Western Boone head football coach Justin Pelley has been around Indiana high school football his whole life.
He has been around programs at small schools and big schools, and been around successful teams. But what is one thing he hasn't necessarily seen is a community-wide family that supports a team.
That is something that is unique to Western Boone, and has helped the Class 2A No. 1 Stars to a 12-0 record heading into Friday night's regional against Indianapolis Scecina.
"I think it is different here," Pelley said. "There are good things everywhere, and I am not going to say we are the only team that has that family, but you sure feel it around here. Whether it is the community on a Friday night, where it is the signs all along 32 or 75, whether it is teachers dressing up — you feel it and it just feels different. I can't really describe it, it is just a great family, community feeling and support."
He said the players feel it too.
While there are only 11 players on the field, and another 45 or so on the sideline, they are really playing with thousands behind them.
"I think they thrive on it and know people are behind them," Pelley said. "But I don't know if they know any different to be honest with you because it is all they have ever known. They have seen the people come before them and each class is a little different, but this is how we do things and you are either with us, or you're not — it is pretty simple. We demand a lot from them, and our parents are supportive of that, and that is why we are here. We have the athletes, but it takes more than athletes to win football games."
Pelley, who is in his sixth year in charge of Western Boone, is quick to point out that the family-like culture didn't start with him, he has just continued the legacy.
It started with Jeff Pearson, who coached the Stars for 25 years and led them to a state championship in 1988 and a state runner-up in 1998 while amassing 141 victories.
Pelley said he wants his players to know about the foundation that was laid before them.
"A lot of people talk about family, but I'm not sure how many really do it," Pelley said. "The brotherhood was established long before I got here, but what was important to me was to carry that on and make sure it was important. We talk about family a lot. In the locker room on Friday night, we take a few minutes all the time and think about those who are responsible for us being able to play football. We didn't do it by ourselves. I didn't do it by myself, and none of the kids did either. We all owe somebody something, and I think that's where the family part comes in. And then it trickles down to not having to do it by yourself on the field, because you have guys next to you."
Pelley said at this point of the year, that family support is what you need to help get you to the next level.
The longer you go in the post-season, and the tighter the games get late, you have to rely on one another to be successful.
He added that it isn't always easy, and sometimes tensions can get high, but that will happen when you are together for so long.
"It is tough," Pelley said. "We are going on to week 13, and then you add another month onto that for summer, the first two weeks of practice and your scrimmage. The guys have been going at it for it 16 weeks now. Brothers and sisters, they are going to fight sometimes, or you will get sick of each other, that's just how it is. We see each other every single day, and they are hanging out afterward. But this team is close to each other, they care about each other and lift each other up."
The Stars hope to play together for three more weeks.
They will face a stiff test Friday on the road at No. 2 Scecina (11-1).
It is a rematch of last year's regional title game, which the Crusaders won 48-33.
"That is the last team to beat us, and that is a little crazy to think about," Pelley said. "Our kids know what is ahead. They know they can play with them and know they have to play a solid game. They want to play these guys. When they heard Triton Central was up on them last Friday, I could see it in a couple of their faces that they didn't know what to think. They want to play Scecina again."
Both teams come in with dynamic offenses, with Western Boone scoring 44 points a game and Scecina scoring 36.4.
Spencer Wright has completed 101 of 152 passes for 1,739 yards, 23 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has added 376 rushing yards and seven scores.
Kruze Washington has rushed 87 times for 891 yards and 13 scores, with Brett Wethington adding 563 yards rushing and eight scores. Joe Hendrix has caught 32 passes for 734 yards and nine scores, with Logan Benson catching 23 for 400 and Lucas Kernodle catching 24 for 239.
For Scecina, quarterback Mac Ayres is 168 of 272 for 2,401 yards, 27 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
Running back Tavon Middlebrook has 152 carries for 1,089 yards and 12 scores, with wide receiver David Baker having 63 catches for 799 yards and 11 scores.
It will be a good challenge for the Western Boone defense, which comes in allowing 7.3 points a game.
Devin Weakley has 128 tackles, including 19.5 for a loss and five sacks. Brett Wethington has 68 tackles, including 14 for a loss.
Patrick Shallenberger has 15 tackles for a loss, five sacks and five fumble recoveries, with Deetz Holdorf having 18.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. In the secondary, Peyton Young and Cortez Stoudemire have five and four interceptions each.
"Mac Ayres is a phenomenal quarterback," Pelley said. "He is a game manager, but he can make all the throws. He has Baker out wide and Middlebrook in the backfield, so he has weapons just like we do. Our speed on defense is going to help us counteract some of that. Our guys know who they are going up against. A lot of it is similar, just like a lot of what we are going to do is similar. We both have that familiarity with one another, now we just have to play."
Pelley said the last thoughts he wanted to leave his team with this week is to enjoy the process and the ride.
"I just want them to take it in and have fun," Pelley said. "They have to have fun too. Our kids do a pretty good job of that. As coaches, we get so uptight and focused in, but these are 16, 17 and 18-year-old kids and they need to live it up and have fun. Not many kids have a chance to play in November, and it can be a grind. Four months into anything, I don't care what it is, can be a grind and you have to find ways to have fun doing it. So our guys just have to enjoy the moment and go out there and have fun."