MICHIGAN CITY — There are several tiers of players on a football roster.
A few are stars. Some are starters. Others make smaller contributions. The rest grind through the season, knowing they're never going to hear their name announced on a Friday night.
At Michigan City, back-up offensive lineman Vincent Weatherwax is one of those guys.
"I love the sport. I just love being here," Weatherwax said at practice this week. "It's like a sanctuary to me, something to do. After school, I get to come here, have a nice time. It's a blast most days. Even getting yelled at's a blast. Either way, if I play or not, I'm still going to be here, I'm still going to do everything I want to do."
At a time when fewer kids are willing to invest time and effort with little or no promise of reward, the 260-pound senior nicknamed "Amish" for his bushy black beard is a refreshing exception. He's also been a glimmer of positivity for Wolves coach Phil Mason in a season littered with player issues.
"If every kid in a program worked the way this kid does, you're putting a (championship) ring on your finger," Mason said. "That's kind of the kid he is. He's definitely been a positive this season with some of the things that have gone on. As a coach, it's one of those things that really pulls at your heart strings."
Senior year is a crossroads for players like Weatherwax. Up to now, even if they don't see action on Fridays, they can still play junior varsity, as he did the last two years. But most schools don't play seniors on JV, so the prospects for seeing the field diminish further.
"It was kind of scary sticking with football," Weatherwax said. "I was 18 in June, so I could've left, gotten a job, made some money, maybe had a better time doing something, but I would rather be here. This is a lot more fun."
Weatherwax first came out as a sophomore. He weighed 280 pounds and his biggest hope at that point was simply to get in better shape, which he did, rebuilding his body with muscle replacing fat.
"After that, I got hooked," he said.
Not close to cracking a loaded Wolves lineup then or last year, Weatherwax toiled away on Saturday mornings. His senior season brought one last chance. Mason encouraged him to go out for wrestling last winter to help with his conditioning and footwork. Weatherwax did and he loved it.
"I liked the challenge," he said. "It's person on person."
With those aspirations of playing varsity still burning strong, Weatherwax put in his time in the weight room.
"He worked his tail off," Mason said.
Unfortunately, it still wasn't enough for Weatherwax to get over the hump. "The seventh or eighth guy" in the line group, his action remained sparse, but it didn't chase him away.
"It didn't happen, but I'm still here," he said. "I stuck with it. I didn't get there, but I'm still going to help out the younger guys. Being one of the older guys, I remember what they taught us the last three years here. I try to pass it on, hopefully it keeps going down and they stay with the culture."
Mason shakes his head and smiles at the thought of someone who cares more about being part of the team than anything else.
"He asks me, 'Can I get in tonight?'" Mason said. "He's gotten in a few games. He's a high-character kid, just a phenomenal kid. He comes out here every single day. He's never late. He never pouts, he never complains."
Those rare fourth quarter moments in one-sides games have meant the world to Weatherwax.
"I wish I could've hit 6-5. I haven't grown since like seventh grade," he said. "I don't have any talent, but I have a lot of determination. I think (football) goes along with everything a kid can go through. Adversity. Hard work. The coaches put that on us from the day we got here. If you want something, go get it. It's a full-time thing. At the end of the season, we're in the weight room. After that, we're here, having a blast. When the season ends, if we get to go on, awesome."
Whether he played a single down, being a part of Michigan City's runs to semistate the last two years were unforgettable.
"Amazing," Weatherwax said. "It's just flown by. It's a lifetime of experiences. I'll remember these things for the rest of my time. I have friends the past three years I still talk to, guys in college, doing great. I would've been a quiet kid in the classroom (if I hadn't played). I'd probably be doing better in my grades. I probably would've had more time to study."
Even so, Weatherwax is a solid B student with aspirations to earn a college diploma and become an engineer or possibly go into a trade.
"Getting there is a lot harder," he said. "You have to have a plan. I'm looking forward to it, but it's scary."
After football, Weatherwax will likely go straight into wrestling, then get a job to start putting aside some money.
As for any younger kids unsure about the sport because they don't know if they're good enough to play, his advice is simple.
"Join football," Weatherwax said. "You have a safe place here. The coaching staff is absolutely amazing. You have great coaches who help us throughout school, who care for us, mentor us. It's a great place. If I had another year, I would come back."