Titletown: 25 years ago, Carlyle celebrated state basketball, football titles

News-DemocratMarch 13, 2014 

During the Carlyle Indians' magical state championship run 25 years ago, motivation came in many forms.

There was the loud music of Guns N' Roses, Ted Nugent and sometimes Foghat blaring from a large boombox in the back of the bus on every road trip.

There was the ever-present Michael Jordan poster in the home locker room, the one the Indians would touch for good luck before taking the court.

But most of all, there was extreme talent and a group of close friends bonding together under coach Brad Weathers. They were blessed with athleticism and a deep-rooted desire for success that spilled over from the state football championship won by many of the same players only a few months earlier.

At the time, they were the first school in Illinois history to win back-to-back football and basketball state titles. The Indians also reached the sectional final in baseball that spring.

"It was all about how the city of Carlyle came together, the excitement all around it," said Eddie Huels, a starting guard on the basketball team who also was a football standout. "You felt like you weren't only playing for the school, you were playing for the city and whole surrounding community. Almost every game the gym was packed all the way to the state finals.

"There was support everywhere we went."

Carlyle's 32-3 season culminated at Assembly Hall in Champaign with a 65-56 victory over Rock Island in the state title game before a crowd of more than 12,000.

At the head of the class was 6-foot-8 University of Illinois recruit and all-stater Tom Michael, who closed out a monster state tourney run by scoring 28 points in the title game. He hit 10 of 12 shots, eight of 12 free throws and also had seven rebounds.

Earlier that afternoon, Michael erupted for a career-high 45 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots during the 67-62 semifinal victory over Prairie Central.

Point guard Scott Horner recalled the methodical nature of Michael's assault on opponents.

"It wasn't tough," said Horner, now the head football coach at Columbia High School. "It's not like I was making some crazy John Stockton-type passes. It was just throw the sucker up in the air, let the 6-8 kid go get it and shoot a layup."

In four state tourney games counting the super-sectional, Michael scored 121 points and hit 47-of-65 shots (72 percent).

"The crazy thing about that week was I still don't really remember a lot of it," said Michael, a record-setting 3-point shooter at Illinois and now a senior associate athletics director with the Illini. "Part of what Coach Weathers really instilled in us was the mental side of it, getting locked in and preparing for what you had to do and visualizing the success that you could have.

"I was just completely locked in to what we had to do from a basketball standpoint."

Horner recalled Weathers having the players listen to tapes of subliminal music and shooting "imaginary free throws." All the better to envision the success they would later have on the court, a trick Weathers pulled out of the Zen master playbook favored by then-Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson.

"Everyone was lying on the floor doing their silent free throws," recalled senior guard Huels.

"We were so confident and Coach Weathers had us believing that we were definitely a great basketball team," Horner said. "I remember being so confident as a team that we were not going to be denied."

Horner had two quick 3-pointers in the state championship game to help set the tone. He finished with 12 points as one of four players in double figures, including 6-7 Jason Peters (11 points) and senior guard Steve Hoffmann (10 points).

"They were all obviously skilled and talented and we had size and skills," Weathers said. "All five starters could really shoot the ball and we were a tough team to defend because we had 6-7 and 6-8 that could both shoot the three and our perimeter players were smart, too."

That balance was apparent.

In a game earlier in the season against Okawville, the Rockets tried to heavily guard four of the five Carlyle starters and gave loads of defensive attention to Michael.

Left open most of the night, Hoffmann burned the Rockets with a career-high 33 points.

Carlyle's three losses that season came against Lutheran North (67-61), Springfield Calvary (74-64) and Woodlawn (58-56).

One of the largest crowds ever to see a game in Clinton County watched the Indians defeat Wesclin 89-74. Led by all-staters Paul Lusk and Brent Brede, Wesclin went on to win the state championship the following season.

Huels and Horner, both stars on the football team, felt the confidence carried over from one sport to the other. The basketball team had suffered a painful sectional championship loss to Pinckneyville the year before, and that defeat stuck with them.

"We knew even at that time that we had something special," Huels said. "Winning football took even more pressure off of us, I was a lot more relaxed and the games seemed to be easier in some ways."

Huels was the defensive specialist, always guarding the other team's best player. He rarely disappointed.

"That year we played against Paul Lusk, Rennie Clemons, Brent Brede you name it," Horner said. "He was the guy that always drew the toughest assignment and he did an outstanding job throughout the course of the year."

Huels, now a product development manager for Silgan Plastic Food Containers in Union, Mo., thrived under the pressure.

"I enjoyed every minute of it," he said. "I knew that's what I added to the team. We all knew what our role was and any time I could stop somebody from scoring, I felt pretty good."

The 6-7 Peters had incredible range for a big man, much like Michael, and liked to bomb away with 3-pointers from the top of the key. He later played basketball at Rend Lake College and Culver-Stockton and now is an executive vice president at Custom Engineered Wheels in Paducah, Ky.

Hoffmann and Huels were also outside threats and Weathers made good use of key reserves Craig Robertson, an All-Area football lineman, and Jason Jones.

"The part that probably stands out more now than what I really realized at the time was even though Jason and I didn't play football, we were still such a close-knit group," Michael said. "When they made the football run, we were right there with them and as soon as they got in the gym for basketball, we knew what we had to do next."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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