Rick Streiff saw the story of 2017 simply:
The Cathedral High School football team had a lot of talent in the legendary coach’s final season, and – as was the case throughout both of his ultra-successful tenures with the Irish – good memories outweighed all else.
“We had a darned good run at it,” Streiff said.
Streiff, who announced his retirement as the Irish’s head coach shortly after the 2017 season, said he will remember his final season as he remembered many of his seasons – not as much for yet another run deep into the state playoffs as for the players and coaches who made the run possible.
“This is a group of really talented individuals who came together and played pretty well all things considered,” Streiff said.
How talented were the Irish in 2017?
As talented as any team in Indiana, featuring at least four Division I–signees, a group that included offensive tackle Emil Ekiyor (Alabama) and running back Markese Stepp as well as outside linebacker Hugh Davis (Boston College) and inside linebacker Jackson Barrow (Toledo).
Streiff said how that group played together in often difficult circumstances defined the Irish in 2017.
“A lot of times when you have a lot of guys who are really talented they don’t mold into a team,” Streiff said. “I think our kids did that. They molded into a pretty good team by the end of the year – and a break or two here or there … who knows?”
The Irish, who won 10 state titles under Streiff – including six in his second tenure from 2008-2017 – finished the 2017 season 7-6 ranked No. 5 in the state in Class 5A. They lost in the Class 5A state semifinal to No. 2 Columbus East, 42-13.
It was the Irish’s first postseason loss outside of Class 6A since 2009. Ekiyor and fellow starting offensive lineman Blake Kaufman both left the semifinal with leg injuries.
“The wheels just fell off a little bit,” Streiff said. “They kind of did to us what we did to teams all year long, which was to maul them and wear them out in the fourth quarter. They were just a little better than us that night.”
The Irish as was their norm under Streiff played one of the state’s toughest schedules in 2017, playing six teams from out of state during the regular season before beating Roncalli (28-23) and Decatur Central (42-21) in the sectional playoffs and Bloomington South (35-21) in the regional.
“It was a very good run,” Streiff said. “We had to beat a really good Roncalli team in the opening game [of the postseason] and then really played our best game of the year against Decatur Central, which was an incredibly talented team. We went down to Bloomington South and struggled, but still played well enough.”
The Irish sustained one-sided losses to Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier (31-7) and Cleveland (Ohio) St. Edward’s (38-10), but their other three losses before the semifinal came in tight games against out-of-state powers Detroit (Mich.) King (38-35), Louisville (Ky.) St. Xavier (35-28), Pickerington (Ohio) Central (25-20).
“We were right there in the fight,” Streiff said. “You’d love to have a chance to have a game or two back with everyone healthy and everyone on the same page; you might have had a couple of those, but it is what it is. That’s the game of football.
“We played an incredibly challenging schedule. We lost some key components at different times of the season, and we probably only played a handful of games where we had everybody on deck to play. In those games, we played really, really well and were a pretty good football team.
“In the other games, the next guy came in and played his heart out and gave us a chance to win.”
Streiff finished 221-77 in 23 seasons at Cathedral, coaching the Irish to four state titles in his first tenure (1989-2001). He finished his Irish career as Indiana’s all-time leader in state football championships and said he has little doubt what he will miss most.
“The relationship with coaches and the relationship with players,” Sreiff said. “If you’re fortunate to win a little bit, you realize the whole reason you’re doing this is to help young people become better people. That’s what we’re here for. I hope they look back and say, ‘Yeah, coach was sometimes kind of a pain in the butt he always had my best interest at heart and he always wanted me to be the best version of myself.’’’
And Streiff has no doubt the program he leaves behind will flourish in his wake.
“The next guy to come in will just take it that much of a notch higher,” Streiff said. “We’re going to bounce back and forth between [Class] 5A and 6A from here on out – and at some point in time the next guys’s going to field a team that the 6A guys go, ‘I don’t know if we can beat those guys.’ That will happen in the next tenure. The next guy will take it to the next level.”