City’s old reliable
Routine receptions may not make the highlight segments, but there’s something to be said for being a pass catcher on which your coach and quarterback can depend.
For Michigan City, that guy is Zennon Wilhelm.
“I’m a perfectionist when it comes to certain things,” the Wolves senior receiver said. “I want to do everything right, run the route, make the catch and get as many yards as possible. Everybody wants to be dependable. The best thing you can be is reliable. Everybody likes somebody who can make big plays, but it’s more important to be consistent.”
It’s been a trademark of Wilhelm’s practically from the time he started catching passes as an 8-year old. Before graduating from a division in which passing was not allowed, he played running back and was even an undersized defensive lineman and linebacker. One day at practice, the coaches had the players line up to routes and, for Wilhelm, the rest is history.
“I was small, but I was quick and pretty athletic,” he said. “I loved it.”
Bryce Hayman, Wilhelm’s quarterback now, was also his quarterback then, the two developing a chemistry along with fellow receiver Tyler Siegmund that’s only deepened over the years.
“We were working on routes the other day at practice and he was telling me, I love to throw you the ball, I know where you’re going to be,” Wilhelm said. “I can break on a route and I know the ball’s going to be there. We have really great timing. I love getting the ball and making plays, but if it goes to Bryce, Lyric (McFarrin), Tyler or Demetrius (Garrett), I trust all of them to make a play. We have all great players on offense and Bryce is good at spreading the love around. It’s hard to stop.”
At 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, Wilhelm isn’t the most physically imposing target on the field, but don’t let that fool you.
“He’s deceptive in what he does,” City coach Phil Mason said. “When you see him run out on the field, you don’t expect him to do what he does, but he’s always gone up and made big plays. He’s smart. He runs great routes. He’s just a great kid and he plays the game extremely hard. He’s just a guy we can put the ball in his hands and he can make something happen.”
Wilhelm’s versatility as a receiver is also a major asset. He likes hitch routes and he doesn’t working the middle of the field, but his favorite pattern is comeback, getting the coverage to bite on fade, then breaking it off to the sideline for a toe-tap grab or making a longer gain off the catch.
“Something that helps me is I always expect to get hit,” he said. “I’m going to make the catch and whatever happens, happens. If I get a little bruised up, that’s all right. If I don’t get hit, then it’s like an adrenaline rush, oh, I can run. It helps to be smart, to make the right call when you have to make adjustments on routes.”
Speaking of smart, Wilhelm boasts a 4.5 grade point average that ranks third in his class. He takes dual credit Spanish, Economics, English and Government at the high school, then spends the afternoon at Purdue Northwest in Westville, where he has a Calculus class. Wilhelm hopes to parlay his athletic and academic prowess into a future at Wabash College, which he visited during the Wolves’ playoff bye week. Mason had players go there when he was at Andrean and think it would be an ideal fit.
“I really liked it down there,” said Wilhelm, who plans to major in engineering with a minor in business, if not a second major. “Since I played Pop Warner, I pictured myself playing high school, then college football. I thought I had it in me.”
Saturday, Wilhelm and the Wolves look to take the next step in the Class 5A North Semistate at New Palestine, building on a legacy of success that started when he and his Pop Warner teammates made it to nationals in Orlando, Fla.
“When we got to high school, we knew it was going to be different with us,” he said. “We didn’t know it would be with coach Mason, but we knew we were going to change the Michigan City culture. We had the feeling that something special was going to happen and it did. We’re happy it could be us.”
And they’re not done yet.
“I think we’re going to beat New Palestine. I’m really confident we’re going to win the game,” Wilhelm said. “Our offense is running really smoothly and our defense has been great. We’ve got a fire in our hearts. We’re ready.”
Class 5A North Semistate
Michigan City (10-2) at New Palestine (12-0), 3 p.m.