There are a couple of big reasons for the turnaround of the Mooresville High football program.
Since going 3-9 in 2017, the No. 3 Pioneers have posted a 32-6 mark, capturing three straight Class 4A sectional crowns and a pair of Mid-State Conference titles.
Leading the charge has been the one-two punch of 6-foot-7, 280-pound senior tackle Jaelin Alstott-VanDeVanter and 6-foot-4, 290-pound senior guard Zach Richards.
On the way to an 11-1 record this fall, the talented duo has paved the way for over 4,700 total yards and an average of 41.1 points per contest.
"I was a bit concerned at the beginning of the season starting an inexperienced quarterback in sophomore Nick Patterson, but Nick has quickly adapted and has played with the poise and patience of s senior all season and has provided us the confidence to score like we do," Richards said. "Having two senior running backs in Breken Greene and Caden Robinson as well as top playmakers like (wide outs) Dane Stevenson, Tim Kasper, Malachi Warren, Gideon Brimmage, and Johnny Clampitt) playing behind an experienced offensive line definitely helps."
While Patterson has completed 128-of-208 passes for 1,916 yards with 21 touchdowns, Greene and Robinson have combined for more than 1,600 yards on the ground with 25 scores.
"I had a little doubt to start the season due to the depth at the quarterback position, but the doubt quickly left when the season started," Alstott-VanDeVanter said. "Sophomore quarterback Nick Patterson can not only throw he can run as well, he can do anything. It also helps that we have two senior running backs (Breken Greene and Caden Robinson) as well as skill players in Gideon Brimmage, Dane Stevenson, Malachi Warren, Tim Kasper, and Johnny Clampitt that can score from anywhere on the field."
A member of the 2020 Indiana Football Digest's Prime Time 25, Richards has enjoyed all of the attention that has come with all of the success.
"I felt and feel honored to be in the position to be one of the top players in the state of Indiana and I am very thankful to have been selected as a member of the 2020 (IFD) Top 25," Richards said. "As a defensive coordinator, you have to load up and figure out a way to not only stop our running game with senior running backs Breken Greene and Caden Robinson, but you also have to defend our passing game led by sophomore Nick Patterson. That's why it would be very difficult to game plan against both the run and the pass."
Related to former Purdue University and National Football League standouts Mike Alstott and Anthony Spencer, Alstott-VanDeVanter has made great strides since his freshman campaign when he first started playing football competitively.
"Starting with my freshman year, Zach taught me how to play the game.," Alstott-VanDeVanter explained "I have continued to take what Zach has taught me along with coaching from (offensive line) Coach (Bob) Denton and have developed my skill set to that of Zach's. I feel as if I can do the same things Zach does on the field and that is a tribute to Zach and Coach Denton working with me early in my high school career.
"It would be very difficult as a defensive coordinator to put a plan together to defend us seeing Zach and I are on the same side of the offensive line, so that makes it tough on any team we face."
Richards also believes he has benefitted from playing with Alstott-VanDeVanter.
"Jaelin is a great player," explained Richards. "Playing on the same side of the line with Jaelin I always know where he will be on any given play. I know that he has my back and I have his. Those are the things that allow us to work so well together.
Responsible for helping turn around the fortunes at Mooresville has been veteran coach Mike Gillin, who has won more than 300 games over his four decades on the sidelines.
"Coach Gillin and the coaching staff have developed a culture of physicality and toughness over the past four seasons," Richards said."The coaching staff played a huge role in the continued development of the culture each day. Coach Denton has helped progress my game and has played a significant role in my development as a player."
Jaelin is in complete agreement with his fellow lineman.
"Coach Gillin, along with the coaching staff, have brought physicality to our team," Alstott-VanDeVanter said. "We have very experienced coaching staff with NFL, college, and high school backgrounds that know how to win."
Having worked with his fair share of talented performers over the years, Gillin believes his front line is in good hands with his dynamic duo.
"It has been an honor to coach both of these guys for four years," Gillin said. "They are a coach's dream. They are different in some ways, but also very committed to the game. Jaelin was a bit later in developing than Zach, but quickly developed into a solid player. Zach is a blue collar lineman that will do whatever it takes to get the job done. I can't wait to see what lies ahead for both because the sky is the limit."
For the second straight campaign, both participants have found their way to the other side of the line during the playoffs to help out a defensive unit that has allowed 17 or fewer points on five occasions.
"I love it and am excited to be on the field the entire game" explained Richards. "It made me feel as if I was playing an even bigger role in the outcome of the ballgame than I was."
In the early going, though, Alstott-VanDeVanter wasn't as willing to make the move.
"I was a bit skeptical going to the defensive side of the ball last season due to my size, but once I got out there, I liked it: Alstott-VanDeVanter recalled. "However, I grew over the off-season and that has helped me this year, so now I like playing on both sides of the ball."
As it turns out, they will continue as teammates next fall with both players headed to Purdue.
"I felt most at home at Purdue," Richards said. "The fact Jaelin committed to the Boilers played a role. It made my decision easier and made me feel a lot more comfortable."
The fact some of his relatives have Purdue ties had no bearing in Jaelin's choice.
"I felt a connection there more than any other school that I was able to visit," Alstott-VanDeVanter said. "I want to be an engineer and Purdue University will provide me the opportunity to pursue my academic and football goals. Being a member of the Big 10 (conference) played a huge role in my decision as well."
Heading into Friday's regional final at No. 2 Evansville Central (12-0), there seems to be a feeling of togetherness on and off the field at Mooresville.
"We're a family," Richards stated. "The team is very close as a group. We all like one another and each player wants to see the other succeed. It is an unselfish group that has one another's back."
"Strength, physicality, and family are a tribute to the time spent in the weight room in the off-season helped to get us to where we are today," Alstott-VanDeVanter added. "Strength coach Craig Ray does a great job preparing us. Spending the amount of time in the weight room that we do brings our team closer together and cultivates our family bond."