LeMay line provides wellspring of motivation
If you think Luke LeMay is competitive, ask him why. That is, if you've got some time on your hands.
The Newman senior is the youngest of seven siblings. His oldest brother, Mike, was a member of the Comets' 2004 state championship team. The middle brother, John, played on the 2010 title team.
"It's always a competition around here – video games, backyard football – it all gets pretty competitive," Luke said. "All of their success is motivation, and at the same time there are letdowns. If I can't do what one of the others did, that's just fuel to the fire, and I go from there."
Luke's youngest sister, Mary Sue LeMay, took second at the state diving meet in 2008. And another competitor just arrived, as Jeff and Susie LeMay welcomed their first grandchild Friday, when their oldest daughter, Sara, had "Sweet Baby" James.
By the time her parents visited Monday, the little guy was sporting a football outfit and preferred his right arm cocked behind his head, as if loading up a pass.
"He's going to be a quarterback," Susie said later Monday night.
And why wouldn't he be? His dad, Andy Ohrtman, played at Sterling, and Andy's brother, Dan, was under center for the Golden Warriors' 8-2 season in 1997.
Impressive, right? Well, Luke's extended family takes it to another level. His uncle, Mike Heimerdinger, spent 11 years as an NFL offensive coordinator before dying on Sept. 30, 2011 after battle with cancer.
Meet the pros
Often reluctant to bring his players around his nieces and nephews, Mike did facilitate Luke meeting many of his heroes, including his favorite player, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, and wide receiver Derrick Mason, whom Susie says her son "worshipped" while Mike directed the Tennesee Titans' offense.
"I really think it was how small he was, and how he had to fight for everything out there," Luke said. "I took on that role. You always have to work for everything when you're smaller."
Luke and his brother, John, also met longtime Titans tight end Frank Wycheck, who threw the field-wide lateral in the Music City Miracle. Another name high on the list is Jevon Kearse.
"His hands would just eat your hand," Luke said.
Lessons from the master
While those brushes stuck with Luke, nothing compared to rare moments of tutelage from his uncle.
"On one of his last visits, he, Luke and John out there in the backyard … That was something very rare for Mike to do," Susie said.
Later, in the pool, they talked throwing mechanics.
"He told me to throw the ball the way you throw it," Luke said. "He said the hardest thing to do is change a guy's mechanics. He said to use your skills and use them to your advantage."
"Mike's forte was he could look at somebody, know their ability and coach them to that level, and never expect them to do more than that," Jeff said.
Susie says Brandon Marshall recognized her at the fund- and awareness-raising "Drive For Dinger" golf outing and took the time to point out that Mike "made me who I am today."
Luke vividly remembers his uncle stoking his fire, albeit playfully.
"When I was little, he always wrestled me and tried to get me all riled up and get me all competitive." Luke said.
A humble mentor
While Mike picked his spots, his dad, Bob Heimerdinger, has been far more forthcoming.
The humble hero, better known as the "Huskie Heimerdinger" from playing days he seldom acknowledges, played quarterback at Northern Illinois from 1949-51. He entered the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1983 and was the first player to have his jersey retired in 1983.
While he came up with No. 12 by counting the letters in his last name, Luke's decision was easier.
"I wear that number because of him," Luke said.
Bob and his wife, Barb, drive up from DeKalb to see every Newman game, and have done so since John's days as a Comet. Afterward, he waits at the LeMay house for Luke and his fellow Comets to arrive for their customary post-game gathering.
"He's waiting for me, he looks me right in the eyes and tells me everything," Luke said. "To get a compliment from that guy is pretty awesome. That's what I like about him. He'll compliment you and build you up, then point out what you did wrong. That sticks with you."
Fellow seniors Kyle Moore and Brian Bahrs particularly appreciate Bob's candor.
"He know which guys can take it," Luke said.
Like father, like coach
If you ask Susie what made her sons so competitive, so great, she'll gush about Newman head coach Mike Papoccia, a man she considers family.
"I see Mike Papoccia like my dad," she said. "He coaches like my dad, and I wanted my kids to have that. He and my dad both teach teenage boys to become men, and to be the best person they can possibly be. They demand that."
Papoccia was impressed with Luke, who turned over the starting quarterback duties to A.J. Sharp early in the season.
"It's not like he lost the starting position," Papoccia said. "We just thought A.J. was the biggest threat we had at that position."
LeMay, unsurpringly, responded by ratcheting up the intensity at the outside linebacker position.
"He just poured his heart and soul into the defensive position," Papoccia said. "I just think it's made him even better."
The LeMays moved to Sterling about 25 years ago. What hooked their oldest son, Mike, into playing football?