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Laker athletes will keep playing

May 11, 2012
Danbury High School

Laker athletes will keep playing

7:08 AM, May. 11, 2012  |  

Written by

Matthew Horn

Sports writer

Danbury's varsity football and basketball teams combined for nine wins the last two seasons.

But seniors Lucas Kennedy, Celeb Helline and Ben Adams want to send a resounding message that hard work, commitment and determination can overcome adversity.

Despite the Lakers' struggles, the trio's talents earned them opportunities to continue their athletic careers at the next level. Kennedy will play football at Baldwin-Wallace College, Helline will play basketball at Capital University and Adams will play football at Lake Erie College.

"(Kennedy's) biggest muscle is in the middle of his chest," said Tim Heffernan, Kennedy's football coach for the past two years. "There's nothing he can't do on a football field. You just have to get the ball in his hands. (His opportunity) is good for him and good for the program."

Coaches in all sports often say they prefer the player with more heart and dedication who isn't necessarily the most talented instead of the one with loads of talent but no heart. Consider Adams, Helline and Kennedy to be somewhere in the middle.

"People who are hard workers and hustle can outplay people with skill," Helline said. "That's more important. Anything is possible if you have the mindset to get it done. You have to work hard and anything is possible if you commit."

Kennedy would love for his story to inspire youngsters in his community.

"I told (a friend) that at first I wanted to go to a bigger college and wasn't sure about football," Kennedy said. "I feel like I represent Danbury and I had to (play football) for my family and friends. I want to play, but that was an influence on my decision.

"I want people to say that kid's from Danbury and I want Danbury to say Lucas is playing at BW and be proud. I just want to represent Danbury in the best way possible. I've been through a lot there and wouldn't change a thing. I love it here."

Each of the Lakers has long entertained dreams of playing sports in college. They endured difficult times because they knew overcoming challenges can be a fulfilling reward and they wanted to set an example.

"That's why we do what we do," Adams said.

Kennedy to follow coach

First-year Danbury head football coach Bryan Dudash, who served as Heffernan's offensive coordinator the last two years before Heffernan resigned after last season, played football and baseball at Baldwin-Wallace.

Dudash joined Heffernan's staff Kennedy's junior season.

"He came in and made a group of kids into football players," Kennedy said.

The Lakers had one of the best offenses in school history last season with single-season program records of 268 points and 3,703 yards of offense.

"I don't think a lot of people would have been able to do that," Kennedy said.

Kennedy was moved to quarterback for the first time in his life upon Dudash's arrival.

"He was brand new and I was brand new, and I was really wanting to get better," Kennedy said. "I was nervous never doing it before and I put in extra time with coach. I knew how he thought and he knew how I thought.

"It made for better chemistry and better flow for the offense. He trusted me to run the offense."

Kennedy and Dudash often studied film together and developed more than a coach/athlete relationship.

"It felt like a friend relationship," Kennedy said. "I look up to him and respect his opinion, and go to him for advice. Through the whole college process he was there."

Kennedy initially leaned toward attending Bowling Green State University to focus on his studies. Heffernan and Dudash encouraged him to reconsider.

Kennedy was co-defensive player of the year at defensive back and first-team all-league at quarterback in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference as a senior. He was third-team all-Ohio as a junior and special mention all-state as a senior.

"I definitely feel fortunate," he said.

"Not everybody gets four more years of football. A lot of people talk about their four years in high school, but not college. I feel privileged to go on to play at the next level.

"Not only to play football, but get better at football and hopefully as a person overall."

Kennedy is likely to play slot receiver at Baldwin-Wallace.

"I felt like it was the right place to spend my four years," Kennedy said. "The facilities were awesome. The coaches are great. I got to see some other colleges, but wasn't as comfortable as I was at BW. I'm excited."

Also Capital alum

Helline will also take after his head coach to attend his alma mater as Danbury's Drew Davie played basketball at Capital.

"I think I got pretty lucky in a way," Helline said. "I'm proud to follow him. He put in a good word and they trusted him. He was a good player there and they knew what kind of person he is.

"The other schools I considered seemed kind of interested, but Capital stood out. What really attracted me was their facility. That's where I'll spend a lot of my college years, and it's amazing. Just the atmosphere, especially if they wanted me for basketball."

And Davie would not have reached out to Capital coach Damon Goodwin if Helline weren't deserving.

"He was interested," Davie said of Goodwin. "I had a great experience at Capital and was able to talk with Caleb all season about what it takes to prepare and play at the next level. He was very receptive as to what he needed to do.

"It's been a neat experience being a link between a coach I have a connection to and respect for, and now with the link to Caleb I look forward to the next four years."

Helline entered his senior season with a reputation for outside shooting, but focused on attacking the basket off the dribble his final season. He especially improved his first step and finished the year equally confident shooting or penetrating.

"He's driven," Davie said. "He put a lot of time into his game. He'll have to work for playing time, but he'll put in the work."

Helline's senior year also taught him to remain positive.

"If you stay positive good things will happen," said Helline, who still hopes to grow another inch. "You have to get back up and get back at it. Coach Davie said the golden key was getting to the hole to open other things (for teammates and myself)."

Helline received a call from Capital shortly after sectionals and realized basketball could truly be part of his future.

"It means the world," he said. "It's what I've been working toward since I was little. I wanted to take it seriously and go to the next level. It was a dream and a goal to see if I could make it.

"I'm proud of where I'm at. Once I visited Capital it set in that I would probably get a chance to get what I wanted. The work paid off."

Adams to play LB

Adams' college destination began to crystallize when he got a call from former Lake Erie assistant coach Ian Formaz shortly after homecoming.

"When I first got the call from Lake Erie it set in," Adams said. "I didn't think I would go anywhere, but he set up some times to visit and it set in I could go somewhere."

Like Kennedy and Helline -- and a plethora of other high school athletes -- Adams is thrilled with his situation.

"It's been a dream of mine since I was a very little kid," he said. "I don't think it will actually hit me until I walk on the field. I'm really excited. It's something that I've always wanted to do.

"I went to a couple different places and Lake Erie seemed like the best fit with the atmosphere and people. I liked the coaches and it all seemed to work."

Adams said long-lacking consistency provided by Heffernan and Dudash played a significant role in him earning a chance to play middle linebacker in college.

"I'd just like to thank the coaches -- Heff and Dudash," he said. "They were the most stable coaches we had. They were the only constant coaches we had and they were a good influence on me."

The coaches know how much all three departing Lakers meant to their programs.

"It's great to have kids with opportunities at the next level," Heffernan said. "But it will be very sad to see them go."

But the coaches also know the trio's legacies could encourage future Lakers to excel. In the big picture that makes up for a lot of losing.

Email Matthew Horn at mhorn@gannett.com.


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