This month, Carmel Monthly is proud to feature the Carmel High School (CHS) football team and IHSAA Class 6A state champions on our last cover of 2019. For those who missed the riveting game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Nov. 30, the game had Greyhound fans on the edge of their seats through the fourth quarter when rival Center Grove Trojans made a fierce comeback, but after two big third-down conversions, Carmel recovered an onside kick, ran out the clock and claimed their hard fought 20-17 championship victory.
We spoke with CHS Football coach John Hebert about what it took for the team and the entire program to prepare for this year’s season and how that preparation and growth led Carmel to clinch its ninth state championship title.
Hebert shared with us how the program begins building a team in the off-season, identifying the leaders as early as February—long before the official season kicks off.
“We include the players in most discussions and decisions that are made, and that’s something that I really believe in doing,” Hebert said. “The leadership positions within the program were earned and identified based on last season. We have meetings to prepare the leaders on what and how they’re going to teach the rest of their teammates, and we talk about things like integrity, accountability, respect and trust.”
Hebert said that talks of winning the championship were not a focus. Practicing and playing to everyone’s full potential was the focus throughout the off- and regular seasons.
“We focus on getting better at things that we know will help us in the long run,” Hebert said. “We focus on the day-to-day routines and our processes to prepare us, and then when we take the field, we feel like we’re really ready to go out and compete at our best.”
Hebert shared how the team converted a humbling loss (41-14) to Trinity High School’s football team in Louisville, Kentucky, early in the season into a valuable learning lesson.
“We lost that game down in Louisville after we had beaten them at home last year,” Hebert recalled. “This year, we went down there, and they just blew us out. We turned the ball over four times, and they capitalized on it. We outscored them in the second half, but it is an example of a great opportunity for growth for the team. It gave us an opportunity to separate words from actions, and it gave us a real window into how much farther we had to go.”
Carmel went on a four-game winning streak after that game but had some tight games and missed opportunities in the first part of the season, according to Hebert.
“[Success] doesn’t happen without going through some tough growth,” Hebert said. “There were some games that I didn’t feel like we started well and didn’t come out offensively, but at the midpoint of the season—after losing to North Central and Ben Davis [high schools], we had constant conversations in the locker room, encouraging players to have ‘players only’ meetings and discussions about trusting each other, making commitments to one another and trusting us coaches that we are doing the right things to help the team reach its full potential.”
Hebert said at that point, the success of the team fell on its leaders to help keep the team together and focused on its short-term and long-term goals.
“I think anytime there’s success with that many people, those types of conversations have to happen all the time,” Hebert emphasized. “They’re not always convenient and comfortable, but they’re very important. And I think the more that people buy into the meaning behind it all, the better chance you have of it all coming together.”
The team turned a corner, and once it made the playoffs and beat Warren Central High School (28-0) in week eight, Hebert said the team was sold on the vision of what it was going to take to be state champions, even though that was not specifically discussed at that point in the season.
Developing a Championship Team
The secret to Carmel’s success is that the coaching staff doesn’t just develop its starters. It develops the entire team.
“We prepare two to three guys at a position and develop this team for the long term,” Hebert said. “If you’re going to win a championship, you can’t just pick a group of guys—the starters—but you have to be committed to getting a lot of guys experience. While it’s harder to establish an identity when you play a lot of people, it’s really important to the process.”
It is important to note that Hebert mentioned throughout the interview the players who contributed to and made the big plays that led the team to victory that have been well documented in the litany of news articles and news segments after the game. Out of respect and admiration for the entire team, staff and crew, and so as not to omit anyone by accident or by virtue of limited real estate in this print article, Hebert asked if we could credit the team, staff, managers, assistants and parents—as a whole—for their contributions that led to the team’s success this season.
“There are just too many [individuals] to name,” Hebert said. “The guys that have the biggest impact on the team are usually the hardest workers. We picked our captains for Saturday night’s game because they’re hard workers, and nobody questions their allegiance to the program or their vision, and the team respects everything they have to say. I don’t want to leave anybody out. There are so many great, great kids, and programs like this can’t be boiled down to a few kids—it takes all of them.”
A Return to the State Championship
The tradition of excellence continued when Carmel not only made the stage but when it clinched its ninth State Championship title. Hebert shared his personal thoughts about that night.
“We were so close to the goal,” Hebert reflected. “Center Grove was mounting a furious comeback. At that point, the team was fighting to do what they’d practiced and knew that they had to do the best that they could at that time. We brought in our ‘hands’ unit [on-side kick return team], who had practiced the day before and had done a walkthrough before the game where we talked about that very situation.”
Hebert continued, “We discussed a scenario where the whole game hinges on catching the ball, and if we don’t, it lessens our chance of winning. And doing this while five guys are coming at you and while the whole team, the whole program and the whole city is watching, depending on you to catch the ball.”
The team’s preparation and perseverance paid off. Carmel took a knee—and the title—with clock at 1:39. Champions, once again. “It was all that time in the making and learning hard lessons that led us here,” Hebert said. “It was going back and looking at mistakes that cost us [plays and wins] in previous games and practices and working to get to the point where everybody [team and staff] is on the same page and knows what the expectations [are]. When you’re able to get that point across and the players know it and believe it the same as the coaches—then championships are possible.”