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DECATUR — Football hasn't always been a top priority for LSA quarterback Michael Fiala. 

His sports were baseball and basketball until friends, family and strangers started tell him he should consider football. 

"(Coach Bundy) talked to my uncle about how I should play and Grant (Karsten) really just kept talking to me about it and so I thought I would try it I guess," he said. 

That decision has led Fiala to where he is today. He's the face of a Lions' program — a co-op beteween LSA and Decatur Christian that added Mount Pulaski to the co-op this season and hopes to return to the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. 

Bundy has not doubted the coach/quarterback relationship with Fiala from day one. 

"(Mike) has a really good mind for the game," Bundy said. "The trust has to develop between a coach and quarterback. Sometimes it’s not there but with Mike it has always been there.

"At a scrimmage I wanted him to throw a hitch to one of our receivers and he threw it and it almost got intercepted. He came over and said, ‘Coach, I would never have thrown that hitch in our game.’ That’s a typical response from Mike and when he makes a mistake he immediately knows it."

Fiala, who plays three sports for the Lions, is the type of athlete you don't see that often. 

"He’s a throwback," Bundy said. "He's the prototypical quarterback in football, shortstop in baseball, point guard in basketball. He’s one of those kids that you used to see all the time that you don’t see quite as much anymore because of the specialization." 

Fiala said he has a lot of respect for Bundy, who puts him through his paces. 

"Some players around the city would love to play with him because he doesn’t run you to death but he gets us in shape for the game," Fiala said. "Some people probably wouldn’t like his cross-fit workouts. He has us do really quick workouts that are high intensity and they get us in shape. They get you really tired really fast.

"He’s one of the best coaches in the county and I’m lucky that he talked me into playing football."

One aspect of Fiala's game that will be more prominent in the game plan is on the ground. 

"He can run. Michael’s got good speed but he was not asked to do it much last year but he’s going to be asked to do it this year," Bundy said. 

Fiala learned a lot from he predecessor, Briley Housh, who kept the ball a lot. 

"Briley taught me to not worry about the pressure, keep your eyes down the field and, if you do sense pressure, escape the best way you can," Fiala said. "I tried to use my arm as my best strength, but I do know I need to run a little more than I did last year if I want to help the team more. I believe I’m pretty fast, but I guess we will have to see."

Fiala will be passing to an experienced group of receivers — senior Grant Karsten will be in the slot, and junior Jalen Jones and senior Garrett Skelton, who joined the team as a part of the new co-op with Mount Pulaski, will line up out wide. 

"Jalen is an explosive athlete," Bundy said. "Grant will be our slot receiver, that way we can get him the ball a little bit more. We are going to do a lot of things with Grant and he’s going to be a multi-positional player for us on offense."

LSA announced in January a partnership with Mount Pulaski. The additional nine players increased the Lions' roster by a third, a big jump for one of the smallest football schools in Illinois.  

"It brings enough players to be able to practice properly," Bundy said. "If we didn’t have those nine players, we would have 19 — we would be three guys short with running a complete scout team.

"The co-op has been as seamless as you could possibly want. Their kids have been awesome and, combined, the kids have been a great mix. It has been perfect."

Fiala has done his best to build the camaraderie.

"I feel like they really appreciate to be able to play football since they have never really had the opportunity," Fiala said. "I know some of them played in JFL, but I think they do think we are all a family, which we are." 

The Lions have also developed into a team more mature than their years. 

"This team is not a needy team at all," Bundy said. "I haven't had to go find another mouthpiece for somebody or a chin strap or fix a helmet. They are just a great group of mature kids and we get a lot done because of it."

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Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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