Despite defeat, Notre Dame Prep football finds a deeper meaning on field of play

The Notre Dame Prep football teams poses with the 5A state runner-up trophy after finishing the season 13-1 with a 60-7 loss to Centennial in the state finals. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Somber was the mood surrounding the Notre Dame Preparatory sideline after the 5A state championship game at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, but amid the disappointment of the 60-7 loss to Centennial High School, there were flickers of positivity.

NDP players gathered together to accept the runner-up trophy from Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Director David Hines. Prior to the trophy presentation, the team knelt in prayer.

After the presentation, players hugged each other and Head Coach George Prelock offered words of encouragement and praise to his team.

Jake Farrell winds up for the pass. (Independent Newsmedia/Jacob Stanek)

One such moment included senior receiver Jake Smith. Coach Prelock embraced a clearly emotional Smith and appeared to encourage the young man for his efforts in the game. Smith’s next stop is the University of Texas.

After the game, Coach Prelock had nothing but praise for his young star.

“He’s one of the best players if not the best player to come out of Notre Dame Preparatory,” he said. “We love him to death and as a community, we’re extremely proud of him.”

But Smith isn’t the only one Coach Prelock had praise for following the game. He took time to compliment his senior quarterback Jake Farrell as well as his 22 seniors on the roster.

A year ago, Coach Prelock and the Saints found themselves in a similar situation albeit in Tucson but still with a blowout loss to Centennial. He had taken a team on an undefeated season with only a loss in the state finals.

That process repeated itself this year as the Saints finished the regular season undefeated and their only loss came in the finals. The difference was Coach Prelock had to do it with virtually a brand new roster.

He replaced the entire defense with mostly players who had little to no varsity experience. On offense, there were a few more returners but new face dominated the depth chart.

Against these extra challenges, the Saints pushed through the regular season and returned to the state game. During the game, Centennial established dominance early, leading 39-0 at the half.

Still, Coach Prelock and his team would not quit. In particular, he was proud of his seniors because he said they recognized, even trailing significantly, this was their final half of high school football.

“I said ‘make it memorable. Don’t give up. Be remembered as a team that didn’t give up,’ and they didn’t,” Coach Prelock said. “I’m extremely proud of them. They’ve been resilient all year. I couldn’t be prouder to coach a great group of kids.”

A band of brothers

Coach Prelock described his team, particularly his seniors, as a family that has grown close through their time at the school. That time has included coaching changes, postseason probation and losses in the state championship.

Junior linebacker Brock Locnikar agrees with the sentiment of the team’s closeness.

“Everyone here, we’re so connected in our faith and in our life,” Locnikar said. “It really holds us together.”

Unlike the seniors, Locnikar and his fellow juniors will return, looking for their chance to get back to state and win it. Locnikar is already looking at what he can take away from this game moving forward.

“What we’ve been given and how we dealt with that was pretty great but hopefully we take what happened this year and hopefully we can win that state championship,” he said.

“Put all our cards on the table. All these seniors are leaving sad, I don’t want to be that next year. Next year, I want to be the person who triumphed and got a victory.”

Notre Dame Prep Head Coach George Prelock. (Independent Newsmedia/Jacob Stanek)

As Coach Prelock walked off the field, Queen’s “We Are The Champions” blared over the speakers as Centennial celebrated and soaked up the media attention and their time with the championship trophy.

En route for the tunnel, Coach Prelock passed Perry High School players rushing out onto the field in preparation for the 6A state championship. As they passed, he would offer encouragement and wished them luck in their rematch with Chandler High School.

Coach Prelock left the field of play without a victory that day, but for a man who has previously expressed his love and devotion to making young men better football players and better men, he left proud.

“I’m just proud of them,” he said. “I mean I love them to death. That’s what it comes down to.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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