By DOUG ZALESKI
Pressure in sports can manifest itself in several different ways. One of the first signs usually comes in the form of players being hesitant to play with abandon.
Delta’s state-ranked football team is playing free and easy, and the result through six games is a unit that is dominating opponents in various ways.
“That’s just our senior leadership,” Eagles coach Chris Overholt said. “They like to have fun. Before we take the field in warmups, we say, ‘Hey, let’s go have fun today.’
“When we’re free and bouncing around and dancing to music and everything else, we play really good football. That’s just the personality of this team.”
That attitude carried Class 4A No. 4 Delta to an easy 42-0 thrashing of New Castle on Friday to extend its perfect record to 6-0 (4-0 Hoosier Heritage Conference).
The Eagles are averaging 46.3 points per game while giving up just 3.8. They have scored 42 or more points in four of their six games while shutting out three of their six opponents.
Despite those gaudy stats, Delta is determined to keep its head down and not get distracted by things that don’t matter.
The key, according to Overholt, is open communication. The fourth-year coach makes sure his players know they’re likely to get each opponent’s best shot every game.
“The rankings, the accolades that come … everyone wants to knock you off,” Overholt said. “We can’t afford to spot a team a Tuesday practice. We can’t afford to spot Pendleton (next week’s opponent) a Wednesday practice. We talk about winning every single day to be 1-0 at the end of the week.
“We really haven’t accomplished anything yet. It’s nice that our hard work is being recognized by other people, but there are other things we want to do this season.”
Delta quarterback Brady Hunt, who had a monster game against New Castle, knows about a team having a target on its back. He was the second-leading scorer on the Eagles’ basketball team last winter that turned in an unbeaten regular season and started postseason play with four straight victories.
But the frenzy that built throughout fourth months abruptly ended with a loss to Marion in a regional championship game. Hunt wants to put the lessons learned from dealing with high basketball expectations to good use this football season.
“I learned after you do have success you have to keep that competitive stamina going because we kind of fell off at the end (of the basketball season),” Hunt said. “When you’re the only undefeated (basketball) team left in the state, everybody wants to knock you off. That was a good experience for us.”
Delta senior receiver/defensive back Cam Levers said the football team is trying to maintain the mentality of looking only at the game at hand and trying to go 1-0 each week.
“We aren’t really focused on our overall record,” he said. “We look at it, but in the end, it doesn’t mean anything unless we come away with the trophy at the end of the season.”
Overholt said one of the team’s goals is to be undefeated going into the final regular-season contest, which would give the Eagles a chance to win the Hoosier Heritage championship.
“If we don’t beat Pendleton, we aren’t going to have an opportunity to do that,” he said. “If we don’t beat Greenfield the week after that, we won’t have that opportunity.”
Delta showed its versatility on offense against New Castle. The Eagles rushed the ball with great success in the first five games this year. But the Trojans stuffed the box to take away Delta’s inside zone runs and sweeps, and that opened the door for Hunt’s best performance of the season.
“When (Hunt) sees that and we tell him (New Castle) is going to put it on his shoulders, he rises to the occasion,” Overholt said. “He’s a kid who embraces that, and he wants the pressure on his shoulders.”
The 6-foot-5 junior completed 16-of-22 passes for 270 yards and four touchdowns. His four TDs all came in the first half as the Eagles led 36-0 at intermission, leading to a running clock in the second half due to the 35-point lead rule.
“It’s a testament to our offensive line,” Hunt said. “(New Castle’s) defensive plan was to stop the run. That opened up things for me.”
Hunt connected seven times with Levers for 171 yards, including a touchdown. Levers set up a Delta first-quarter TD by returning an interception 78 yards. In the second quarter, he caught a 69-yard pass to set up another touchdown.
Levers gave the credit to Hunt.
“He’s been very steady … and every week he grinds,” Levers said. “That kid is just a great leader. If things go bad, we all turn to Brady and he knows exactly what to do.”
Delta will play at Pendleton Heights (3-3, 2-2 HHC) next Friday.