OLD WASHINGTON - On most nights, Nate Maykowski's performance could best be described as gusty. In fact, that's the way his coach, Justin Kropka, put things Thursday night.
The only problem is, in this particular instance Maykowski's guts were interspersed on the turf of Buckeye Trail's Baker Athletic Complex.
''Let's be honest, he shouldn't have played,'' Kropka said following the Huskies' 20-19 victory against the Warriors to open the season.
That's obviously not the way Maykowski's mind works. He knew Harrison Central was already without stars Travis Stenson and Kalub Mitchell, among others, and it could ill afford to be without another key cog.
''He was taking every other play off so he could throw up,'' Kropka said. ''In my long years of coaching ... he couldn't even pick himself up at halftime.
''He put his pads on and said 'Coach, I am ready to go.' I'm at a loss of words to explain what he meant to this game. I don't think we win the game if he doesn't play.''
In addition to the tremendous heart he showed, Maykowski carried the football six times for 36 yards, and his 5-yard bulldozer of touchdown run in the third quarter gave the Huskies a lead they didn't relinquish, 14-13.
''He hasn't been able to practice all week (because) he's been sick,'' Kropka said. ''He's been really sick the last couple weeks.
''We had an outbreak and we had three or four guys that aren't even physically here at the stadium.''
At times, Kropka was wondering if the rest of his team was there mentally. The veteran coach warned his club what might happen if it wasn't ready to play, and the Warriors were more than willing to provide the lesson.
''We didn't prepare the way a championship football team prepares,'' Kropka said. ''This is what happens. They jumped out on us 13-0 and that let them feel like they were in it.
''You've got to give Buckeye Trail all the credit in the world, and good for them. That program's going in the right direction.''
First-year Warriors coach Bill Hartmeyer agrees, but wishes the growing-up process could have begun with a victory, rather than a heart-ripping loss. Many times when a program is in the process of being built, the confidence winning provides, especially in a game that nobody outside their own locker room believed was winnable, can be the difference in future success.
''I think we have great kids, a great community and a chance to have a great football program here, and I think we played that way,'' Hartmeyer said. ''They're disappointed because they thought we could win this game.
''Great leadership, and I think they're going to continue to get better.''
The Huskies figure to do the same.
Regardless of the circumstances, much is expected of Harrison Central this season. Kropka knows the Huskies got away with one Thursday night, but admits learning from mistakes, whether physical, mental, or both, in a victory rather than a loss, is highly preferable.
''A lot of times we will rely on our big-play kids, and a lot of those guys weren't there. I think it's a wakeup call for a young team in terms of how you need to prepare,'' he said. ''As much as I preached it all week, my words pale in comparison to what they went through.
''This whole year is going to be a learning experience. A lot of guys had to step up and be leaders, and we're going to need that all year.''
Well, they showed they had some major guts in Week 1. Well, all except Maykowski, of course. He left his on the field, perhaps as a signal to his younger teammates how much sacrifice is going to be expected going forward.
Shawn Rine can be reached via email at: email@example.com