After three straight .500 seasons, Columbia City coach Brett Fox is confidence that 2020 is the year that the Eagles take that next step in the NE8 heirarchy.
What makes him so confident? Well, having a quarterback in his third season as starter, an experienced offensive line and a defensive unit that showed flashes of dominance last year is a good place to start.
Oh, and don’t forget the gorgeous new digs at the new Columbia City High School.
Greg Bolt threw for 1,768 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore. Whereas last year he would still have throws that would be off from time to time, this preseason has seen him show a degree of touch that is a significant step up.
“We have had guys drop balls from Greg because they were shocked they got through or were placed where they were,” Fox said. “His leadership is solid, he is not afraid to admit he messed up while also holding others accountable.”
The offensive front returns five guys who got at least two starts in 2019. Junior Ian Clifford is back after starting all last season at center. He will be joined along the front by the likes of 6-foot-5, 265-pound junior Cole Mosier and other bigs. In fact, no Columbia City starting lineman weighs less than 215.
“For awhile we were known as the team that had athletes but didn’t have the size,” Fox said. “Even just a few years ago we were starting linemen that were 190 pounds. We are bigger now.”
Senior T.J. Bedwell (36 receptions, 519 yards, 5 TDs) is Columbia City’s leading returning receiver. However, there will be some new faces around him, including sophomores Evan Love and Hunter Herron as well as senior Garrett Geiger.
Despite not starting until Week 6 last season, Abe Barrera was Columbia City’s leading rusher on the year, going a tad over 400 yards to go with three touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Landin Markins may be the best defender around that no one has heard of. He was a First Team All-NE8 player a season ago up front while amassing 59 tackles and 16 TFL.
Senior Brooks Longenbaugh will be a three-year starter at outside linebacker. Fellow senior Treyton Lamont will also line up at linebacker and is someone who can play both the nickel spot covering an offensive player in the slot and can come up and hand out a huge hit.
T.J. Bedwell will also star on defense in the backfield, a place where he had a team-high four INTs a year ago. Safety Ryan Sheets is also back, giving the Eagles considerable experience and talent in the secondary.
Not to be forgotten, junior kicker Garrett Klefeker.
Once again, the success of Columbia City’s season largely hinges on the second half of the regular-season schedule. A five-week stretch with DeKalb, New Haven, East Noble, Leo and Norwell is as difficult as it comes in the league. In 2019, the Eagles were 4-0 entering the very same stretch, yet finished 1-4 the rest of the regular season and lost again to DeKalb to open sectionals.
Will this year be different?
“We need to do what we did last year with the fast start, but then decide that we are not satisfied,” Fox said. “We lost the Homecoming game to DeKalb that came down to the last play. We let that affect us for another week instead of moving past it. The guys have learned from that.”
Columbia City has a lot to like on paper, led by Bolt and a cadre of impressive talent around him. But what could put the Eagles over their win total over the past few seasons is an experienced and strong offensive line that is capable of getting a push and driving defenders back.
The schedule opens with Churubusco and is followed by three games in which Columbia City should be favored, giving Fox’s team the chance to come out hot as they did in 2019 with a 4-0 start.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
That back end of the regular-season schedule is still brutal, and until Columbia City knocks off one of the big boys in the NE8 (nine straight losses to East Noble; 0-5 vs. Leo in league play), it is tough to put the Eagles in the same conversation.
While Bolt is beyond blessed with athletic gifts that should see him play D1 football, a solid running game behind him would help take the load off of him. Columbia City averaged just 94 yards rushing per game in 2019.
Week 5 at DeKalb
Columbia City lost twice to the Barons last season, and DeKalb is wanting to prove that last year’s eight-win campaign was not an anomaly.
The Week 5 road trip begins the brutal second-half sked for the Eagles. If they can start it off on a good note with a win, they will bring home some momentum to take into a Week 6 showdown with New Haven.
Abe Barrera, junior, running back
Barrera burst onto the scene last year in Week 5 when he rushed for 75 yards against DeKalb. He got the starting nod behind Bolt for every game after that.
Barrera averaged a solid 4.5 yards per carry last season while scoring three touchdowns, but if the rushing numbers go up for Barrera and the Eagles go up this season, it will mean not only that the team is able to move the ball more on the ground, but potentially they are working clock in the second halves of games being ahead. Both would be good for a Columbia City team hoping to open its new stadium with a special season.
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