Cat senior blends tough with scruff

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Before the football season began, Jasper senior Cole Sermersheim vowed he wouldn't shave until the Wildcats lost a game. They haven't yet, and Sermersheim has contributed to his facial scruff by rushing for 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns. The numbers will be put to the test Friday, when Evansville Reitz visits Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium at 8 p.m. in a showdown for the Class 4A sectional championship.

Herald Sports Editor

The Beard has sprouted a life of its own around the Jasper football locker room. And yes, it’s The Beard, because anything growing for two and a half months is worthy of a proper name.

Cole Sermersheim’s teammates tug and pick at his scruff, partly for good luck, and also because they know it’ll drive him bonkers. Teammate Nick Gobert calls it “almost gross.” The sides have become fluffy and jut out in every which direction. A beard with bedhead, almost. Underneath the whiskers that are thick enough to twirl a finger through, Sermersheim’s face itches when he first puts on his chinstrap. But Jasper hasn’t lost all season. So The Beard stays.

These days, the senior is looking less like Jasper’s feature running back and more like a figure from another undefeated football program. Slap a green jacket, pants and top hat and a gold vest on the redhead, and Sermersheim — the distinctly German surname notwithstanding — is a dead ringer for the Notre Dame Leprechaun.

“I had a bunch of people tell me that,” Sermersheim said. “I didn’t expect (the beard) to get this long. But it did. A lot of people give me stuff about it. No one really likes it, especially the girls in school, they always tell me to shave it. But I just block it out. It doesn’t bother me at all.”

Before the Wildcats played Evansville Memorial in August’s season opener, teammate Jesse Schmitt casually mentioned to Sermersheim that he should enact a no-shave rule until the Wildcats lose. They haven’t yet. And the scraggly growth has become an emblem of Jasper’s undefeated season, which can yield a sectional title if the second-ranked Wildcats (11-0) can topple Evansville Reitz (8-3) in Friday’s Class 4A sectional championship set for 8 p.m. at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium.

The Wildcats have a hunch that Sermersheim’s ever-growing mane has something to do with the perfection. But anyone can let their hair grow. Sermersheim’s impact runs deeper.

He’s been Jasper’s backfield bedrock since breaking out in his first varsity game as a sophomore, when he accounted for nearly half of the Wildcats’ carries in a seven-point win over eventual state finalist Evansville Memorial. He hasn’t slowed since. Of Jasper’s rushing plays this season, Sermersheim accounts for 53 percent of them — a figure held down by his one-game absence to rest a bone bruise in his back, plus the fact his load lightens in the second half if Jasper is on the giving end of a beatdown.

Jasper saw the benefit of diversifying at midseason, dispersing handoffs to more backs. In last week’s 32-point trouncing of Seymour, Sermersheim’s night was done at halftime. Expect those duties to escalate Friday against Reitz, the state champ from 2009 and ’10 and winners of seven straight this season.

“When you get to this point of the season, you’ve got to rely on your horses,” Jasper coach Tony Ahrens said. “He’s what makes everything go in our offense, because if people have eyes on him, it just allows us to do so many other things. As an opposing defense, you’ve got to be accountable of Serm and what Serm can do. And if not, you just keep handing the ball off to him.”

In Jasper’s four closest games this season — Memorial, Southridge, Heritage Hills and Vincennes Lincoln — Sermersheim averaged 27 carries per game. In the other contests, he’s averaged 19.

“I love taking on big responsibility like that,” Sermersheim added. “It gets me a little bit more pumped, knowing my team needs me to win the game.”

In Jasper’s system, practically anyone with a pulse and two functional legs could prosper when plugged in at tailback. Sermersheim doesn’t possess breakaway speed, Ahrens admits, and teammates have branded his with a nickname of the Big Red Tractor: “slow and powerful,” Gobert said.

But to Ahrens, there’s no mystery to how Sermersheim’s career rushing total stands at 2,574 yards and counting.

Sermersheim doesn’t flee from contact — at times, he seems to seek it, helmet-first — and a propensity to remain spinning and churning elevates his yards-after-contact figures and his career average of 5.8 yards per carry. Gobert recalls informal football games growing up with Sermersheim, who’s the type that would “come out of nowhere and just tackle you, push you down,” Gobert said. Now that Sermersheim’s creaky back has cleared up, a tender ankle has surfaced. He barely notices.

“I just act like it’s not there and keep going,” he said.

It won’t be long before Sermersheim becomes a basketball novelty — a 5-foot-11 4-man with orders to apply his muscle to opposing power forwards. Sermersheim discusses the duties with a smile, though, not with some visage of dread.

His football responsibilities are plotted with a similar underlying thread of toughness. Ahrens said he doesn’t worry about becoming too predictable with Sermersheim, partly because opponents have to discover a way to dull him first.

“We’re going to run Serm and play-action (pass) off him. Bottom line,” Ahrens said. “Therefore, you’ve got to (stop that). It’s tough.”

It’s also propelled Jasper’s standing as one of the state’s 11 remaining undefeated teams and on the verge of the program’s 13th sectional title and first since 2008. The Cats know they’ll need plenty from Sermersheim’s legs. The expanding wilderness on his cheeks and chin is crucial, too.

“Right now, we’re going off his luck,” Gobert said. “Go by the power of The Beard.”
And if that pattern stands, it’ll be a while before Sermersheim makes a move for the razor.

Contact Brendan Perkins at

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