OTTUMWA — It’s a trip Pekin head football coach Joe Donovan always plans on making with his football team whether they’re playing or not.
The trip is to the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls for the Iowa High School State Football Championships. It’s a trip the team will take today, when the first of the three state title games are contested.
While the Panthers as a team will not be playing on the field today when the Class A State Football title is decided, one Pekin player may have all eyes at the dome fixed on him, if only for a little while. Senior Eric Adam will be honored during a pre-recorded message that will play during the day as one of the six young men across the state to earn a $1,000 scholarship from the Iowa Bankers Association.
“It’s not something a lot of guys get the chance to do,” Adam said. “It’ll be neat, especially with all the guys there watching it. Maybe I should have been more nervous when I was recording the message.
“I couldn’t believe I earned this. It’s pretty humbling.”
Donovan, for one, couldn’t think of anyone more deserving.
“It’s an extremely impressive accomplishment. I called Eric’s dad to let him know that Eric had won and he thanked me for nominating him. I asked him why he was thanking me. Eric’s the one that did the hard work.”
That work has paid off with Adam easily meeting all the requirements that come along with the scholarship.
“I’m sure there are a lot of kids throughout the state that were more than qualified for this scholarship,” Adam said. “It’s pretty amazing to think I was the person they selected for this scholarship. I don’t struggle too much with things. I kind of take all those accomplishments in stride.”
“Eric’s carried a perfect GPA throughout high school. He’s the president of his class, president of the Student Council. He’s an Eagle Scout,” Donovan said. “It just so happens he’s also a pretty darn good football player. He’s an even better student-athlete and person.”
Darn good is putting it mildly when it comes to describing Adam’s abilities on the gridiron. The three-time all-district defensive lineman finished third this season with 86 total tackles on defense, including four solo tackles for loss and one fumble recovery.
“There was no one word that would describe being a part of the Pekin football team,” Adam said. “I honestly felt like I was in a family. We were all incredibly close. I knew those guys had my back and I had theirs.”
Adam has looked like a natural talent at times terrorizing opposing offenses up front and all around the field. The senior was also the defensive signal caller for the Panthers, earning the trust of coach to be able to relay the message to his teammates on the field of what scheme to run and when to adjust during game action.
“It’s something that, just like with school work, you have to go over and work hard at,” Adam said. “Once you do it over and over again, it kind of turned into a role I definitely accepted. I wanted to make sure everyone was in there right position and I think I did a good job at it.”
That’s a lot of responsibility for one player to take on. Adam, however, has shown the willingness throughout his time as a Pekin football player to take on greater challenges.
“He’s also played tight end and a little running back at first for us, but we needed a lineman and Eric didn’t even blink,” Donovan said. “When we asked him to move there, he just said, ‘is this where you need me, coach.’”
“Wherever coach needed to play me is where I was going to play,” Adam added. “It was never a case where I wouldn’t play if I wasn’t at a certain position. I was going to play wherever I was needed.”
While Adam was solid on defense all season long, the senior’s play went to another level as Pekin tried to make the program’s first trip to Cedar Falls for the state semifinals since 2002. In the Panthers’ first playoff win in 11 years, Adam was in on eight tackles and tied Petie Clubb with six solo stops as Pekin held Lone Tree to just 52 total yards in a 43-0 Class A First Round win on a stormy night at Tom Stone Field.
Five nights later, Adam had one of Pekin’s eight tackles for loss in a 27-6 victory at eighth-ranked Lisbon. The win, which avenged a 14-0 first round playoff loss to the Lions the previous year, saw the Panther defense limit Lisbon’s dual-threat quarterback Logan Richard to one touchdown and 11-25 passing for 135 yards with two interceptions.
“My pride is always about defense. I couldn’t be any prouder of myself and my teammates,” Adam said. “It seemed like it came down a number of times that it came down to us having to make a stand and we all stepped up to hit hard and make those plays to get us as far as we did.”
“I thought Eric played well all year long, but around week five or so he really exerted himself on defense,” Donovan said. “I’m sure he wishes we were still playing, but for him individually to be playing at the end of the season as well as he did has to make him feel really good that he did everything he could to help us win.”
Adam is the lone Class A football player to earn this scholarship, which is given out to a football player from each of the six football classes based on academic performance, athletic participation, leadership skills and community involvement. Donovan considers Adam a shining example of the kind of student-athletes that are found throughout the halls of Pekin High School in all the various sports.
“This award goes out to my team as much as anything. Part of the requirement was that your team had to make it to the state quarterfinals. I literally would not have been able to win this award without my teammates,” Adam said.
“When you have smart players, you tend to have a smart, successful team. I think we had a team full of those guys and it shows in the final record of our team,” Donovan added. “We have a group of students at Pekin besides our football players that are great student athletes. They are really going to be great role models. Eric has set great example of what we want our players and all of our student athletes to be.”
To follow Scott Jackson’s Twitter feed, go to @stjack423