WATERLOO — They will be revered and respected tonight.
They will share some smiles and laughs, and plenty of good memories will come to mind.
The 25th anniversary tribute to DeKalb’s 1994 state finalists before tonight’s homecoming game against Norwell won’t show the Barons as they were in that magical season, however.
They wore all black, and it meant something. They demanded the most out of themselves and delivered week after week.
Most of all, they invoked fear in their opponents. Blinding speed that could lead to offensive explosions. An attacking defense in a perpetual bad mood. The Black Attack made it a great time to be a Baron fan, and a bad time to be anyone else.
“Not too many people were excited about playing us,” said Brad Weber, the team’s quarterback and winner of the Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award at the state finals. “They had very mean dispositions and they wanted to impose their will on people.”
Tonight, they’ll be happy just to see the Baron fans again. Fans are reminded to get to their seats earlier, with introductions of the team to begin at 6:30 p.m.
The 1994 club went 13-1, losing in the state championship game to East Central at the old RCA Dome. Until then, it was an incredible romp through the Northeast Hoosier Conference, the sectional, regional and semistate.
The success didn’t pop up suddenly. Weber had moved with his family to Auburn as a fourth-grader in 1986, the year DeKalb won the Class 4A state championship. He and his classmates were already setting goals to do the same someday.
Dave Schlemmer, still an assistant coach for DeKalb, remembers that the senior class was special.
“We had clear-cut leaders on both sides of the ball who weren’t afraid to rip into the entire team if they felt we weren’t getting their best effort,” Schlemmer said. “They could get away with saying and doing things that might get a coach fired.
“As coaches, rarely did we have to push them any harder than they pushed themselves.”
One sad note of the celebration will be the absence of the ’94 team’s head coach, Ron Kock, who passed away early last year.
“Coach Kock was the guiding force who was able to mold an eclectic group of individuals into a team,” Schlemmer said. “There was never a day in the weight room where he didn’t give the kids the sense that if they worked really hard, we were going to be really good.
“He was one to deflect credit to players and assistant coaches. But if things didn’t go well, it was all on him. He was one of the most selfless, hard-working people I ever knew.”
The Barons made plenty of noise in 1994, but none more than in their semistate game vs. Lowell.
The Red Devils featured Mike Pickett, a 200-pound tailback who had battered defenses all season.
DeKalb led 6-0 when Lowell found itself with a fourth-and-goal at the Baron 1.
The Red Devils expected their dominating force to drive into the end zone for the tying touchdown. Instead, he was knocked backward by Adam Hissong and Kris Bloom, landing at the 3 for a 2-yard loss.
DeKalb was in control from there and won 21-0 to book passage to Indy.
“When that collision took place, is was as loud as any I’ve heard on a football field,” said Weber, now a high school football official.
The offense was equally scary, averaging over 400 yards per game, split nearly equally between the run and pass.
The Barons had two rushers in the 1,000-yard range, and five different receivers who caught 25 or more passes. Weber was among the state leaders in passing all year.
“That was Ron Kock being ahead of his time,” Weber said. “It was a split-back veer with uneven splits in the line, which helped get a lot of quick-hitting plays.
“Coach Kock just looked at the roster and saw that we had 10-12 guys faster than everyone we were going to play. He wanted to get them the ball.”
For defenses, it was a case of pick your poison.
“If they lined up with an extra linebacker and too few in the box, we would run it,” Weber said. “If they put eight in the box, we could hit them with a quick pass.
“With all the movement, shifts, motion and formation changes, it looked like we were doing something very complicated, but we really weren’t.”
The offensive line’s attitude was much like the defense’s.
“Our five offensive linemen were as good as anybody you’ll see,” Weber said. “They were all smart, and you would not want to play against them. They were mean and nasty.
“Very few times I remember running for my life. Those guys were phenomenal.”
Sometimes Friday night didn’t roll around quickly enough for all of the intensity the Barons had built up.
Lineman Ryan Kepler became a symbol of sorts for team. His helmet had caused a cut at the top of his nose that never got a chance to heal, and invariably, his face would be bloody throughout the game.
“I’m pretty sure Ryan still holds the record for most fights started in practice,” Schlemmer said. “Our practices were very competitive and inevitably a fight would break out at least weekly.
“When you went to untangle the pile, most of the time you would find Kepler somewhere near the bottom with blood running down his face. A team needs the Kepler types to keep practices from becoming walk-throughs.”
A big part of that was the two very talented classes that followed the ’94 seniors. The junior varsity went undefeated that year. In fact, ’94 was just the first of three straight unbeaten regular seasons for the Barons.
“We had a great group of juniors, and that JV team was probably the second-best team in the conference,” Weber said. “They went undefeated with those sophomores.
“Things would get very intense and guys would get very emotional, and we’d have to have (defensive coordinator Mike) Cochran, who was bigger and stronger than any of us, go in there and separate people.”
Tonight’s celebration won’t yield any rough stuff, just some good times getting back together, and hopefully a salute from DeKalb fans.
“DeKalb football was really important, at least it seemed like it to us,” Weber said. “All the extra time in the weight room, all the extra running, all the conditioning, then the tense moments before the game, and the exhilaration and relief after, to experience it with a great group of guys was unbelievable.”