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COLUMBUS East quarterback Alex Cowan pushed through a set of sprints designed to test the mettle of high school football players who want to become champions.
It was the end of Monday’s practice session and, as always, Cowan was near the front of the pack. It is common knowledge around Columbus that Cowan has been a champion for a long time.
After his teammates left the field in preparation for Friday’s North-East game, Cowan remained looking down the Olympians’ home turf, the site of the biggest game in town.
He sighed a bit then smiled. “Before this week, I was thinking, ‘Man, this is my last East-North game.’”
Here’s what’s happening Friday leading up to and during the game:
Tailgate party at the south end of the field starting at 5:30 p.m.
The Indianapolis Colts Friday Night Football tour begins at 5:30 p.m. outside the players gate on the south end of the field
The girls basketball team hosts a dunk tank fundraiser beginning at 5 p.m. in the parking lot in front of the school
Bob Poynter, the corporate sponsor of the game, will participate in the opening coin toss
The United Way will give away “Live United” T-shirts at halftime
Both schools’ bands will perform at halftime
North vs. East
matchup: Columbus North vs. Columbus East
WHERE: Columbus East
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
TICKETS: East Athletics Director Bob Gaddis said fans are urged to purchase tickets early at the North or East athletics department offices. “There will be a long line before the game,” Gaddis warns. Tickets are $5
Indeed, the senior quarterback led the Olympians to sectional and regional titles last season, but that win against North, boy was that sweet.
It evened his record at 1-1 since North had pulled out a win his sophomore year.
“Fortunately, this is my third one,” he said. “I’m pretty excited about it, but it’s bittersweet, too. When you think about it, I have been playing with these guys crosstown for years, and some even have been on my team.
“I played with Michael Vogel (North’s senior quarterback) on the Columbus Warriors when we were about 12. Jacob Barnette (North’s defensive end) was on that team. And a whole lot of guys from our team. It’s really cool when you stop to think about it.
“But this time next year, I won’t be playing with them anymore.”
Cowan can’t afford to look ahead, though, as his task is right in front of him. Although North, which lost its opener 34-32 to Plainfield, is a considerable underdog, rivalry games often stray from logic.
“They are a physical team, and they look good on film,” Cowan said of the Bull Dogs. “They are very big up front.”
Besides the physical matchups between the players, the atmosphere is different from any other game the teams play. Thousands of people pack right up to the sideline.
“I would say it’s exhilarating,” Cowan said. “By far, it is the most fun game that we play in. All those fans are watching you play, and they are surrounding you. It can be a little overwhelming.”
It also can be loud.
“Oh yeah,” Cowan said. “I’m sure if you are on the sidelines on Friday night, you will hear me screaming. Sometimes the offensive players can’t hear the play, so we have hand signals.”
East coach Bob Gaddis said Cowan is a great leader by example. The East-North game often is a test of leadership as the players might lose focus due to the hype for the game or the atmosphere.
After a 49-21 win against host Bloomington North on Friday, the Olympians come into the game with a lot of confidence. Running back Markell Jones rushed for 260 yards and five touchdowns, and Cowan added 71 yards rushing.
Cowan rushed for 1,185 yards last season, but if Friday’s game was an accurate indication, he might not have to rush quite as often.
“Markell is a Division I athlete,” Cowan said. “That’s cool to play with someone of that caliber. And he is getting all the touches.”
Cowan laughed at his last comment as he is more than willing to do whatever is best for the team.
“I don’t worry about stats,” said Cowan, who is 5-foot-10, 170 pounds. “I try to let the game come to me. I feel like I need to manage the game and make big plays when we need it.”
Although he might not be called upon to make as many big plays this season, Cowan is ready when needed. He has added about 10 pounds to his frame and feels stronger and faster.
“I think the speed of the game really has slowed down for me as my body developed, and I’ve become stronger,” he said.
He is on the small side for a quarterback, but he is glad football always has been his game of choice.
“I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t playing football,” said Cowan, who threw for 1,093 yards in 2012. “I think I would be fat because I like to eat.”
Although he probably won’t be a quarterback if he plays football in college, Cowan said he should find a place on the field.
“I think I will play slot,” he said. “Or maybe defensive back. I’ll play somewhere next year.
“It’s not how big you are, it’s how big you play.”
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