Sometimes, as the youngest of three brothers, it's hard to appreciate the older guys winning. Especially when the beatings come from a couple of linemen.
But Newman senior Maison Bittner counts his lucky Comets for the way his state-champion brothers helped carve him out of wood.
"I'm thankful that I had them to always pound on me," said Bittner, who starts at cornerback and wide receiver for the Comets. "I think they made me who I am today and taught me how to work hard and never give up. Now that's what I live by."
Bittner fondly remembers watching when Nathan, now 23, was a sophomore on the sideline during Newman's 2004 2A state championship campaign.
Six years later, he was in Nathan's cleats, a wide-eyed sophomore watching Hayden, now 20, open up holes for the Blue Machine to roll through en route to another 2A title. Getting past Morrison 22-19 in the second round stuck with the youngest of the Bittner kids.
"Those Morrison games … they always get to you … whether you're in the game or not," Bittner said. "I remember going to all those games. They were always intense,"
Coincidentally, Luke LeMay's two older brothers were also on those state champion squads. Since suiting up for the Meteors' junior tackle team in fifth grade, he and Bittner have worked toward this Saturday. The Comets (12-0) host Aurora Christian (11-1) in the first 3A semifinal game in the program's history.
"You just always wanted to be part of the Blue Machine," Bittner said. "You wanted to put the NC on the helmet so bad, wear the blue helmet and be coached by Coach [Mike] Papoccia.
"I'm extremely fired up to be in a position where we can play as many games as possible in our senior year."
For the Comets to play No. 14 – the state title game – in Champaign next week, Bittner might need to play the game of his prep career Saturday. The Eagles' 2,748 passing yards are about 500 fewer than the total aerial production of the Big Rivers Conference this season, if you take Bureau Valley out of the 10-team mix.
Bring it on, says Bittner.
"As a DB, these are the games you look for," he said. "You want to be tested and go against the best you can to see what you're made of. It's not like a run-run-pass where they catch you off guard. It's pass-pass-run. Hopefully we'll get some picks, if everyone just does their job."
The Eagles spread the field with receivers who run sharp, crisp routes.
"Their receivers run their routes hard every down," Bittner said. "Other teams, sometimes you know when the ball's not going to them. They don't run as hard. These guys, even when the ball's not going to them, they run just as hard."
The corners' fellow backs have utmost confidence, and are eager for a new challenge.
"Maison and Ryan have done such a great job this year that I haven't had to play much pass coverage, but it's going to be a lot different this weekend," Newman safety Nick Rude said. "It's going to be weird playing so far back from the line of scrimmage than usual."
Nathan Bittner will be in attendance Saturday. Hayden, who's in the army and ships off to Germany in December, won't be able to make it. Both have sent a clear message to their kid brother.
"They haven't put pressure on me," Bittner said. "They're just saying go out and play like it's another football game and have fun. You won't get these memories back. Once it's over, it's over. So take it in."
Bittner will likely never forget his show-stopping 25-yard end-around touchdown run last Saturday in a 28-26 victory in Wilmington. His 53-yard reception from A.J. Sharp also set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Nick Rude and helped vanquish alumni's demons of a 6-0, second-round loss to Wilmington in 2008.
Those plays made for some pretty memorable photos on Bittner's 19th birthday.
"I was thinking, 'This could be one of the best birthdays, or it could be a really hard birthday,' " Bittner said. "It turned out to be one of the best."
But after the game, the image of Tanner Cole running through the end zone and then collapsing from exhaustion after returning a fumble 35 yards to pay-dirt was what all the Comets were talking about.
"Surprisingly, a lot of funny things happen in big games that you just crack up about," Bittner said. "His celebration was just so funny, and we all gave him a hard time about it. We were just cracking up, because you don't picture defensive linemen getting those kind of plays.
"Those are the memories I have with my friends I've played with since fifth grade. You really build a bond. Outside of football, you have so many memories, too. You have a brotherhood."
Bittner plays favorites
NFL or college football? "College football. I just feel like they just play so much harder, and there's no money involved. It's been there longer, it's so much older."
College team: "I like Florida for some reason. Growing up, I always had Florida stuff growing up. Tim Tebow went there, and I fell in love with the way he plays. He's a hard worker, and he sets a great example. That's what I admire about him."
Pro team: "Bears. They've got a shot, if they just keep working hard. That defense is so fun to watch. We've always had a strong defense here, so it's always fun watching them and taking little tips on how they strip the ball and how they play so hard."
Activity with friends: "Away from football, we love to play backyard football as a group. It seems like football is our life."
Non-football activity: "I like watching The History Channel a lot. It's kind of my favorite subject. I love history, so I'm on the couch a lot watching that."
Thing about Mike Papoccia: "He's just a great guy, and he'll do anything for you. He's not about the winning or the losses. I kind of wish everyone in this area was able to be coached by him. They'd know what we have and how much fun it is to be coached by him. He teaches you about more than football. He teaches you about life and how to be successful."
Music: "I listen to all sorts of music. I'm not hardcore into rap. I just love the beats, and they get me going."
Superstitions: "I'll wear the same socks, same underwear, same undershirts."
Aurora Christian (11-1) at Newman (12-0)
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Roscoe Eades Stadium
Radio: 102.7 FM, 1240 AM, 107.7 FM
Twitters: Follow sports editor Dan Woessner (@DanWoessner) for live updates