state history with 7,220 rushing yards. But the two guys at the top of the list cut much less imposing figures.

Mireles is listed at 5-9 and 170 pounds, and he lacks the obvious measurables that bring college recruiters flocking to his door.

Scouts questioned whether Shannon — who ultimately wound up at Ball State — could play at the next level, too.

"Otis was a guy everybody said wasn't fast enough to play in the big time," Streiff said. "But nobody ever caught him from behind. He never took a clean hit. He was always working a little bit for the extra yards."

That description will sound familiar to fans who have watched Elwood over the past four years because it fits Mireles perfectly.

He believes his lack of size has actually helped him become a better player.

"It's kinda weird when you're not as big," Mireles said. "It makes you try harder."

Streiff said it also helps to have talented players surrounding the star. An offensive line to open holes. A quarterback who can make plays and keep defenses honest.

Shannon was a two-way player who also started at strong safety for the Irish. But that had little effect on his offensive workload.

Streiff remembers a game at Cincinnati LaSalle in which Shannon carried the ball 48 times for 490 yards and was going just as strong at the end of the game as he was at the beginning.

But the game has changed in the decade-plus since Shannon was a high school star. Spread offenses have become more common, and the role of the running back is starting to diminish.

"Everybody's throwing the ball now," Streiff said. "It's kinda rare to have a kid who can rush for that many yards."

Even Cathedral has embraced the aerial attack. So much so that Streiff questions whether Shannon would get enough carries to set the state record if he played for the Irish today.

Shannon set the record on Oct. 20, 2000, during a 41-0 victory against Avon in the first round of the sectional. It was the 50th game of his career, and his final contest came a week later with a 14-7 loss against Plainfield.

Friday's game at Alexandria will be the 40th contest for Mireles, who is averaging 244.9 yards per game this season. Elwood is 5-3 and hoping to win just the third sectional title in school history, the first since Shannon's record-setting season 13 years ago.

Streiff knew Cathedral wouldn't hold onto the record forever, and he's glad Shannon's mark has had such a long run.

"He's a good kid," Streiff said. "He got a lot of recognition while he was at our school. He did not ever get cheated in that department. But it's great for the kid up there to have this opportunity and bring some prestige to his program."