WOODBURN – If there is any question about how much high school sports mean in small towns, look no further than Woodburn, where even the water tower bares the high school’s name instead of the town’s.
Woodlan football has become accustomed to being a team to beat in the Allen County Athletic Conference and, sometimes, in the state.
Just two years ago, the Warriors made a trip to the Class 2A state finals, falling 15-14 to Southridge. They followed it up in 2018 with their worst finish in six seasons at 4-6, with a couple of close games not going their way. A lot of the pressure to flip the script back to being a championship contender falls into the hands of second-year starting quarterback Ben Reidy, the back-up to Justin Durkes on that state runner-up team.
But this year, he isn’t the only Reidy shouldering the burden.
That is because brother Joe, a sophomore basketball standout, is joining in on the football fun.
“Growing up playing with him in the backyard every Saturday after the Notre Dame games, that was awesome. Now it is going to translate to an actual high school football game,” Ben Reidy says. “It’s great just being able to throw it up there to him and trusting him to go get the ball.”
He can ‘throw it up there’ because the younger Reidy is listed at 6-foot-7, with extra long arms that allow him to make catches most guys in the ACAC aren’t accustomed to having to defend. Football isn’t completely foreign to Joe, even outside of those Saturday afternoon backyard games. He last played in eighth grade, but high school football they will tell you, is a very different game.
“This is very exciting. It is actually weird being out here in football pads; it is a new feeling and I am getting used to it. I think over the past couple of months, I have gotten used to it enough,” Joe Reidy says.
Joe’s prowess on a basketball court will make him a major target on the football field. As a freshman, he led the Warriors at 16.5 points per game and shot 46 percent from the field. It opened the eyes of the area and the ACAC quickly about the type of athlete he is. In a year where a lot of schools are seeing basketball players come out for their football teams, Reidy’s inclusion on the gridiron has drawn a considerable amount of attention.
“He makes us have two really good wide receivers. David Bischoff is a speed demon at the other one, now putting Joe in there gives us a 6-7 target and he has great hands,” Woodlan coach Sherwood Haydock says. “June was tough for him, but he did a lot of basketball in July and came back in August ready to roll.”
While Joe admits that he is still learning his limits on the football field, there certainly aren’t a lot of receivers as tall as him in any of the four main area conferences. It is especially rare in the ACAC, a league more often that not with offenses predicated on the run game.
“Ben has had to adjust to where he puts the ball, he can get away with going high and he doesn’t have to jump. He can put it up and Joe’s 6-7,” Haydock says. “That is where I have seen the difference of taller receivers. A lot of people say they are just bigger targets, but the wing span is just so much more than an average defensive back.”
With how much time he has spent as part of Woodlan football, Ben has been there to give plenty of advice to Joe, from the preparation of summer into the actual start of the season. According to both brothers, the elder advice has come mostly in the form of having confidence to keep pushing even when things aren’t going Joe’s or the team’s way.
“You are going to have some rough games, but he will overcome anything,” Ben says.
With his own senior season being about returning Woodlan to the top of the ACAC, Ben is learning how to give advice as well as he receives it. After playing behind Durkes during the 2017 run to the state finals, Ben has never stopped getting some advice and some friendly heckling from Durkes, whose younger sister dates Ben.
“He knows the whole offense, he can run any part of it and that’s something. Justin Durkes and him have a lot of meetings. Justin was like a coach on the field so it really helps that he’s heard every angle about it,” Haydock says.
Ben laughs at the hard time Durkes still gives him about being the better of the two quarterbacks. But at the end of the day, he praises Durkes in getting him prepared to take over last season and now into 2019.
“Being behind Justin showed what it takes to get to the state title game, that is every kid’s dream,” Ben says. “He taught me the entire offense, so I’ve learned everything from him.”
While Woodlan’s record in 2018 wasn’t exactly what the program has become accustomed to, Reidy had some really good moments. He was twice the winner of Outside the Huddle’s Performance of the Night fan vote and three times threw for over 200 yards with a career-high 322 passing yards in a sectional loss to Bremen. In his other 200-plus yard games, he threw for five touchdowns against Southern Wells and completed 87 percent of his passes against Jay County.
Reidy finished the season with 1,295 yards passing and 15 touchdowns. He is going to be looking to up that for his final season, one which came pretty quick for Ben.
“Every year goes by really fast, so I can’t believe it’s my senior year. It is crazy how fast high school goes. I hope all of the younger kids cherish them because it really does go by fast,” Ben says.
But the best part for Ben may be his time spent with Joe. He wasn’t shy about his excitement in getting to share a basketball court with him last winter. His social media post earlier this year beamed with pride at even the idea of Joe joining him on the football field. Neither the brothers nor their coach worry about any brotherly squabbles taking their toll on the season.
“The connection between me and Ben is really great,” Joe emphasizes and which Ben agrees.
“We are brothers, so we are going to bicker a little bit, but at the end of the day we are both here for the same purpose and that is to win games and to represent Woodlan and our family the best we can,” he says.
Woodlan takes its football seriously. Sherwood Haydock takes his football seriously. With 2019’s ACAC race being as wide open as any year in recent memory, the Reidy-to-Reidy connection may just be the most serious thing Woodburn residents will get to see.