The early to middle years of Bob Gaddis’ tenure at Columbus East featured a wide-open offense.
The Olympians had three Kiel brothers, who in succession played quarterback for East. During that seven-year period, they had four wide receivers on the field more often than not when they had the ball.
The youngest of the Kiel brothers, Gunner, was the 2011 Indiana Mr. Football.
But when Gunner Kiel graduated after that season, Gaddis made a change in his offense. He moved wide receiver Alex Cowan to quarterback, moved linebacker Markell Jones to running back and inserted a ground-it-out style of play.
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“We’d had the Kiel boys that could throw it all over the field,” Gaddis said. “At that time, we didn’t even have a tight end in the program. I think in high school football, you have to do what your kids allow you to do, and we just changed philosophies. We became a run-first team, and our kids believed in it, and I think it’s worked out pretty well.”
It certainly has. In the six years since, the Olympians have won five sectional and five regional titles and been to the state finals three times.
Jones, who now plays at Purdue, and Cowan led East to the Class 4A state championship in 2013. Friday night, the Olympians will try for their first 5A title against Kokomo at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We decided to go to a two-tight (end) offense a lot of the time, which creates some difficulties for other teams just because they don’t see it every week,” Gaddis said. “When we did that, we kind of took on the mentality that our offensive linemen have to take over up front. We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had good running quarterbacks and good running backs.”
The latest of those are senior quarterback Josh Major and senior running backs Jamon Hogan and Jadein Miller. Hogan has carried 209 times for 2,184 yards and 35 touchdowns, averaging 10.5 yards a carry and 156 yards a game.
Major has added 145 carries for 1,294 yards and 20 scores and has completed 71 of 92 passes for 1,226 yards and 12 touchdowns. Miller has 119 carries for 720 yards and 20 scores.
“It definitely starts with the offensive line and them being able to block and get guys covered for us to find the holes,” Hogan said.
East ranks second in the state among schools of all classes with its 50.1-points-per-game average. The Olympians are averaging 529.1 yards of offense per game, including 365.6 a game on the ground.
Those numbers certainly would be much greater, except that in most of East’s many blowout games, Gaddis pulls his offensive starters at halftime or before.
“A lot of times, our offensive line is good, but a lot of times, our backs make our offensive line look good,” Gaddis said. “One thing in our offense that our receivers have to buy into is that we’re going to throw it some, but not a lot. They have to buy into the fact that they can’t be the weak link. They have to get down the field and block.”
Major said there’s no secret about the key to that success.
“Definitely the key is the offensive line — no doubt about it,” Major said. “I think they really make us go. We want to run the ball, and then that sets up our play-action.”
That Olympian offensive line consists of senior center Cole McCarter, senior guards Mark Sciutto and Dakota Burton, senior tackle Zach Clark and junior tackle Jacob Bolte.
Senior tight end Tyler Thomas and junior tight end Isaac VanCurren also play big roles in opening holes for Major, Hogan and Miller.
“We know that they’ll go out and make plays if we block for them,” McCarter said. “We can all trust each other, so it makes us run well.”
The state’s top scoring teams in 2017:
1. Gibson Southern (3A);51.25
2. Columbus East (5A);50.07
3. West Lafayette (3A);49.08
4. Eastbrook (2A);49.00
5. Pioneer (A);48.57
6. Mississinewa (4A);47.92
7. Southwood (A);47.85
8. New Palestine (5A);47.73
9. Ben Davis (6A);46.15
10. Tri-County (A);45.90
Note: Teams in bold are playing for a state championship this weekend.
Football State Finals
at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Class A: Eastern Greene (11-3) vs. Pioneer (14-0), noon (Fox Sports Indiana)
Evansville Memorial (13-1) vs. Brebeuf Jesuit (10-4), 3:30 p.m. (Fox Sports Indiana)
Columbus East (13-1) vs. Kokomo (9-4), 7:05 p.m. (Fox Sports Indiana Plus.
For Columbus Comcast subscribers: Channel 81 (SD). For AT&T U-verse subscribers: Channel 747 (SD) or 1747 (HD). Direct TV subscribers: 671-1 (HD). Dish subscribers: (SD) 412-28, HD: 440, 9575, 412-28
Southridge (12-2) vs. Woodlan (12-2), noon (Fox Sports Indiana)
East Central (11-3) vs. Lowell (14-0), 3:30 p.m. (Fox Sports Indiana)
Ben Davis (13-0) vs. Penn (12-1), 7:05 p.m. (Fox Sports Indiana Plus)
Tickets: $15 per day. Available at Columbus East High School athletics office from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. today and 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday.