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We all know Markell Jones of Columbus East.
If you don’t know, well, you haven’t been paying attention to high school football in Columbus.
But while the headlines certainly will be about something Jones did or didn’t do tonight when East hosts Columbus North in the Columbus Bowl, it most likely will be some player behind the scenes who determines the outcome.
OK, I say behind the scenes, but I guarantee you, to the players who line up at every position on any snap, it’s the battle front.
It’s one of the reasons we love football so much, despite the concentration on safety issues and the brutality of the game. America loves watching a collision, whether it’s NASCAR, boxing, football or the two neighbors who argue over the ownership of that crescent wrench.
Any player who takes a snap tonight will be faced with the most important task of his, to-this-point, sporting life. The weakest link theory applies possibly more in football than any other sport.
Over the past week, head coaches Tim Bless of North and Bob Gaddis of East and their staffs have been examining tape of their rival, trying to find an area they can attack. They’re looking for an edge, a slowish cornerback, a safety that bites on the run or a running back who exposes the ball a little too much.
If a lineman such as East center Jared Whiteside doesn’t do his job, then North is going to stuff Jones, Division I credentials or not, before he can unleash his superb rushing talents. If Whiteside does his job, then watch out. Well, unless offensive guard Evan Kuhn hasn’t done his job, or the guy next to him, or the guy next to him.
I’ve never believed in the hand-holding huddle, but it’s easy to understand the concept. Everyone is involved and connected on every play. Even the little wide receiver whose job is to stand out by the sideline and not do much of anything. If that receiver moves early or gets a personal foul, well, one knucklehead move could change the course of local high school football history.
That’s why you see both programs pay such particular attention to including everyone in everything. One cog is as important as any other. The senior team managers at Columbus East have their photos posted on a big banner as you enter the football field, right alongside players such as quarterback Alex Cowan. It’s the same at North. Every little facet of putting together a football team is appreciated.
Tonight’s game, along with deciding bragging rights for another year, is a celebration of that appreciation. There is a reason 7,000-plus people will show up at the Olympians’ field.
These two programs have taken excellence and raised the bar. It’s not just wins and losses. It’s the business of educating students that is taken so seriously.
When half the nation was trying to cut extracurricular sports from the budget at some time over the past 20 years, the argument was given that those programs are an important part of the education process. Gaddis pointed out on Monday that more than a third of the students at Columbus East School are athletes. It also was pointed out at the Columbus Rotary luncheon that you just don’t read about a lot of young students from North and East getting in trouble.
By and large, that’s a huge byproduct of the work being done by everyone associated with the sports programs. When kids can learn to depend on each other, it’s pretty heady stuff.
Whether it’s North quarterback Michael Vogel scoring a big touchdown tonight, or East linebacker Christian Wichman recovering a fumble to clinch the game, it’s the work of a lot of cool cats who will have us talking tomorrow about this year’s winner and loser.
It’s the nature of the beast — and I’m not referring to Jones — that not everyone will be able to take a personal bow, but there’s plenty of self-satisfaction to go around.
So whether you are a player, a coach, a parent or a fan, enjoy one of our town’s very special moments.
Jay Heater is the Republic sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 379-5632.
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