Back in the fourth grade, Edward Pearl’s friends called him, “the Train Wreck.” Today, they call the Fort Osage High School senior one of the best quarterbacks in Missouri Class 5 football.

Back in the fourth grade, Edward Pearl’s friends called him, “the Train Wreck.”

Today, they call the Fort Osage High School senior one of the best quarterbacks in Missouri Class 5 football.

“Looking at Ed today, you’d never be able to tell how clumsy he was in the fourth and fifth grade,” joked teammate E.J. Gaines, who played on the Pop Warner League Independence Indians with current Fort Osage High School teammates Pearl, Ian Mathis, Josh Goth, Jesse Peery and Lorenzo Stabler from the third through the seventh grade.

“He didn’t play quarterback until high school. Back then, he played on the line. He was so big – he was a good lineman. But now, he’s a better quarterback.”

In their fourth grade year, the Indians finished fourth in the nation and made it all the way to Florida – where they lost back to back games for the only time in their youth league days.

Now, they are part of the undefeated Fort Osage High School Indians, who travel to St. Louis to play undefeated and top-ranked Webster Groves at 6:30 p.m. for the Class 5 state championship in the Edward Jones Dome.

These young men are living a dream – a dream that began on the Pop Warner fields in Independence eight years ago.

“I’m not kidding you – back on the playground, Ed would walk into buildings during recess,” Gaines added of Pearl’s clumsiness. “He wasn’t coordinated at all.”

Those are the type of comments that only a best friend can get away with. When they were relayed to the unflappable Pearl, he just laughed.

“Let’s just say it took me a while to grow into my own feet,” the 6-foot-4 senior quarterback said with a chuckle. “That seems like such a long time ago.

“All the guys we still play with on this year’s team lived pretty much in the same neighborhood. We’d walk to each other’s houses and play backyard football, or basketball in someone’s driveway.

“We went to each other’s birthday parties and all hung out together. That’s why this year is so special. We’ve been talking about this year since we were 7 or 8 years old.”

When this talented group of Independence Indians were in the eighth grade, they got together and made a vow. They knew the high school Indians were struggling and hadn’t enjoyed much success over a disappointing four-year period.

“I remember talking with the guys from the Pop Warner team,” said Gaines, a senior tailback/cornerback who has verbally committed to the University of Missouri, “and we said we were going to be a part of the teams that changed things at Fort Osage.

“I want to stress there are a lot of great players on this year’s team who didn’t play with us (then), but we knew we were going to be a part of something special. Now, we’re a few days away from playing for the state championship.

“Who says dreams don’t come true?”

Pearl, who Gaines now says, “Is a great quarterback and a real leader on this team,” played right guard for the Pop Warner Indians.

Gaines was a middle linebacker and running back; Stabler, who is now a wide receiver, was the team’s center; Mathis (who will not play Saturday after rupturing his ACL during the regular season) was a nose guard who now plays cornerback; Goth is now a tight end, but he played left tackle in the Pop Warner League; and Peery is former defensive tackle who now plays linebacker.

“Back then, we won all the time,” Peery said, “and we talked about how we were going to win all the time at Fort Osage, too. We really believed it, and I think that type of confidence helped us have so much success the past three years.”

Mathis agrees.

“This isn’t just a team, this is a family – it’s like a brotherhood. And I’m not just talking about the guys from the Independence Indians, I’m talking about all the guys on the team now. But to play all through Pop Warner with these guys and now, to be playing for a state championship, it’s unbelievable. I wish I could put into words just how I feel.”

Goth said the bonds that formed in the Pop Warner League will never be broken.

“We’re brothers forever,” Goth said. “Nobody from around here wanted to play us in Pop Warner because we were that good. We were so confident back then, and that’s how we are today. This is a really confident team.”

Stabler is quick to add that the team won on a regular basis, and had as much fun as any team he’s ever been a part of.

“You kind of forget the scores and the records, but you remember how much fun we had,” Stabler said. “Gosh, those were some good times. And this season at Fort Osage has been, well, I can’t even put it into words. It’s just special to share it with these guys – and all the rest of the guys on the team.”

As the former Independence Indians gathered for a photo, Fort Osage head coach Ryan Schartz looked on and grinned.

The more his players bantered and tried to look mean, the bigger his smile became.

“Isn’t this great?” Schartz asked. “Look at those guys. They’re having as much fun as they did when they posed for that picture (that accompanies this feature) back in fourth grade.

“They are all great friends and they brought a chemistry to this team that everyone noticed. They’re winners, and there just a great group of kids. I know they’re all sad to be playing their last game together this Saturday – but what a way to go out!”