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Youthful Eagles seek new gridiron prominence

J-E, 4-4 in 2011, has larger roster, is built for long-term

— Mike Smart has seen a fair amount of high points – and low points – in his tenure as Jordan-Elbridge’s varsity football coach. So it makes his words on the eve of the 2012 season carry a bit more resonance.

“Our program is as high as it’s been in 10 years,” he said.

There is reason for that optimism. A season ago, with just 24 players on the roster, the Eagles managed to scrape together a 4-4 record, and were close in every contest but one heading into the fourth quarter.

And that was done with just eight playoff qualifiers in Class C, two in each division. This fall, that number doubles, to 16, which means four of the six playoff-eligible teams in the C West division will get into the post-season, which starts on Oct. 12.

The improvement shown in 2011 has led to increased participation, as 34 players are on J-E’s roster for this Friday’s opener at Hannibal. Of them, 15 are sophomores, meaning that, if they stay with football, the Eagles could have stable numbers all the way through the 2014 season.

“We have a nucleus of guys with some talent,” said Smart.

That begins with fullback Colby Trexler, the key returning figure on the offensive side. Trexler rushed for 646 yards in just six games last fall, averaging nearly seven yards per carry. Despite a modest 5-foot-6, 160-pound frame, Trexler, said Smart, has the ability to shake off tacklers and pick up big gains.

Otherwise, there’s lots of changes in the backfield. Adam VanWart moves from wingback to tailback, with Brad McMahon taking over Van Wart’s spot. And two other backs, seniors Tyler Landers and Luke Schwarting, are now situated on the offensive line, where Smart said their experience and intelligence will prove valuable.

Two members of that large sophomore class, Austin Barrigar and Ryan Cooper, are still battling to see who will start at quarterback. Whoever doesn’t land the job will move to wide receiver, where Wesley Gallo is in place alongside Sean Ryan at tight end.

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