For The Tribune
Jacob Rowe still can remember how he felt when he found out his school would no longer offer football as a sport.
Rowe was a freshman at Trinity Lutheran High School and finished his first year on the team when he found out he would no longer be able to participate in the sport he loved.
That changed last season when Trinity Lutheran High School students were given the opportunity to join the Indianapolis Crimson Knights, a home-schooled team based in Indianapolis.
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This past weekend, the permanent lighting fixtures were used for the first time in a game — a big move forward in Trinity’s football future.
Rowe plays quarterback for the team and six other Trinity Lutheran High School students also help fill out the roster.
“At first I thought it was unreal like it was crazy enough to not be true,” Rowe recalled when he found out he would be able to play football again. “At first I was kind of iffy about it, because it’s going up north and everything and away from home with new people, but as soon as I started this year, I knew it was the right choice to make.”
The Trinity students have a different level of commitment to the Knights than most high school football players.
The team practices Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays while playing most games Fridays. The team also has a few Saturday games on its schedule.
Two of those practices are in Greenwood.
That means the students have to make their way an hour north — depending on traffic — to make it for practice until late evening and then make their way back following practice.
“It’s time management,” Rowe said. “You have to think through the week what you’re doing and what needs to be done.”
Head coach Kevin Wilson said the students are committed to working hard and have to put in extra effort because of the distance that separates them.
“When you’re at a typical school, those guys get out of their last period class, they walk out to their locker rooms, they change and then go out on the practice field and they practice for two hours,” he said, adding that those students don’t have to deal with traffic or travel times.
“Sometimes our kids are running late and we don’t get as many reps in, but we put in the work and it’s something we have to do.”
Rowe said the scheduling difficulty helps them prepare for the real world after school.
“It kind of helps incorporate us growing up as young men and I think that’s something this program does that many people don’t get,” he said. “It really has developed all of us, not just me, but everyone else on the team to manage their time and get their stuff done.”
Joining the team has also given Rowe and his fellow Trinity students a chance to meet new friends.
Dylan McKain, a senior that plays defensive end, said he joined the team late in the season, but was immediately accepted as member of the team.
“They just take you in like family,” he said. “It’s really close-knit.”
In fact, one of the reasons McKain decided to join the team because he saw how much the team got along during a practice a friend invited him to.
“I saw how nice it was and how everyone was always working together,” he said. “It kind of really drew me in.”
Wilson said his biggest surprise this season was how easily the players have meshed together in a short amount of time.
“It’s been seamless,” he said. “You can talk to all 27 and you wouldn’t know what school they went to or whether they were home-schooled because you would think they would all go together.”
McKain — like Rowe — was devastated when Trinity lost its football program, but is thankful for the opportunity to play the sport he has participated in since he was in fifth grade.
“I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now,” he said.
Wilson has coached the high school-level program for several years and has led the Crimson Knights to a 6-0 start to the season.
He said the players from Trinity have helped the team in tremendous ways.
“They’re huge for our program,” he said. “Not just from a football standpoint, but everything with Trinity is being a part of a family and they have brought us in and helped out with the facilities and the parents have volunteered and helping us with everything and made our program better.”
Wilson said he also enjoys coaching the students from Trinity because of their work ethic.
“They’re very coachable and there are some really good players,” he said, adding that some of the seniors this year could play at the college level next year. “They’ve helped a ton.”
The team will also travel to Florida in November for a tournament of home-schooled teams.
The team does not only play home-schooled teams. This year the Crimson Knights will face six IHSAA schools.
They’ve had success against Brown County and Scottsburg this season, Wilson said.
He said that showed how strong the team is because the team is normally at a disadvantage on depth.
“These other programs have about 40 to 50 kinds playing and we have 27,” he said. “So to get a win against those teams, a 3A team, that’s great for us.”
Wilson attributes the success to a strong defense. That same defense held Brown County to only ten points.
Next year, the Crimson Knights will move their home base from Indy to Trinity Lutheran — but will remain a home-schooled team.
The Crimson Knights will play Martin County at 4 p.m. Saturday at Trinity Lutheran High School.