OTH FOOTBALL PREVIEW: No. 11 Eastside Blazers

Eastside’s Jaiden Baker, Wade Miller, Laban Davis and Lane Burns.

Following a 38-19 loss to West Noble in Week 3 a year ago that dropped Eastside to 1-2, Coach Todd Mason had a question for his players in a meeting.

“We were on the 5-yard-line about to go up in that game and I asked my players, ‘Who was scared at that moment?'” Mason said. “Almost the entire offensive group raised its hand, and I lost it.”

Despite having a youthful team a season ago, Mason was not about to let his squad play scared. It was an “interesting” week heading into the following Friday at Churubusco. But all Eastside did was shockingly handle the Eagles by 28 points.

The rest of the season saw the Blazers putting fear into opponents instead of feeling it themselves, eventually winning 10 games and capturing the program’s first sectional title ever.

With 9 offensive starters back and studs at all three levels of the defense, the Blazers are poised to be pretty scary (get it?) in 2020.

The offense starts with junior quarterback Laban Davis, who threw for 1,500 yards and rushed for another 600 while scoring 26 total touchdowns. Despite having running backs Matt Firestine (680 yards, 5 TDs) and Dax Holman (435 yards, 6 TDs) back, Davis could see even gaudier numbers as a runner this year.

“We have put in some things to free (Laban) up to pull the ball a bit more,” said Mason. “We want to keep the ball in his hands a bit more this year.”

Expect to see Mason trying to keep defenses guessing with run-pass options and pull reads that will put the onus on Davis to read defenders and make the right decision.

When he does drop back to pass, Davis will have his entire cadre of receivers back- including leading receivers Wade Miller (30 receptions, 509 yards, 7 TDs), Lane Burns (33-499-7) and Dylan Bredemeyer (30-371-2).

As if that wasn’t enough offensive weaponry, senior Caleb Vanover returns to the field after not playing as a junior. In 2018, Vanover rushed for 900 yards for Eastside.

Another new face is senior Tanner Huff, who previously played at DeKalb. Huff can line up at wide receiver and in the defensive backfield.

The offensive line must replace two guards, the only two offensive starters gone from a season ago. Eastside also returns Outside the Huddle Small School All-Area kicker Jaiden Baker.

Eastside’s Laban Davis takes warm up throws before an October 25, 2019 Sectional game at Woodlan.

Defensively, Carson Evers graduated, leaving a void at middle linebacker that the sophomore Holman will attempt to fill.

Lane Cleckner was a stud in 2019, posting 104 tackles, 21.5 TFL and six sacks. Expect him to play up front more often this season as one of the major creators of havoc on the edge anywhere in the area.

Lane Burns will command the offense from his safety spot. Other Eastside defenders of note include Hayden Gardner and Phoenix Smyth up front and Johnny Eck in the secondary.

“Even where we are plugging in kids, these are guys who saw varsity action,” Mason said. “We are not dipping into the JV to replace guys who have moved on.”

WHY #11?

Eastside may just have the most production returning in 2020 out of any team in the area. For a squad that won 10 games last season and swept through the NECC Small School Division, that is a big problem for teams on the Blazers’ schedule.

Expect Laban Davis to emerge as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the area. The fact that he has several weapons around him will make it tough for defenses to key on him.


While loaded, there were some deficiencies in Eastside a year ago. In their two regular-season losses to Adams Central and West Noble, the Blazers turned the ball over a total of 10 times.

It is tough to put Eastside above some of the best squads in the SAC and NE8 simply due to class size, but make no mistake, this is one of the better teams in terms of talent in all of Class 2A.


Week 2 at Adams Central

While not a conference game, taking on the Flying Jets is always a highlight for Mason.

“That Week 2 game is about seeing where we are,” Mason said. “Are we tough? Are we a good football team? Can we handle adversity? A lot gets answered in that game.”

Eastside dropped a 21-14 game last year to Adams Central, a contest that the Blazers had chances in. A victory this year over the Flying Jets would say a lot, and give Mason a lot to like about his team going forward.


Laban Davis, junior, quarterback

It is tough to put so much on the shoulders of a young quarterback, but Davis showed he could handle it a year ago. Now older and wiser, Davis is being entrusted with an offense that will have a lot more decision-making in his hands. Does he run? Does he throw? Does he hand off? A lot of it will come down to what Davis identifies pre-snap and in the first few seconds after the ball is hiked.

In a talented crop of junior QBs around the area, Davis is the one who is the least respected. That needs to change. In fact, it will in 2020.


No. 15 DeKalb

No. 14 Norwell

No. 13 Adams Central

No. 12 Columbia City

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