It took nearly one year, but Thomas Gotkowski finally got satisfaction
After having his junior campaign come to an end with a 48-20 loss to Brownsburg on October 28, 2022, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Indianapolis Ben Davis quarterback was dedicated in his effort to put the past behind him.
"It left a bad taste in my mouth for 365 days," recalled Gotkowski, who was 188-of-299 for 2,341 yards with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions last fall. "For the past year, me and my teammates worked relentless to come together to have the chance to make amends."
On October 27, he completed his mission as the Giants rallied from a 25-7 fourth-quarter deficit to stun No. 1 Brownsburg, 28-25, in the Class 6A Sectional 5 semifinals.
It was only fitting that the Miami (Ohio) University recruit accounted for the game-winning 16-yard touchdown run and two-point conversion to clinch the comeback.
"One of the biggest things I worked on in the off-season was speed work and fast twitch muscle work to increase my top-end speed," explained Gotkowski. "Speed never hurt anyone and only helps, so that was one of the biggest physical attributes I wanted to work on. Second, was how I viewed defenses and how to really put yourself in the defender's shoes. I wanted to understand on a greater level of what they want to do and what they are going to do.
In addition to being 171-of-279 for 2,143 yards with 28 touchdowns and just five interceptions, he has also accumulated 301 yards rushing with four touchdowns on 78 carries.
"Working on extending plays just by putting myself in very complex scenarios and responding very quickly helped a lot over the off-season," Gotkowski said. "Everyone has a plan and if that plan is thrown just a little bit off course, you have to be able to adjust and win in real time."
Like many youngsters, he credits his father for helping him embrace the game of football.
"He showed me and taught me so much about the game," recalled Gotkowski. "At a very young age, I completely fell in love with the sport. He made football so much fun for me and it continues to be day by day."
Since getting an opportunity to run the show a year ago, he has blossomed as the leader of the Giants' offense.
"I don't like talking too much about myself, but I would say some of my strengths are extending plays, being able to take the lead, controlling the offense, and marching us down the field," explained Gotkowski. "I would say I'm such a perfectionist, so I demand a lot from myself and the guys around me. However, I've come to realize not everyone is perfect and errors and mistakes happen, so all I can do is look on to the next play and learn from it."
Going up against elite programs such as Cincinnati Moeller (Ohio) and IMG Academy (Florida) has also definitely helped put Gotkowski and company in the right frame of mind.
"Some teams may be more skilled than others, but if you attack each week as if it is the state finals and that all is on the line, then personally, each week is the same," explained Gotkowski. "Mentally, if you know it might be more of a competition, you have to stay in the mindset of win each play and every snap. This narrows your focus on just the simplicity of one play call and what you can do in your best power to make the play call work in the most efficient way. If you do this before every snap and play, then it helps erase all of the other factors like trying to make a huge play and putting too much on your plate. But if you simplify what you have to do, it helps slow down the game and helps you move the ball down the field. Here at Ben Davis. I can say with all of my chest, each week of practice is the same. We treat it as if it is the biggest game of our lives."
Although he has gotten plenty of recognition for his accomplishments, he knows he can't do anything without the help of his buddies around him.
"The connection between me and my guys is the most important aspect of the game I believe," Gotkowski said. "To be honest, they make it really easy to be around them. A lot of the connection we have is natural and that is hard to find, but it's true. I'd say just being around them helps build the connection, but it's awesome knowing that we are all willing to sacrifice our time and sacrifice our bodies for the same common goal and that's a state championship. We protect each other and would go to war for each other. That builds so much loyalty between us, and that makes it hard for a team to stop us "
Although former boss Jason Simmons left in February to take a position at Miami (Ohio), the Giants have not missed a beat with Russ Mann now at the controls.
"My initial reaction was excitement because I'm a guy that loves change," Gotkowski said. "It definitely wasn't easy to see Coach Simmons go. However, when there's a guy that can step up and fill the shoes of such an important role, I believe Coach Mann was the most form-fit guy for the position.
"Our relationship was very solid to start with and gradually, only got more and more closer as time went on. I could walk into his house and make myself right at home is what type of relationship we have. I believe we are a very dangerous team to have to coach, play, and battle against and why I think this program is one of the best, if not the best in the state."
Having been a member of Simmons' coaching staff. Mann was very familiar with Gotkowski's abilities.
"Thomas has embraced all aspects that come with the starting quarterback role," explained Mann, who previously worked with the secondary. "What impresses me the most is his consistency in anything to do with football. His mindset, practice habits, and leadership skills are exceptional. Not to mention, his arm is very special and can spin the ball at a very high level."
Finding balance on the gridiron as well as in the classroom is something Gotkowski has also managed very well.
"Academics and sports can be a tough combination, but what I have found is utilizing all of your free time to get school work done is very important," said Gotkowski, who maintains a 3.3 grade-point average. "When I have the chance, I try to get as much of my assignments done as possible. That way I can keep up with the work instead of trying to play catch up and be behind on work. Even though it's not always the most fun, you have to make time for it because brain power can get you a lot of places in your life in the present all the way to your future."
After weighing all his options, he decided playing for the RedHawks in Oxford, Ohio was best for him.
"There's a lot of factors that go into picking a school," explained Gotkowski. "The biggest factor that I had that I never really told anyone at all was that I wanted to feel at home when I stepped on campus. I wanted to feel like I would gladly spend the next four years of my life here outside of the football facilities, etc. I also wanted to pick somewhere relatively close to my home and family. I realized I have the rest of my life to go explore far-away places and experience other areas, but for now, my family is more important to me and life is too short to not be around the ones that you love.
"The coaching staff at Miami University, they made it easy to decide. They are very straightforward men and women and I love that. They were the first school to show me attention, so I know I am their first option and that means a lot to me. On top of that, they are a football school and know how to win and I feel like I can be a great part of that."
Having claimed the program's 26th sectional title with a 53-0 blanking of Indianapolis Pike on November 3, No. 3 Ben Davis now goes for a Class 6A regional crown on November 10 against No. 7 Indianapolis Cathedral (8-3) at the University of Indianapolis.
"Football most definitely means so much to me," Gotkowski said. "I know I will do everything I can do to succeed and thrive now and at the next level so I become the best version of myself in every aspect."