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The Panthers’ Kawann Short, a graduate of EC Central, has played a key role on the defensive.

Jim Hunsley

The large, bold and colorful mural on the outside wall of the Columbus Drive Gyros hits you like a storm surge as you enter the building.

It’s a life-size painting of hometown hero Kawann Short, defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers, in his # 99 uniform and triumphantly holding the Super Bowl 50 trophy in his right hand, an event that shouldn’t be.

Across northwest Indiana, there were banners, posters, and pep rallies across town in support of the EC Central graduate. Social media kept him in touch with the area on a daily basis, like he was on the corner of Chicago Avenue and Indianapolis Boulevard, recording everything.

A special banner stretched across Columbus Drive on Alder Street proclaimed, “East Chicago is proud of our hometown of Kawann Short. We are East Chicago – Super Bowl 50. Go Panthers! “

This 10 by 10 foot mural on Columbus Drive Gyros was painted on January 28th by the artist known as Fhat Cousins, who spent eight hours working on his love work.

“I’m six feet tall and I still have to look up,” said restaurant owner John Troupis. “It’s a win-win for the city because it went viral on social media. People always stop and take pictures of it.

“Kawann loved it and ended up sharing it (on social media). It lit a fire among everyone to celebrate. “

EC Central and Middle School soccer players watched the 2016 Super Bowl in the high school mini-theater with a pre-game video message from Kawann Short.

“I’ve seen so much of the love that comes from home. It’s sincere and from the heart, ”he said on the phone before the game. “East Chicago isn’t very big. It only has about 30,000, but they respect people who get out and do things with their lives.

“And if they do, they are happy to jump on board and support you 100 percent.”

Short, the 44th overall pick in the 2013 draft, rose from five sacks in his first two seasons to a staggering 11 in 2105-16 – a team record for defensive tackles – ahead of the NFL championship game.

But what the students of the game really notice are 11 sacks, 55 tackles, and three forced fumbles from a 4-3 interior lineman who is also a fierce pass rusher on the edge.

Short has gone from being a player who flashed the screen once in the game to a surefire pro bowler.

“I’m just out here doing what I do and trying to make this team win. It’s the only thing I can ask or work for, ”said the 6-foot-3, 315-pound short.

Short has partnered with Athletes for Charity, HealthLinc, and the East Chicago Fire and Police Departments to create academic incentives for the benefit of the youth. He started a youth literacy project to provide books and academic incentives to children who need reading encouragement and academic achievement.

“You keep coming back. They never forgot their city and that’s the great thing, ”said Steve Segura, East Chicago Multimedia Director.

Getting involved in sending a positive message can work wonders in any setting.

“Some guys play this game 16-17 years old and haven’t been to the Super Bowl yet. I’ve been playing for three years and I’m here, ”said Short, who had a video message for the city’s soccer players watching the Super Bowl 50 game in high school:

“I was in your position and in the same places many years ago. I had a vision and a dream to be where I am today, ”said Short. “East Chicago … you guys got 100 percent behind my back. I appreciate that you are there, showing love and support. You were amazing Have a blessed day. “

As kids, E’Twaun Moore and Short often stopped by gyros for a quick bite on Columbus Drive after school. It was a popular hangout with her basketball teammates.

E’Twaun was the Star Point Guard and Kawann was a power forward in the 2006-07 Cardinals team. Owner John Troupis remembered how the players had assured him in front of the sections that they would win the 4A championship.

He made a deal. Win the state and it’s all you can eat.

The Cardinals got through the tournament – teeing off Lowell, Munster, South Bend Adams, Valparaiso and Marion – for a shot in Indianapolis North Central with high school phenomenon Eric Gordon.

EC Central prevailed 87-83.

It wasn’t long before Moore and Short took the Cardinals into the Columbus Drive Gyros with the trophy and said: “We’re really hungry!”

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