INDIANAPOLIS - Amid a run for a state championship in football, two Ben Davis seniors are excelling at balancing their time between practice, games and their homework. Tommy McDonald and Owen Price have a little more than a semester to go in high school to become the school's top students for the 2018 graduating class.
It's an impressive feat that's caught the attention of their head coach, Mike Kirschner, who has coached the sport for more than 30 years.
"I’ve never had a team that had the number one and number two kid in the class," said the coach. Kirschner said he's had some players who were in the top ten when it comes to GPA.
Ben Davis is one of three undefeated teams left in Indiana entering IHSAA's state championship weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Giants face Penn High School in the 6A championship game Saturday night.
“It’s been great," said McDonald, an offensive lineman and currently the senior with the highest GPA. "It’s definitely the most fun I’ve ever had playing football in one season."
McDonald and Price first became friends back in the sixth grade when they were placed on the same youth football team.
After attending separate middle schools, the duo reunited as freshman at Ben Davis. When the first report card came out, Price was one of three students tied for first in grades, with McDonald fourth.
"We said we could do this for real if we just kept it up," McDonald said. "I guess we have.”
In most schools, students could see end up in a fierce battle for valedictorian, but the Ben Davis seniors said their long-time friendship, and work together in football, has kept them from making this an academic battle.
“You know that you’re standing in a place that not a lot of people make it to, and you’re not really doing it alone," said Price, a defensive tackle on the team. "Normally in these kind of situations, it's like a dog fight, they don’t want to be friends at all, but I think since we became friends before the idea of a competition came up. We were able to build off each other.”
News of the students' work in the classroom has spread through the team, too.
Since Price and McDonald play on opposite side of the football, they tend to face off head-to-head in practice often. McDonald said it happens every day.
"He’s like my favorite person to go up against," said Price. "The guys will say, 'alright Owen, if you beat him this time, you’re number one and he’s number two.'”
The pair said they'll even get quizzed by teammates during practice to find out who is really the smarter student.
“They're two kids who are really driven academically," Kirschner said. "They really see a vision for themselves way beyond football, which is neat.”
Neither student has decided fully which college they'll attend, but both are very interested in majoring in engineering. Each one is looking at attending Purdue. Their parents have talked with each other about how much fun it'd be for both families if the two end up being roommates in West Lafayette.
Right now, Ben Davis is set to graduate 1,010 students in May.
A school spokesperson said the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian are decided in February.