North Decatur’s junior class has played a major role each of the last three seasons for the Chargers. Pictured, from left, are: Caleb Stapp, Jake Hartman, Evan Smith, Cole Parmer (kneeling), Luke Kinker, Corbyn House and Jacob Snider.

Sage advice to anyone seeking accreditation is that you have to learn to crawl before you can walk.

However, for a six-pack of juniors at North Decatur High School, the fizz was let out of the can early. The Chargers had no feasible choice other than to dispel that notion and, as expected, “take a few lumps” in the process.

That core group of then freshmen now are the backbone of head coach Steve Stirn’s program.

“You couldn’t in your wildest imagination have a greater group of young men,” Stirn said of Evan Smith, Luke Kinker, Jacob Snider, Corbyn House, Jake Hartman and Cole Parmer, all starters as ninth-graders at North Decatur, plus a seventh junior, Caleb Stapp. “Every coach likes to talk about guys that have bought into their program . . . with these juniors, honest to God, it is an all-in commitment.

“These kids live it. They like football and it shows. They have gotten better and better, and grown from what, really, were bad times.”

As freshmen the Chargers Group of Six took some hard knocks. Some as young as 14, they were pitted against 18-year-olds, and, lived to tell about it.

“We didn’t have time to be freshmen,” said House. “We had to grow up in a hurry.”

Or as Smith said, “We were a step behind at times.”

Hartman was a rail-thin 125 pound lineman. Every game, he said, was a learning experience.

“The experience (as a freshman) was great,” said Hartman, now a robust 185-pounder. “No one really expected much out of us, although the seniors did.

“But we were overmatched. We got knocked down a lot.”

But like the song, they got back up again. And again, said Stirn.

“Oh, they took their lumps,” said the coach. “Some of those games as freshmen were rough to take.”

North Decatur went 3-7 that first year, losing twice to rival South Decatur. A year ago, wiser and together with a talented group of senior skill players, the Chargers turned the corner with an 8-4 record, an overtime win over South Decatur and a spot in the Class 1A sectional championship game.

This year, though 1-2 heading into tonight’s home game against Knightstown, it is obvious things are much, much different.

“The feel of the game is a whole lot better,” said Parmer. “That first year, we went from eighth grade to playing varsity football. But after that freshman year we hit the weight room and dedicated ourselves to becoming football players.”

Stirn pushed the Chargers. The juniors responded in kind.

“He (Stirn) knows what you can do and he holds you to it,” said Hartman. Kinker adds: “You just have to focus on the task at hand and go one day at a time. It sounds cliché but coach just wants you to be the best you can be.

“It’s not really a sacrifice when you’re all in.”

House, with Parmer playing at 225 pounds, was more succinct.

“You either are all in or not. You love it or you don’t,” House said. “This group of juniors loves football.”

All seven Chargers have lofty goals. All want to win a sectional. By next year at this time they hope to be among the state’s best teams.

“This is why we put so much into our summer workouts,” said Snider.

“We worked hard to put ourselves into a position to win every game,” said Stapp.

Stirn never concerns himself with the whereabouts of his junior leaders.

“They are never unaccounted for,” said the coach. “They bought into what we are selling, and it shows.”

Hartman goes a step further:

“I chose this family, my football family,” Hartman said. “It means that much to me.”

Smith, a starting quarterback for a third season, summed it up best:

“We are a motivated group. When we lose it just makes us work harder. We have high expectations, and we hold each other accountable.”

Chargers hoping home is sweet

North Decatur celebrates Alumni Night tonight at Ed Kaelin Field when the Chargers play host to the Knightstown Panthers.

Knightstown (1-2) is fresh off upsetting South Decatur 34-20, and moves behind the running of Richie Nelson and the quarterback play of Tyler Burton. Nelson rushed for 231 yards and three touchdowns against South Decatur, while Burton was 7 of 8 passing for 123 yards and a pair of scores. Burton also rushed for 54 yards.

North Decatur (1-2) dropped a road game to Class 1A No. 8 Monroe Central a week ago, and coach Steve Stirn says the Chargers need to shore some things up defensively against Knightstown.

“We’ve had a very good week of practice,” Stirn said.

Game time is 7 o’clock.

- Daily News