Ray Nitschke would be proud.
The game isn’t played the way it once was, with good reason. But if you thought football players had gotten soft then you haven’t met Mayville’s Logan Griffin or Beaver Dam’s Mateo Ramirez, two senior linebackers whose toughness and accountability this season were trumped only by their production.
For those reasons, and also for both helping their teams end postseason droughts, they’ve been selected as the Daily Citizen’s co-defensive players of the year in the area.
Both had gaudy stats — Griffin was a sideline-to-sideline menace who had six tackles for loss, three sacks, and three blocked kicks while Ramirez finished in the top 35 in the state in both tackles (125) and tackles for loss (20) — but it was their pain tolerance that made them truly special.
In fact, it’s their pain tolerance that made it possible at all.
“They tried telling me that I couldn’t play for the rest of the season, but I convinced the doctor to give me a release,” Griffin said of a dislocated thumb and broken metacarpal he suffered the first week of practice during a tackling drill.
He got his wish. But that was only one part of the equation.
Griffin still had to be able execute.
“I got it casted and they had to put a special material (around the cast) so it was legal to play,” he said of the club-like contraption that allowed him to stay on the field.
Ramirez suffered a similar fate, only he didn’t need any special equipment to play through his injury.
Just a lot of grit.
“A game’s a game, you just have to play through it,” he said matter-of-factly as if the torn labrum he suffered was no big deal.
Ramirez — whose Golden Beavers finished 4-6 after qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2011 — first injured the shoulder at the team’s scrimmage on Aug. 11 and it got progressively worse as the season wore on. But it wasn’t until the year was over that he learned that it was torn.
He said that he was able to endure the injury by playing smart and not putting himself in positions to allow the shoulder problem to be a major issue.
Still, there was pain.
“But I got through it,” he said.
And the reason for his success in tackling ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage is just as understated as his demeanor.
“Being aggressive and playing with a (drive) that no one else has,” he said. “Playing hard.”
Griffin — whose Cardinals made the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and led eventual Division 4 state champion Lodi 31-24 in the second half before losing that first-round game 38-31 — also said that being aggressive played a big role in his success.
But passion for the game may have had just as big a hand, as he rediscovered his love of football last offseason after not playing his sophomore and junior years.
“And just playing under the lights, it brings goosebumps to me,” he said. “It’s something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”