By Nick Gonnella Daily News
Greensburg Daily News
---- — Despite playing high school football since his freshman year, 2013 South Decatur graduate Matthew Gatewood was unsure what to expect one Friday night in the middle of summer.
Gatewood was representing his Alma Mater at the IFCA North-South All-Star game July 19, hosted by North Central High School.
Chosen as a first-team All-State punter by the IFCA, Gatewood was just one of an elite few in South Decatur football history representing the Cougars.
“The opening kickoff was like every high school football game,” said Gatewood, who has committed to play baseball for Valparaiso. “Everybody was nervous. Just the feeling of being on the sidelines again was something else. It’s a distinct feeling.”
The South team beat North 27-6, and Gatewood punted twice. He sent his first punt 38 yards in the first quarter, but a second-quarter punt sailed 61 yards to the North 7. The punt was fumbled and South recovered it for a touchdown.
South leads the all-time series 26-21.
The experience, though, was a five-day week sponsored by Grange Insurance. Gatewood arrived Sunday, July 14 on a Charter bus. Members of the Indianapolis Colts and cheerleaders greeted the players, who stayed in dorms at University of Indianapolis.
“We were already there getting autographs from them,” recalled Gatewood. “Then we get into the locker room, and we were treated like saints there, pretty much. Air-conditioned locker rooms. We got lucky on this part, because since we were on the home side of the field, we were staying where the North Central football players stayed.”
Teams had three-a-day practices until Thursday, which was reserved for a walk-through session. Players shared rooms according to their position groups, and unwound with pool and ping pong in their down time.
Gatewood said the pregame events reminded him of a college environment, with trainers in the locker room during warm-ups, cameras focused on the players, and the stands filled. More than 4,600 spectators were in attendance.
“It was really cool,” said Gatewood. “There were people taking pictures everywhere. It was crazy.”
He said the game itself also felt like a college game, with players from both teams committed to a college to play football.
“It was a great experience that I had, knowing that I’m going to play college baseball, and the last high school football game I had would just be the best of the best. It was something else.”
The left-handed pitcher described what it was like to play on the same field with other elite football players throughout the state.
“Coming from a little 1A school, playing with kids from 5A schools like Brownsburg, Fishers and Avon, was just a great experience, and something that I’ll never forget,” he said. “It felt good to put pads back on, that’s for sure. I’m glad I got to play and represent South Decatur. I was glad that I was able to play in the game.”
Gatewood said he would encourage up-and-coming football players to compete in an All-Star game if they were chosen.
“It somebody else had the chance to play in this game, and they asked me for advice, I would totally tell them to do it because it was totally worth it,” he said. “Just knowing they’re all seniors and you get to play one more game with the best of the best. I would do it again if I could. Everybody made some friends that I will never forget at this camp. Everybody was getting along great. It was just a great time overall. I’m glad I got chosen to be on the team and play in the game.”
Contact Nick Gonnella at (812) 663-3111, x7003.