By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ELWOOD — The cloak of anonymity engulfing Sammy Mireles finally was lifted in 2013.
The Elwood senior's pursuit — and ultimate capture — of the state rushing record brought Indianapolis television cameras to the Panthers' sideline on multiple occasions. It led to a fourth-place finish in voting for Indiana's Mr. Football award — behind three players from parochial schools, prompting Elwood coach Marty Wells to opine Mireles was honored as the state's top public school star.
Gatorade went one step forward, selecting the diminutive running back as the state's player of the year.
And, yet, the honor that seemed to touch Mireles the most hits much closer to home. On Feb. 28, Elwood will retire his No. 24 jersey during a halftime ceremony at the final boys basketball home game. Also honored will be the late Kevin Frye — who wore Nos. 24 and 34 during his career with the Panthers and will be represented by his son, Justin, the offensive line coach at Boston College — and former school rushing record holder Chris Noone, a current assistant to Wells whose No. 34 jersey also will be raised to the rafters.
Elwood never has retired a number for a football player before, and the gesture left Mireles grasping for words.
"It's another thing I'll never forget," he finally managed.
That's a long list for a player who is now inextricably linked to the Panthers' program.
An October night in Alexandria must rank near the top.
In front of an overflow crowd, the host Tigers and Elwood put on one of the games of the year. With former record holder Otis Shannon of Cathedral watching from the sideline alongside officials from the IHSAA, Mireles set a new state standard with a 24-yard run in the third quarter.
More than two months later, however, the running back remains at least equally impressed with the Panthers' 49-42 victory in a thrilling back-and-forth contest.
"I always set my goal of trying to break that record," Mireles said. "But we won the game as well. That was awesome."
Alexandria gained revenge two weeks later with a 27-26 victory that sent the program to the sectional championship game for the first time. It also served as the final game of Mireles' high school career.
The site of his next contest remains unknown.
Mireles would have won his second straight Herald Bulletin Offensive Football Athlete of the Year based on his senior season alone — a campaign during which he rushed for a school-record 2,719 yards and scored 39 touchdowns. But the other numbers in his high school career also make this something of a lifetime achievement award.
He's the first player in Indiana history to rush for 2,000 yards in three consecutive seasons and the first to top 8,000 for his career. Mireles' 8,110 total yards surpassed Shannon's record by nearly 600 yards and finally put him on the radar for college coaches.
He and wide receiver London Leavell have scholarship offers from Concordia in Ann Arbor, Mich., and they'll soon make an official visit to the University of Indianapolis. Other interested schools include Urbana (Ill.), St. Francis and Wabash.
"It's a huge deal to get a scholarship," Wells said. "There's not a whole lot out there."
There remains a chance Mireles could choose to walk on at an in-state public school depending on the value of the scholarship offers he receives. There would be some symmetry in that route.
The Panthers' star made a career out of outworking others and exceeding all expectations.
He's not the biggest running back in the state. Not the strongest. Nor the fastest.
But, statistically speaking, he's the best.
And that's something Elwood will never forget.
"He's been the face and the epitome of Elwood football for four years," Wells said. "That's not going to change."
Athletes of the Year Elwood senior Sammy Mireles is the last of nine fall athletes honored by The Herald Bulletin as the best in their sport. Features on the previous eight award winners are available at theheraldbulletin.com. Offensive Football Honor Roll Weston Bell, Anderson; Jared Bourff, Elwood; Brandon Chapman, Anderson; Brady Cherry, Lapel; Nik Clark, Frankton; Eren Davis, Pendleton Heights; Chase Duncan, Elwood; Colby Dunigan, Shenandoah; Hayden Ferguson, Elwood; John Finley, Madison-Grant; Jesse Furrow, Pendleton Heights; Chandler Hale, Shenandoah; Joe Hart, Lapel; Evan Hodges, Alexandria; Mason Hoke, Alexandria; Jeffrey Ice, Alexandria; Kevin Jackson, Anderson; Drew Johnson, Alexandria; Blaize Kelly, Alexandria; London Leavell, Elwood; Cam Myers, Madison-Grant; Bailey Partington, Lapel; Robbie Peel, Anderson; Austin Purkey, Madison-Grant; Luke Stroup, Madison-Grant; Jacob Thurston, Alexandria; Tyler Welch, Anderson; Chandler Wilson, Pendleton Heights; Lane Young, Shenandoah