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Kawann Short

The Panthers’ Kawann Short, an E.C. Central grad, has played a key role on the defensive line.

Jim Hunsley

The big, bold and colorful mural on the outside wall of Columbus Drive Gyros hits you like a storm surge while entering the building.

It’s a life-size painting of hometown hero Kawann Short, defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers, in his No. 99 uniform and holding the Super Bowl 50 trophy triumphantly in his right hand, an event that was not to be.

Throughout Northwest Indiana, there were banners, posters and pep rallies throughout the city in support of the E.C. Central grad. Social media kept him in touch daily with the Region, as if he were standing at the corner of Chicago Avenue and Indianapolis Boulevard, taking it all in.

One particular banner stretched across Columbus Drive at Alder Street, proclaimed: “East Chicago is proud of our hometown Kawann Short. We are East Chicago — Super Bowl 50. Go Panthers!”

That 10-by-10-foot mural at Columbus Drive Gyros was painted Jan. 28 by the artist known as Fhat Cousins, who worked on his labor of love for eight hours.

“I’m 6-foot, and I still have to look up at it,” said restaurant owner John Troupis. “It’s a win-win for the city because it went viral on social media. People are always pulling up, taking pictures of it.

“Kawann loved it and ended up sharing it (on social media). It lit a fire under everybody to join the celebrating.”

E.C. Central and middle school football players watched the 2016 Super Bowl in the high school’s mini-theater, with a pre-game video message delivered by Kawann Short.

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

“And when you do, they gladly jump on board and support you 100 percent.”

The 44th overall pick in the 2013 draft, Short went from five sacks combined over his first two seasons to an eye-popping 11 in 2105-16 — a team record for defensive tackles — before the NFL championship game.

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

Short has transformed from a player who flashed across the screen once a game to a surefire Pro Bowler.

“I’m just out here doing what I’m doing and trying to help 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 to benefit youth. He’s launched a Youth Literacy Project to deliver books and academic incentives to children in need of encouragement when it comes to reading and academic achievement.

“They always come back. They’ve never forgotten about their city and that’s what’s so great,” said Steve Segura, multimedia director of East Chicago.

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

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

“I’ve been in your position and in the same seats many years ago. I had a vision and a dream to be where I am today,” Short said. “East Chicago … you guys have been behind my back 100 percent. I appreciate you guys for being there, showing love and support. You’ve been amazing. Have a blessed day.”

As kids, E’Twaun Moore and Short often stopped at Columbus Drive Gyros for a quick bite after school. It was a popular hangout with their basketball teammates.

E’Twaun was the star point guard and Kawann a power forward on the Cardinals’ 2006-07 team. Owner John Troupis recalled how the players, prior to sectionals, had assured him they were going to win the 4A championship.

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

The Cardinals advanced through the tourney — knocking off Lowell, Munster, South Bend Adams, Valparaiso and Marion — for a shot at Indianapolis North Central, featuring high school phenom Eric Gordon.

E.C. Central prevailed, 87-83.

It wasn’t long after when Moore and Short, holding the trophy, led the Cardinals into Columbus Drive Gyros and said: “We’re really hungry!’”

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