After gut-wrenching losses, key injuries, defensive failures and an offensive makeover, the Columbus North football players have a message to the world of Indiana high school football.
“We’re still standing.”
The Bull Dogs, now 2-5 overall after righting the ship with a 41-17 victory over Perry Meridian on Friday, have two more games to build momentum before the playoffs begin.
“It’s mentioned a lot around here that iron sharpens iron,” senior offensive guard Luis Cambron said. “We’re a senior-led team, and it has helped us persevere. We go into each week thinking we are 0-0.
“And now we are practicing harder. It has gotten more intense.”
It could have gone the other way but didn’t. North has had to play one of the state’s toughest schedules at times without BYU-bound Thomas Shoaf, who not only is a force at offensive tackle but doubles as a defensive end. A knee injury has limited Shoaf’s participation. Senior tailback Jesse Tompkins has missed time due to neck and shoulder injuries, and he is questionable for Friday’s game at Bloomington South. Other injuries have forced wholesale changes.
“Some people would get down,” North tight end Skyler Farmer said. “But we were able to bring ourselves back up.
“We’ve played some very good teams; but oh definitely, we’re preparing for a long tournament run.”
North coach Tim Bless appreciates that his players have remained committed through adversity.
“It’s been a tough deal because we don’t have a lot of team depth this season,” Bless said. “We have a small senior class and a tiny junior class.
“But this has been a resilient bunch and a great group of kids to be around. They enjoy being around each other, and they have been realistic about the fact they play in the toughest league maybe in Indiana.”
Although Bless expected his team to have a balanced offense when the season started, North has developed into primarily a running team. Jamaal Halliburton, replacing Tompkins, rushed 40 times for 292 yards against Perry Meridian.
“Our personnel has changed, and we have had to make adjustments,” Bless said. “We are less of a balanced team than I thought we would be. But this is the identity that we have found. Offensively, it’s the run game led by our offensive line and us blocking well at the perimeter with our H-back (Jonathan Byers) and our tight end (Farmer).”
“We found out that we are a strong running team,” Farmer said. “We have matured into a running team.”
Halliburton had problems with ball protection, but he has worked hard to fix it so he could replace Tompkins.
“My teammates and my coaches believed in me,” he said. “I wanted to go out there and show them.”
The Bull Dogs all have been showing that they have persevered.
“Against Perry Meridian, we played more as a team than as individuals,” Halliburton said. “We have an uplifting team. We are positive about the good things that happen and about finding ways to fix things.”
Some of the adjustments have included moving Luke Teague from linebacker to defensive end and Josh Holt to outside linebacker.
“Luke is wreaking havoc up front,” Bless said. “He plays with a fast motor. And Josh has been put in a position that athletically is to his advantage.”
With Shoaf healthy again and Tompkins expected back for the playoffs, North could develop into a dangerous team.
“As a team, we are just trying to play as one,” Halliburton said. “We need to finish every play, every drive.”
Bless expects that the best might be yet to come.
“Without a doubt, we are going to take every opportunity to be a better team,” he said.