Rivals turned teammates

July 13, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS — As far as heated rivalries go, La Porte and Michigan City certainly fit the bill.

This week, however, the rivalry is on hold as a weird scenario takes place – Slicers and Wolves are teammates. La Porte High School’s Jake Thode, and Michigan City High School’s Michael McCullough Jr. and Mason Kaletha are Indiana North Football All-Stars.

All three will compete in the 52nd IFCA North/South All-Star Football Game at 6 p.m. (CDT) Friday at North Central High School in Indianapolis.

Asked what it’s like to be a teammate with a Slicer, McCullough replied: “He’s actually my roommate. But it’s going to be cool. Just to have two guys from the region playing together, especially us being rivals. It’s bigger than just football around here.”

McCullough said he and Thode have had a friendly relationship.

“We’ve known each other for a while,” he said. “We used to play travel baseball together.”

That was with the Michigan City Whitecaps in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades.

Now they’re teammates again in a premier high school event.

“We go back and forth each night on what we could have done in the sectional game,” Thode said of the Wolves’ victory last fall.

“Like what I could have done to help our team to maybe do a little bit better than what we did. We just go back and forth talking about football.

“I’m glad to have Michael as my teammate. And then, I talked to Mason Kaletha out there, too. It’s cool being able to play with some of the best players you played against,” Thode said.

Kaletha recognizes the significance of moving past prior history and working towards a common goal.

“I’m not holding any grudges here,” he said. “We’ve got to all bond together. We’re not worried about any rivalries here. It’s one big team.”

At the same time, the animosity between La Porte and Michigan City likely only increased last season.

They met two times on the gridiron with the teams splitting. The Slicers captured a wild 58-56 victory in the regular season on a Hail Mary in the waning seconds. But the Wolves rebounded to win the sectional final, never trailing in a 38-10 triumph.

McCullough, the Wolves quarterback, and Kaletha, a defensive back, were fundamental in City’s exceptional 2017 season, which included a sectional title, regional crown, and Final Four appearance in Class 5A. They helped the Wolves to a 9-4 record, one win shy of the state finals.

“Really just making it as far as we did sticks out in my mind,” McCullough said. “And bringing home hardware to a city that had never seen it.”

Kaletha concurred.

“We brought the city together with football,” he said. “That’s what I love. And made it to semi-state. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to state, but we made it the furthest in the postseason out of any team from Michigan City. That’s something to be very proud of.”

Thode, meanwhile, was a key to La Porte’s phenomenal rushing game, which rumbled for nearly 400 yards on the ground per game.

“The amount of yards we were able to rack up each game with each running back stood out,” Thode said. “Each running back usually had a good game. We were able to just keep pounding the ball inside and just throwing traps in there, and doing whatever. I’m pretty amazed at how it all managed to keep working throughout the season.”

Thode helped lift the Slicers to a 7-4 mark, including 5-2 in the grueling Duneland Athletic Conference – on the way to the sectional title game.

Fast forward more than eight months, and McCullough, Kaletha and Thode are Indiana All-Stars. McCullough is one of two quarterbacks on the North, while Kaletha is one of six defensive backs. Thode is one of 10 offensive linemen.

McCullough said it’s understandably rewarding to earn All-Star accolades.

“It’s cool,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to do it for a while. Just to be selected is a good honor, especially for our city.”

Kaletha didn’t disagree.

“It’s a great honor to be named for this,” he said. “And I just want to make my city proud.”

While the City teammates are appreciative, Thode reflected on the magnitude of the feat in the context of his school.

“I know that not too many kids at La Porte have done it before,” Thode said. “Most of the ones who do, obviously, go on to do great things. So I know I have a lot to accomplish. Going to Marian next season, I have a lot of people to look up to, like Charles (Salary). I just want to strive to be great.”

In the fall, Thode will continue his football career at Marian University in Indianapolis, while McCullough and Kaletha will attend College of DuPage, a junior college in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and play football there.

Like his two teammates, Kaletha is aiming to better his future by shining in this All-Star Game.

“Hopefully, I can put on a show and get my name out there,” Kaletha said. “And go to college, and put on a show there. And hopefully, I can go to a bigger school that I was hoping for.”

Michigan City Assistant Coach John Maurek will help coach the North squad.