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Panthers' sparkplug finds niche in football

Commentary

It doesn't take but a second or two to understand that Luke Schoneberger is a football player in every sense of the term.

The name itself -- Luke Schoneberger -- sounds like a fellow who would enjoy stepping out on a cool autumn night, popping pads with his fellow gridders for a few hours and then need two or three towels to wipe clear all the mud, blood and sweat.

And you know what? The name fits the image.

Never mind that Schoneberger has played on a South Medford High team that has won only one of its seven games this season, last week's 41-13 romp over Klamath Union.

The gritty fullback and inside linebacker has been on the winning side of the field only twice in two years. Two wins and 14 losses.

If you know Schoneberger, you know the losses are eating at him like a horde of ants on a rotten stump.

I've never gotten used to it and I never will, Schoneberger says of the losing. But I love football and there's no way I would ever give it up.

Schoneberger has just finished another day of practice. As he pulls off his helmet on the way to the locker room, one cannot help but notice a nasty gash in the middle of his forehead.

Oh, that's nothin', he says when asked about the wound. It's been there all year. I'm really not sure how it happened. It's no big deal.

Neither is the brace that's attached to Schoneberger's left leg. In a game against Eagle Point on Oct. 9, an opposing player drove his helmet into Schoneberger's leg as the Panther linebacker was making a tackle.

Schoneberger's doctor would later inform him that he suffered a slight tear on the medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

It hurt quite a bit at first, but the trainer just wrapped it up with an ace bandage and I went back out there, says Schoneberger, adding that if the ligament doesn't heal, he may need surgery. I only missed three or four plays.

Schoneberger hasn't missed many since. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior ran for a career high 179 yards and a touchdown in South Medford's victory over Klamath Union last Friday. He was just as active on defense and also served as the Panthers' punter and place-kicker.

Asked how such a competitive person can tolerate going into almost every game as the underdog, Schoneberger says: I never go into any game thinking we're going to lose. I don't care how big a favorite the other team is, when the ball's kicked off, I'm thinking we're going to win.

It is players like Schoneberger who have made the 1998 season palatable for first-year South Medford coach Bill Singler. Singler has a handful of key seniors -- tight end/defensive end Paul Kralic, two-way tackle Dan Jones and wide receiver/defensive backs Jeremy Parkerson and Dave Alonzo are the others -- who have hung together and willed a team without much depth or quickness to make the best of very little.

Teams in similar predicaments sometimes throw in the towel. Instead of getting beat 33-0 by a tough opponent, they'll get beat 53-0.

Not once have the Panthers done that, and the fact that they defeated Klamath Union by four touchdowns is indicative of their stick-to-itiveness. On paper, that game was a push.

Once we got our confidence going, we just started pounding away at them, and Luke was doing a lot of the pounding, Singler says.

I was so happy for him because he's a kid who has really paid his dues. Luke's a little beat up right now, but there's no way you're going to get him out of there.

Singler actually did get him out of there late in the Klamath Union game, after the outcome had been decided.

He was mad at me for not leaving him in, Singler says. It was his last game at home, and he wanted to stay in there.

Singler would give anything to have Schoneberger back next year.

He's a blue-collar, rock-'em, sock-'em player. He's got the name, he's got the scars. He's one of those guys who just loves to get down and dirty and mix it up.

Luke is really special.

This Friday, South will need to play flawlessly to have any shot at beating unbeaten and No. 4-ranked Ashland at Walter A. Phillips Field in Ashland.

Maybe they can just Luke it out.

(Don Hunt is a Mail Tribune sports writer. He can be reached at 776-4469.)