By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
PENDLETON, Ind. —
Two years ago, John Broughton saw something in a frail junior varsity linebacker that made him look twice.
It took about a half-season for the veteran Pendleton Heights football coach to trust his instincts.
Once he did, Peyton McCardwell never made him regret it.
“He had such a knack for the ball, and he read the offensive line so well from his linebacker spot,” Broughton said of McCardwell’s sophomore incarnation. “He always knew where the ball was gonna be. We moved him up at midseason, and he never was out of the lineup again.”
There’s nothing frail about McCardwell now. He’s worked hard to pack a sturdy 215 pounds onto his 6-foot frame, and he delivered a crushing blow in Week 3 of the regular season against New Palestine to earn Fox 59’s “Big Nasty Hit of the Week” honor.
Video from that takedown is readily available online.
But it takes a little deeper examination to reveal the real secret to McCardwell’s success: His mind.
That knack for the ball Broughton noticed as a sophomore is the manifestation of outstanding practice habits. Nobody studies harder than McCardwell. He knows where the play is going because he’s seen it before, and he’s committed it to memory.
It also doesn’t hurt that he has a love for the game’s more physical side.
“I always liked defense better,” McCardwell said. “I liked the idea of being the one hitting the other guys.”
Broughton has a formula he uses each season to score his defensive players. Points are awarded for positive plays such as tackles, sacks, fumble recoveries, etc.
McCardwell’s score in 2012 was the highest by an Arabian since 1984.
He tallied 151 tackles, 97 of them solo and 14.5 of them for a loss. He also had two sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, a pass broken up and an interception.
Despite the fact he tends to shy away from vocal leadership, he also managed to emerge as a leader for a young Pendleton Heights team transitioning from back-to-back sectional championships.
With McCardwell showing the way, the Arabians finished 8-3 and won their final four regular-season games before reaching the sectional semifinals.
“We had a really good year, and I’m just really pleased with the effort of these kids,” Broughton said. “I’m as proud of this team as I was the two sectional championship teams.”
Everything changed during a strange late-night game at Delta. Pendleton Heights entered the evening off back-to-back losses, and then it had to wait nearly three hours for severe thunderstorms to clear the area before kickoff.
The Arabians’ 24-14 victory ended around midnight on the morning of Sept. 22, and the team didn’t lose again until it ran into a red-hot Mount Vernon team in the second round of the postseason.
McCardwell traced the turnaround to a predictable source: Hard work.
“We just had a different attitude we took every day in practice,” he said. “We were just trying to get better every day.”
More often than not, the Arabians succeeded.
Now it’s tough to imagine their physical leader walking away from the game. But it’s very possible McCardwell will do just that.
He’ll soon make a decision whether to stay with the sport at Wheaton College in Illinois or break away from the game and attend Indiana University. Either way, he’ll study business with an eye on the future.
“I’m seeing if I want to go four more years playing football,” he said.
The call won’t be easy.
McCardwell cherished his career at PH, and he said he learned a lot from the two senior classes that came before him. Broughton credits all three groups of seniors with creating an atmosphere of unity in the locker room and building a foundation for future success.
But McCardwell knows, whether he chooses to play in college or not, his days on a football field are numbered. He just hasn’t determined how he feels about that, yet.
“It’s pretty tough,” he said of his impending decision. “I’m kinda thinking about it right now. What would I do with my time? And what would I do without football? I guess we’ll wait and see.”