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Faith, football important to Superior's Tarnowski

After practice one night this week, Superior High School football coach Bob DeMeyer called for an optional team prayer regarding the health of a couple of his players' relatives.

After practice one night this week, Superior High School football coach Bob DeMeyer called for an optional team prayer regarding the health of a couple of his players' relatives.

When DeMeyer asked if there was anybody who would like to volunteer, Drew Tarnowski was quick to speak.

"Drew jumped right in and led us in the prayer," DeMeyer said, "and he did a very good job with it."

The Superior senior has had a lot of practice. Most Saturdays, a day after competing in the on the field as a 6-foot-0, 220-pound linebacker for the Spartans, Tarnowski spends time helping distribute Communion as a Eucharistic minister at St. Francis Catholic Church.

"I've been going to church since before I was born, basically," Tarnowski said. "My parents have raised me to say prayers at night. I pray before every game. We have this quiet time, and usually what I'm doing is thanking God for the stuff I have and that he gives me the opportunity to do a good job."

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Tarnowski's been doing a good job so far, helping the Spartans to a 6-2 record heading into tonight's season finale against Hudson at Ole Haugsrud Field. He's one of the leading tacklers in the Big Rivers Conference and shows how faith in one's self and one's teammates can translate into athletic success.

Superior's program was in disarray before DeMeyer returned to his alma mater last year. Now the Spartans have secured a playoff berth for the first time since 1991. A lot of that is because of the players' positive attitudes, DeMeyer said.

"That's probably been the No. 1 thing that we've had to work on as a team, just to have that kind of mindset and faith," he said. "There's times when doubt creeps in, but you try to block it out and think positive again."

Tarnowski credits team bonding with the turnaround.

"Knowing the (teammate lining up) next to you so well, you know you can trust him," he said. "I'm going to be there for him, and he knows he's going to be there for me. There's a lot of chemistry."

Defense has played a large role in the Spartans' rise. Five times, including in a one-point loss to likely conference champion Chippewa Falls, they have held opponents to 21 points or less.

Tarnowski played defensive end a year ago, but felt his abilities were better suited at linebacker. He worked hard to win a spot in the Spartans' 5-2 scheme.

"The fact that he's been playing one of those two linebacking spots is a testament to his character and his belief in himself," DeMeyer said. "In the offseason, we as a coaching staff were not planning on playing him there. We had plans for him on the defensive line or the offensive line, but he was determined to play that position. I give him a lot of credit for earning that spot."

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Tarnowski has a good blend of speed and strength. A track letter-winner at 100 and 200 meters, he's been timed at 4.7 seconds in the 40-meter dash. He also has qualified for the Wisconsin High School Powerlifting Championships for lifting more than 1,075 pounds combined in the bench press, squat and deadlift.

"He's soft-spoken, but looks like a linebacker," DeMeyer said.

His father, Steve Tarnowski, says Drew was raised that way.

"He's been surrounded by good people," said the elder Tarnowski, who has been director of development for the Diocese of Superior since 1989. "It's often said that you are the sum of your experiences. He's been surrounded by good role models.

"In many ways, I'm more proud of him as a person than as a football player."

Steve Tarnowski recalls a time when his son corresponded via e-mail with Jim Mauer, a cousin of Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer, who offered advice on how to be a good citizen.

"You can develop yourself physically as a football player, but you aren't a whole person until you develop spiritually," said Steve Tarnowski, paraphrasing what Mauer told his son.

It would seem Drew Tarnowski has a handle on that part of his life, too.

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