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‘He’s one of the toughest guys I ever coached’

St. Bede to honor Knoblauch with Friday flag football game, parade

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Football season makes an early return to St. Bede Academy this Friday — with a flag-football game to honor one of the toughest men to ever suit up for the Bruins.

Evan’s Friday Night is not a fundraiser but rather a salute to Evan Knoblauch, a St. Bede graduate who became an Oglesby firefighter despite a cancer diagnosis and debilitating series of treatments.

The idea of an honorary game was hatched over Independence Day weekend and gained so much momentum that organizer Bonnie Prokup was quickly swamped with volunteers, donations and fans eager to cheer on Knoblauch.

“I think this is going to be overwhelming — in a good way,” Prokup told a band of volunteers hoping to turn Friday’s exhibition into a homecoming-style smash. “This is going to be spectacular.”

Organizers have procured a golf cart so that the man of the hour can be whisked onto the field for what figures to be a thunderous ovation.

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Evan Knoblauch's signature and "never quit" message can be read on the side of the Pink Heals firetruck.

“And then he’s going to get an introduction like he’s never gotten before,” promised Ron Groleau, who’ll conduct the play-by-play with fellow announcer Don Baldin. Jim Perona will provide a live broadcast over WSOG.

The event begins with a dinner-time parade. First-responders will converge on the Knoblauch home in Oglesby and then head to St. Bede with lights flashing and sirens wailing.

Pre-game activities begin at 7 p.m. with the national anthem and the flag-football teams, comprised largely of former St. Bede standouts who will be introduced as the game progresses. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. The public is invited.

Knoblauch himself was a distinguished offensive lineman under head coach Jim Eustice, who remembered an undersized (175 pounds) tackle with an outsized heart.

“He was just, pound for pound, one of the toughest guys I ever coached,” Eustice said. “It wasn’t easy playing right tackle in our conference, but he was a technician, had a heart and he never quit.

“He was great teammate, the guys loved him — they still love him — and the last two years he taught me more than I taught him.”

Oglesby firefighters will say much the same thing. Though Knoblauch’s collegiate aspirations were postponed by his diagnosis, he refused to yield to illness and earned firefighter certification even while battling chronic pain.

Instructors and cadets were impressed with the same grit and persistence he displayed on the gridiron.

Oglesby fire chief Ron Popurella marveled at how Knoblauch would return from cancer treatments in Chicago and head straight for firefighter training, paying no heed to his pain.

“And he’s one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet,” Popurella said.

“I never heard him complain once, about anything. He’s dedicated and as head of the department I wish I had 20 just like him.”

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or courtreporter@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_Court.

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Tom Collins is the NewsTribune Senior Reporter. He can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or courtreporter@newstrib.com.

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