Favorite athlete: Allen Iverson
Favorite team: Philadelphia Eagles
Favorite memory competing in sports: Winning the District One 5A championship at home
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: The funny lines of trash talk that people have said.
Music on mobile device: Country
Future plans: Become a billionaire
Words to live by: Be Great
One goal before turning 30:Go everywhere in the world
One thing people don’t know about me: My favorite food is the Baconator
By Craig Ostroff
Despite a senior season in which he was named First Team All-League on both offense and defense, Brody Balasa faced the very real possibility that he could have ended his high school football career on the sidelines instead of on the field.
During Upper Dublin Senior Night on Oct. 26, Balasa sustained an injury that turned out to be more serious than first expected. As a result, the senior standout could only watch as the Flying Cardinals embarked on their PIAA District One Tournament run.
Four weeks, four victories, and a Class 5A District One Championship later, Balasa has been cleared and is expected to be back on the field as the Cardinals take on Manheim Central (the top seed from District Three) in a PIAA State Semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday at Wissahickon High School.
“I just wanted to get back in there and put the pads back on and just hit someone again. Watching on the sidelines, there’s nothing you want more than to get back in there,” Balasa said of his time off the field. “But everyone stepped up in Districts. Lucas (Nina-Boesler) did a really great job at tight end while I was out.
“It means a lot that I’m going to be out there to finish the season. To play a sport for so long, for your whole life, and at this point you never know which game could be your last game, so I’m looking forward to getting back in there and playing every play like it’s my last.”
There’s reason to believe that Balasa will be on the field for “every play,” too. Not only is he All-League at tight end and outside linebacker, but Balasa also plays on special teams.
“He’s a Swiss Army Knife—he plays special teams, he plays offense, he plays defense,” Stover said. “He doesn’t come out, he doesn’t get tired. He’s one of the few guys that doesn’t put his hand up because he never wants to come out. Sometimes we take him out because he looks worn down, but he’s never going to want to come out.”
Stover compares Balasa to the famed tool not just because he lines up on both sides of the ball, but also because he plays all over the field. Balasa has found himself playing safety on defense and halfback on offense, among other positions.
“Brody is very versatile, even when you need somebody in a pinch,” Stover said. “Sometimes he gets stuck out there as a wide receiver, and he knows all the routes, knows the system. Sometimes he gets stuck out there if we have a personnel snafu, and he’s got it under control, he’s the kind of football player that whatever you need from him, ‘I got it. I got it.’
“And that’s what we’ve had to worry about these last four weeks, the guys behind him that can’t do all the different things that he does. He really spoils us. We knew he did a lot, we just didn’t realize how much he does for us until he was out of the lineup.”
It was an unfortunate but familiar scenario to local football fans – a player having an MVP-caliber season is injured late in the regular season and can only watch as his team advances to win a championship.
For a guy who wants nothing more than to help his team, the inability to do so was understandably frustrating. Though he was able to suit up on the sidelines for the district title game, Balasa was not cleared to play.
“It’s amazing to win Districts, but I do feel a little bit I felt like I missed out because I wasn’t out there with them,” said Balasa, who had never sustained an injury that forced him to miss an extended period of time before this. “But I was on the sidelines and at practices and helping them out any way I could. I just wanted to be out there with them even if I wasn’t playing. I just wanted to be there.”
“It’s such a shame he got hurt because he is instrumental to our team in so many ways,” Stover said. “And these last four weeks have been killing him. It was nice to have him out and dressed last week, and we’re optimistic he’ll be back (for the state semifinal).”
Indeed, Balasa’s presence would provide a huge boost to the Cardinal defense against an undefeated Manheim Central squad.
“Having Brody back out there this weekend will be big because of the way they run the ball,” Stover said. “He’s always around the ball, always making plays and tackles and things like that. When someone makes a big play, ‘Who is it?’ It’s usually number 89 right in the middle of it.”
That’s been a repeated occurrence this season, and it serves as a solid example for the younger players on the team.
“We have four captains but we have 10 or 12 kids who could be captains who step up and can take on that role on the field, and he’s definitely one of them,” Stover said of the two-year starter and three-year letterwinner. “Brody is a kid who comes out and just does his job. He’s a little bit on the quiet side, and we have a lot of those guys who just do their jobs. It’s kind of nice to get a group like that. We don’t have that one superstar, which I think is what makes this team unique. We don’t have that one superstar, but there are a lot of really good football players, which is fun to coach.”
It has also made it easier for the team to bond. And while goals were high for this season, this Cardinal squad has surpassed what many expected.
Balasa points to two games that helped the team truly come together – a 14-13 win over Quakertown (in which the Cards trailed 13-0 at halftime) in early October, and a 42-17 loss to Penn Charter in week four.
“Our only loss was to Penn Charter,” he said. “We hadn’t really even had a close game before that, and we got blown out. That was a wakeup call for us. We realized that we have to step up if we want to be able to beat teams like that.
“After Quakertown when we came back and won, we knew we had a good chance to win the league after that. Then everyone really came together. I feel like the bond is stronger between all the classes this year. I don’t know if the coaches could tell, but we could tell, there’s a different vibe in there this year.”
It’s a remarkable road that Balasa and his Cardinal teammates will continue upon come Friday. And no matter if Cardinals’ season lasts one more game or two, whether it ends in a loss or a State Championship, there is no doubt what the Cardinals will lose when Balasa hangs up his helmet for the last time.
“We’re losing the guy who can do just about everything for the program,” Stover said. “It’s nice to have one or two of those every year. But Brody is also going to be the guy we refer to in the future, ‘Remember when Brody was in this spot?’ We do a lot of that with the ’15 team. ‘Remember when (Michael) Sowers did this?’ ‘Remember when (Henry) Winebrake was here?’ He’ll be one of those guys you mention. I think that’ll happen for years to come with him.”
Balasa isn’t thinking that far ahead, though. He’s focused on returning to action.
And dishing out some bruises.
“For me, this next game or these next two games are going to be my last time playing football,” Balasa said. “I just want to get back out there and hit some people and do everything I can to help my team.”