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After best season, City looks to build on newfound success

August 3, 2018

MICHIGAN CITY — In the previous six seasons before Phil Mason took the head football coaching job at Michigan City High School, the Wolves went 19-50 in 69 total games during a span from 2009-2015.

Since Mason took the job before the 2016 season, the Wolves have won 16 of 24 total games, won the school’s first sectional and regional titles in 2017 and have quickly established themselves as one of the best programs in The Region.

It wasn’t an overnight process for Mason and his staff, and it’s a never-ending process that his players trust.

“It starts with the work ethic,” Mason said during his team’s practice on Wednesday afternoon. “It starts with our great staff and it’s just a year-round process. It doesn’t matter where we’re at with the kids, whether it’s the classroom, hallway, cafeteria, weight room ... we’re constantly harping on doing things the right way to represent our program.”

Before Mason’s arrival, the Wolves had one postseason victory since 2005. After 10 straight years of going one-and-done in the sectional, the Wolves won 49-33 over Elkhart Central on Oct. 28, 2016, before an 18-7 defeat at the hands of Mishawaka a week later in the sectional title game ended Mason’s first campaign at the helm.

That loss is something Mason credits as a piece of what has become a remarkable turnaround of a program that had just six postseason wins in school history before Mason took the job.

“I think much of what we built started in my first year at Mishawaka,” Mason said. “I kept our kids out on the field to watch Mishawaka get the sectional trophy. There’s probably some people that think that’s cruel and unusual punishment, but I wanted our kids to see that visual, to see a team celebrate.

“I’m not saying that’s the main ingredient to it all, but when we got into playing La Porte for the sectional championship, we were able to reflect on that in meetings and say, ‘What’s it gonna be like when you beat your rival on your home field and you get that first sectional title?’ Our kids were able to grasp that from the year before and you could see that in their reactions that they were thinking about it and ready.”

After dispatching the Slicers in a 38-10 beatdown, the Wolves played with house money and beat Concord a week later for the regional title to advance to semistate, where they lost a 21-14 heartbreaker in the rain to host Kokomo.

“In our second year, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Mason said. “All of those things are reflections in the minds and obviously things you use to continue to set goals for a program.”

One of those goals is advancing a bit further south in central Indiana to play in late November, but as a coach that’s coached in two state title games, Mason understands the value of keeping his kids balanced, and most importantly, healthy for another lengthy postseason run this season.

“I think one of the things we talk about as a staff as we’re getting older is just pace yourself,” Mason said. “It’s a grind. We tell the kids, ‘Here it is, July 30th, and by the calendar, there’s still two months of summer left.’ And then we’re talking about our goal is to play two days after Thanksgiving. So for kids to understand and looking at that as a coach, that’s a grind for 15, 16, 17-year-olds. That’s a long, hard, tedious grind.

“We have to balance our mental health. We have to balance our players’ mental health. And then, we physically have to take care of our kids, basing that on how much you hit in practice and how much you practice. You have to take care of them. It’s a different game than it was years ago. There’s guys on my staff, myself included, that have been able to take a team that far and understand how to keep those things in balance.”