By BEAU WICKER
— A year ago the Loganland Offensive Player of the Year was a lineman from Pioneer, Brandon Van Horn.
The Panthers have another dominating senior lineman this year in Josh Lytle, whom Pioneer coach Mike Johnson said is as good if not better than Van Horn.
Lytle, at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, has helped pave the way for the Class A No. 4-ranked Panthers (7-1) this season, as he’s a force in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
“He’s become a great leader for us this year,” Pioneer coach Mike Johnson said. “What a great kid. Not only is he a great player — he’s really dedicated to the offseason workouts — he’s a great kid off the field too. He’s an Eagle Scout, I’m not sure you get much better than that.”
The Panthers are a senior-led team that have had varsity newcomers step in and fill key spots.
“I feel like as a team we’ve come a long way,” Lytle said. “We knew going into the season we would have a lot of guys who have not had much experience at the varsity level new to the team. It’s been nice to seen them develop and learn how to play at the varsity level. They have all improved.”
The Panthers have a showdown at No. 8 West Central (8-0) Friday night that is for the Midwest Conference championship. Pioneer enters with a 46-game MWC winning streak.
“It’s a huge game,” Lytle said. “Their record is better than ours right now. When there’s an undefeated team in the conference, it’s a big game, especially with the streak on the line. There’s a lot of stuff surrounding this game. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes. We’ve been intense in our preparation and intense in our practices this week. I think we’ll be ready to play.”
Pioneer got a favorable draw in the upcoming sectional with No. 1 Lafayette Central Catholic on the opposite side of the bracket. The Panthers host winless Frontier, a team they defeated 56-0 in the regular season, next week to open the sectional.
“We’re really excited about the draw,” Lytle said. “We’ll have a fun time the next few weeks playing. We’ll get to play a new team we don’t get to play in the regular season against Carroll or Clinton Prairie [in the semifinal].”
Lytle added he plans to play football at the next level.
“A lot of smaller school have been looking at me,” he said. “I might get an opportunity to play at a D-II school maybe, maybe D-I. I’ve talked to IU a little bit, ISU. I’ve talked to Mercyhurst in Pennsylvania. Their coach coaches at our summer camp. He seems very interested. I still have a lot of options, there’s Trine and Hanover, it’s still up in the air. After the season I’ll have a lot of decision-making to do there.”
The following is a question-and-answer session with Lytle.
Q. Of the sports you play, which is your favorite? Why?
A. Football, because of the atmosphere on a Friday night during a football game and the teamwork it requires.
Q. How did you first get started in sports? At what age?
A. I played youth league baseball from kindergarten through sixth grade and then began football in seventh grade.
Q. Do you have any family members who played sports?
A. My uncle Dan Riehle play football on one of Pioneer’s first teams with Clay Scott.
Q. Have you ever played a sport that you were not successful at?
A. I tried playing basketball in eighth grade. It wasn’t a very successful attempt to say the least.
Q. How do you feel you’ve improved as an athlete since you first started playing?
A. Since I began playing, I have gained a lot of speed and agility. I have also learned a lot about the game and I’ve tried to make myself a smarter player.
Q. Who do you consider your biggest role model? Why?
A. My uncle Dan, he played when Pioneer was just starting out in football and wasn’t able to experience some of the things I have. His dedication and support still motivate me. He played for the love of the game.
Q. What experiences have you had in sports have made you the athlete you are today?
A. I was fortunate enough to split varsity time with a senior my freshman year which showed me how much it takes to be successful at the varsity level.
Q. What is something that not everyone knows about you?
A. In my free time I have a 1966 Mustang that I compete with at car shows.
Q. What is your favorite memory of playing sports at your school?
A. Beating North Judson in overtime this season. The feeling was unbelievable!
Q. What’s your favorite music, movie, TV show, etc.?
A. Artist: Craig Morgan. Movie: The Campaign. TV show: The Big Bang Theory. Book: The Hunger Games series. Sports team: Chicago Bears.
Q. Who is the best athlete in your respective sport you’ve ever gone up against?
A. The best football player was Harry Pickens from Tri-County and the best athlete in track was Josiah Price.
Q. What are your goals for your future? Do you plan on attending college?
A. I plan to either attend a smaller school for football or a large school to focus on an engineering degree.
• Each week during the school year the Pharos-Tribune recognizes an athlete from one of five area high schools. The recipients are selected by each school’s athletic department.