Alex Sewall had faith in Trent Miles and in Indiana State football.
The Lyons Township football team’s 2007 MVP and a prize graduate of the Western Springs Junior Football Association put his faith in a program mired in a terrible losing streak and all but abandoned by its university. He put his faith in Miles, the newly-hired coach with a vision to somehow turn around the suffering Sycamores.
Today, Sewall graduates the Indiana State program with not only the individual honors of being a CoSIDA 1st Team Academic All-American safety (an All-American dream team quarterbacked by surefire no. 1 NFL draft pick Andrew Luck,) but with the reward for that faith: two winning seasons under his team’s collective belt.
The rise of the Sycamores has been characterized by sports columnist Greg Couch as “the worst football team in America” becoming “one of the best programs in the country” in less than three years. In Miles, and in his recruiting class, Sewall somehow foresaw that.
“Indiana State came to be the school that rose to the top,” Sewall said. “On the visits, talking with the other recruits who were my age coming in, we just rallied together and said, ‘let’s just go here and change this program around together.’”
They did. From 0-12 in Sewall’s freshman season to 6-5 two years later. And then 6-5 again.
“They believed with each other,” said his mom, Joan. “There were a ton of naysayers… but there’s joy in that, when you have the camaraderie and a coach [who] has gotten that program to have two winning seasons in four short years.”
Alex Sewall’s individual accomplishments span a laundry list beneath the shining All-American honor. He is a three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference player, a three-time All-Academic (with a 3.75 GPA) as an exercise-science major and the 6th all-time tackler at Indiana State with 358 tackles. Sports Network, Phill Steele, JB Scouting and Beyond Sports Network all named him to their All-American teams.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” said father and former coach Dan. “We’re very proud of him, obviously. When he was going through high school you could tell, he was a driven kind of kid, very committed to football and to his academics as well.”
And before high school, too. It all started in Western Springs, with the WSJFA, where Alex began play at the age of seven.
“I loved playing in the [WSJFA]—that was definitely where I got my base fundamentals down that I still carry on today, like how to tackle, how to run with the football and all that stuff,” Sewall remembered fondly. “I remember playing with guys that I went on to high school with, and we used to joke around about stuff like that. It was definitely a fun time.”
From there he became the Lions’ star safety and running back, the only player on the 2007 team to regularly play both sides of the ball. The team went 8-1 in Sewall’s senior season before suffering a painful first-round playoff upset to Neuqua Valley.
Sewall would not win another football game until Oct. 24, 2009, when his Sycamores beat Western Illinois 17-14 in their homecoming game to snap the nation’s longest losing streak at 33.
“That was probably one of my most memorable moments, because it was just a big weight lifted off all our shoulders, and we realized that we can compete and we can win,” Sewall said. “And the last few years have just been great, building on all that.”
Alex now leaves Indiana State, but the family (and Lyons Township) legacy does not. Younger brother Mark, also a safety and a Lions MVP (2010), red-shirted as a freshman last fall after tearing his ACL and has four years of Sycamore football ahead. (Football runs in the Western Springs family: Dan played as a Lion, as did his brother Luke, who would later join Illinois and block a field goal in the 1984 Rose Bowl. His older brother Michael did football commentary at LT and is now the editor of New Lenox Patch.)
As for Alex, he’s finishing his senior year by training for the regional combine and pro days at both Indiana State and Northwestern. He’s prepared for a career in fitness or in coaching football, but first he wants to take his shot at playing in the bigtime.
Alex Sewall’s football story may have chapters and accolades yet to come.