FORT WAYNE – The marquee names have gone, or at least a lot of them. Jared Murphy is at Miami of Ohio. Adam Neely is at Saint Francis. Kyle Weigold is at Manchester, Russell Hazelet at Trine and Buddy O’Dell at Earlham. Garrett Vandersaul and T.J. Smith are gone, too.
So they’re a little more faceless, these Columbia City Eagles. But they’ve also faced some pretty harsh music, and that’s where the good news begins for 2013.
“I think our team kind of learned last year that we can pretty much overcome about anything,” coach Randy Hudgins says. “And a lot of those guys are back.”
And they’ll carry their memories as fuel, of a 5-6 season that injury and misfortune derailed for a time, and which eventually semi-righted itself.
There was that stretch of games midseason when the Eagles lost four of five, including a supremely lost night at East Noble when the Knights rolled them 79-7.
But there was also the stretch of games at the end, when they finished the season with a 26-6 win over Norwell and beat Leo 14-7 in the sectional.
“There are some things you can’t control, and as coaches that maddens us,” Hudgins says. “But I think we were able to kind of get that figured out and how best to utilize the guys that we were able to put on the field, especially when we got to about week eight and week nine and into the playoffs.”
And now, yes, a good chunk of the marquee names from that group are gone.
“We have some big shoes to fill,” Hudgins says. “I think probably our biggest place of strength this year will be in our skill positions; offense and defense, we’ve got some guys that played a lot last year and got some meaningful snaps.”
They include quarterback and free safety Travis Herbst, who rushed for 263 yards and passed for 1,461 and 13 touchdowns. They include receiver/defensive backs Justin Batchelder (22 catches for 428 yards and three touchdowns), Drew O’Dell (13 catches for 229 yards) and Wayne Smith (19 receptions for 239 yards on offense, 29 tackles and two interceptions on defense). They include running back Sam Dailey (373, five TDs).
Some of them aren’t marquee names yet. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“When it’s all said and done, it might be the most satisfying group of guys to work with because we don’t really have that many big-name guys,” Hudgins says. “And so I think the guys have embraced that fact that our success is tied to how well we play as a team.”