By JOHN VARGO
LEAVITTSBURG - Tony Stephens sees his son Tyler take a couple hits and give some with his 7-year-old frame.
Stephens coaches the 95-pound LaBrae Little Vikings, who recently won the area's Super Bowl title.
Tyler plays running back and linebacker, positions Tony played on the 1983 LaBrae varsity football team - the last Viking team to advance to the Ohio High School Athletic Association football postseason prior to this year.
His younger son, Aidan, 4, also plays football.
1983 LaBrae Vikings
at a glance
COACH: Al Carrino.
LEAGUE: Trumbull AA
9-9at GirardW, 20-0
9-17at John F. KennedyW, 6-2
9-23Beaver LocalW, 42-0
9-30at Lakeview (AA)W, 21-0
10-6Champion (AA)W, 53-0
10-13at Newton Falls (AA)W, 6-3
10-28Liberty (AA)W, 21-0
11-5Brookfield (AA)W, 27-0
DIVISION III, REGION 9 FINAL
11-11SV-SM (Kent)W, 19-13
DIVISION III STATE SEMIFINAL
11-18Elyria Catholic (Berea)L, 0-12
- JOHN VARGO
"It's family. It's history. I just want to give back what I know," said Stephens, who also played on some successful teams at Kent State University.
He is familiar with this year's LaBrae team, which is 9-1 and scheduled to play Friday at Massillon Tuslaw (9-1) in a Division IV, Region 13 quarterfinal matchup.
Stephens coached a couple of the current high school players, but mainly those on the freshman level.
He, like Tyler and Aidan, started out playing with the Little Vikings. Stephens started playing when he was 5 years old and formed bonds that stuck all the way to the varsity level and beyond.
Stephens said the 1983 team was like a family. They practiced, ate and watched film together.
"It was a tight group. We took care of one another," he said.
L.D. Hartman, who is the president of the LaBrae Little Vikings, also was an integral part of that '83 team. He still maintains many friendships from his playing days at LaBrae. He can see this year's playoff team forming those same bonds.
"That's how these kids are. They've made those special bonds with each other - life-long friendships," said Hartman, who played at Kent State. His son Danny, also a LaBrae standout, is a sophomore defensive back with the Golden Flashes.
The '83 team overcame skeptics. There were plenty entering the Division III, Region 9 championship against two-time defending champion Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in Kent.
"We knew we were a good football team, even though some of those schools we were playing didn't think we were that good when we got to the playoffs," Stephens said. "They were saying, 'LaBrae who?' We just played football - hard-nosed football."
LaBrae beat the Irish, 19-13, and advanced to the state semifinal game against Elyria Catholic in Berea.
"We shocked a lot of people," said Stephens, who is a sergeant with the Canfield post of the State Highway Patrol.
The Vikings did it without Hartman, a great running back and linebacker. He broke his tibia and fibula in his leg during the regular-season finale against Brookfield.
"It was 26 power, off tackle," Hartman said. "I saw they were doubling down, so I kicked out and broke it to the sideline. On the sideline, somebody hit me in the back of the leg and that was it."
Hartman listened to the playoffs from a hospital bed, but insisted LaBrae had plenty of other offensive and defensive weapons to win. There were seven NCAA Division I athletes on this team, including Stephens and Hartman.
"You go all across the board, they're all good," Hartman said. "You're not going to run up the middle. You'd better go to the outside or throw."
Hartman was quite a player.
"He was an excellent football player. He was a big part our offense and defense," said former LaBrae coach Al Carrino, now the defensive coordinator at Conneaut High School.
LaBrae survived the conditions against St. Vincent-St. Mary, grinding it out in a snowstorm during that Nov. 11, 1983 game.
"There wasn't too many people that gave us a chance to even play with them, let alone win," said Carrino, who is in the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. "It turned a lot of heads. That was without one of the better players in L.D."
LaBrae's season ended with a 12-0 loss to Elyria Catholic, the eventual state champions, a week later.
Stephens, who made a sizeable sweeping run during the game, said he was double teamed most of the time on defense - taking away LaBrae's powerful linebacking core.
He and Hartman were a punishing linebacking duo that season.
"Either way you'd go you're going to find trouble," Hartman said.
LaBrae outscored its opponents 283-42 - and 25 of those were against the Vikings by St. Vincent-St. Mary and Elyria Catholic.
"We had a good group there. Our strength was our defense," Carrino said.
Current LaBrae coach Bill Bohren, whose was coaching at Lakeview then, said it was one of those teams to remember. The Vikings beat the Bulldogs, 21-0, that season.
"That team was extremely well coached," Bohren said. "Al Carrino was an outstanding coach. LaBrae had as many good players as anybody. That was a real good, basic football team."
LaBrae went 10-0 in the regular season, blanking seven opponents and only allowing a touchdown in a 41-12 victory over Rayen.
The Vikings also won the Trumbull AA title, one of eight in Carrino's 11-year stint at LaBrae.
But it took every computer point the Vikings could muster to get them in the playoffs, which at the time allowed just two teams per region. Now, that number is up to eight.
Interestingly enough, LaBrae beat out Steubenville Catholic Central by a few hundredths of a point to claim the second playoff spot in Region 9. This year's LaBrae team beat Steubenville Catholic Central in Week 10 to clinch a playoff berth.
"That's kind of ironic," Carrino said.
Hartman, who is a volunteer assistant coach to Bohren, added this year's LaBrae team and that 1983 team are linked together in another way. He coached most of this varsity team in LaBrae's youth league.
"They beat the Warren Little Raiders three times," Hartman said. "When you're a Division IV school and you beat players coming from a Division I (team), it says something. These kids stuck together."