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Days of Thunder: La Porte lineman 'Rowdy' Coates is also a budding stock car driver

La PORTE — When he yells, ‘Come on, Rowdy!’ from the Kiwanis Field stands, most people probably don’t know who David Coates is cheering for on the Slicers.

But if you can connect the dots between the character Rowdy Burns from the movie, Days of Thunder, and his son Drew Coates’ affinity for car racing, you can figure it out.

“I named him Rusty for Rusty Wallace,” La Porte offensive line coach Bob James said of his second-year starting left guard. “(Head coach) Jeremy (Lowery) changed it to Rowdy.”

While football was the younger Coates’ first love – he started playing when he was 5 or 6 – racing may prove to be the lasting one.

“We have a track in our back field,” he said. “We always messed around with four wheelers, dirt bikes. I got into go-karts, then I wanted to move up.”

At the age of 15, while still on a learner’s permit, Coates bought a car, a Chevy Cavalier, that he and a friend who also races modified, installing a chassis from a Chevelle, and souped-up for the purpose of racing. His first night on the track, he won the street stock feature race on the quarter-mile paved oval at the South Bend Speedway.

“They don’t like that very much,” Coates said of the older drivers. “There’s quite a few people, they’re rough.”

La Porte junior offensive lineman Drew 'Rowdy' Coates has been racing stock cars since he was 15.

How rough?

“Championship night, I was fourth in points, going for rookie of the year,” Coates said. “A guy spun out (in the heat), backed into the wall, I had nowhere to go, and boom.”

Coates went home with his sister, cobbled together a bunch of spare parts, ‘A’ arms, a strut and a tie rod to name a few, and pieced them onto the car.

“It was bad, but I still finished the race,” he said. “I ended up winning the feature.”

Outside of his family, Coates doesn’t have a more ardent supporter than James, who grew up around car racing, frequenting the same track where he now watched his best lineman drive.

“My dad used to have a race car,” James said. “I love it there. It’s fast. I didn’t get to any races this year because of COVID but I’m his biggest fan. “

On the football field, Coates has played the line since he first put on pads. He started in Pop Warner, briefly played Rocket Football, gave soccer and baseball a brief spin, then returned to football in middle school. He got a shot on a young Slicers line last season and has been a rock at his position since.

“Some of the coaches thought I was nuts for putting him out there, but I knew he was going to be all right,” James said. “I’ll never forget last year. We were starting the first three games with another inexperienced group and he was taking his lumps. The first play against Lake Central, he comes down and just annihilates the middle linebacker. All that frustration of not being successful had built up.”

Coates credits James for his development and ability to hold his own with taller, heavier linemen.

“He’s the best (coach) I could have,” Coates said. “It’s good to know somebody who has the knowledge of coaching like that. One thing that helps me being shorter and stockier, I can get low, get under people. I have good technique. We’ve come a long way on the line. I’m just trying to get people experience.”

This season’s group has also been a work in progress as James built his front line around the 5-foot-10, 220-pounder who excels at pulling on run plays.

“I knew I didn’t want to move him at all,” he said. “He was going to be my left guard come hell or high water. He’s not a vocal leader, but he doesn’t like losing at all. You tell him he’s wrong, he’s (mad). He’s not one of those kids who always has to be right, he just doesn’t like to be wrong. I don’t have to talk to him much because he’s not wrong much. He’s making his blocks, doing the right things right. Our tackles are inexperienced and our center, there’s no gray area for him, so it’s tough, but I don’t think I’ve looked (Coates) in the eye and had to say three words to him the entire year.”

Lowery calls Coates ‘a yes sir, no sir’ kid who always has a smile on his face.

“You get a few more of him and life is good,” Lowery said. “He gets after it. He’s going to consistently get his job done. He’s just a great kid who works his tail off. He has a great work ethic. He’s undersized, but we try to use the skills he’s got, his brain and his feet. He does the right things well. He’s started to benefit from some work in the weight room, so that will serve him well going forward. His best football is still ahead of him yet.”

An A-B student who takes Honors Math, Coates also spends time during the school day at the career center in Michigan City, where he takes welding. His grandpa Ken played for the Slicers and his dad is a big guy, so James thinks ‘Rowdy’ may still have some growing to do.

“I know the genetics there are,” he said. “He’s going to be a player. He’s competitive – that’s what I like about him the most. He’s even keel. He doesn’t get real excited or real down.”

Given Coates’ ability to navigate his way around a track in traffic at 60 to 70 miles per hour, a slow pulse in tense moments is paramount both the wheel as well as in front of a defense.

“The hand-eye coordination, I’ve got to believe, driving a stock car, like playing football, it slows down as better get at it,” James said. “You catch up to it.”

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