Seven years ago, the Granite City Park District decided to make a switch.
After having a flag football league for 18 years, the district changed the format to tackle football for fourth- and fifth-graders in 2008.
There were 86 players who participated in the new park district youth tackle football league. One of those players was Caleb Venne.
Venne played for the Red Eagles and was coached by his father, Kevin, who played football and competed in wrestling at Granite City High. Kevin said he was thrilled to see his son playing tackle football for the first time.
“It was fun,” Kevin said. “It’s always been fun.”
On Friday, Kevin will get to see his son play his final high school football game as the Warriors wrap up their season against the Edwardsville Tigers at home.
“It makes it bittersweet as a parent,” Kevin said.
Nine other seniors will be playing their last high school football game on Friday. They are: Ron Allen, Blake Carmack, Darrion Flemons, Gabe Jarman, Jacob Loftus, Jordan Martin, DeVonte Nance, Matt Wylie and Nick Zambito. Loftus played for the Dr. Bauer Hurricanes squad on the park district tackle football league in 2008.
The Warriors will take a 2-6 record and a six-game losing streak into Friday’s game with Edwardsville. The Tigers are 8-0 and have already clinched a playoff spot for the fifth straight year.
A lineman, Venne has been valuable for the Granite City football team since he joined the program in his freshman year. He has a total of 55 career tackles. Venne plays on both sides of the ball.
“He’s the total package when it comes to all around,” Kevin Venne said.
After his high school football career ends Friday, Caleb Venne hopes he’ll continue to play football at the collegiate level.
“I plan on playing football in college,” the Granite City senior said. “I just don’t know where I’m going yet.”
Venne said he felt he improved a great deal from his first year with the park district tackle football league.
“It was kind of like running around and having fun (that first year),” Venne said. “But I’d say more or less, it made me love the game more and more every year.”
A year ago, Venne received his biggest honor of his high school football career. He earned all-Southwestern Conference honors on both sides of the ball. Venne was named second-team offensive lineman and third-team defensive lineman.
Venne said he was surprised when he found out about his award during a fall sports award ceremony at Memorial Gymnasium.
“I was kind of speechless,” said Venne, who was one of three Granite City players named on the all-league football team in 2014. “I looked up at my mom and dad and they looked at me and they were smiling from ear to ear and I couldn’t believe it.”
Venne credits his parents, coaches, teammates and trainer Tate Merten for his big honor in his junior year.
“I worked out five days a week year round,” Venne said. “I come to football and work every day with them, so I put as much work as I could.”
This year, the 6-foot-2, 280-pound Venne has 26 tackles with one sack. He played for an offensive line that helped the Warriors record more than 2,100 yards.
Kevin Venne said he’s proud of what his son has accomplished throughout his high school football career.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better child,” he said.