Coach: Randy Hudgins, 4th season (20-14)
Key game: Sept 7, vs. Homestead. The Eagles have Homestead at home. Look for a standing-room only crowd and some clever plays from Hudgins' arsenal of attack. If Columbia can get some quick strikes, look out.
Key player: Jared Murphy might be the fastest player in the NHC and perhaps the area. He's a versatile wide receiver and defensive back who has a knack for making big plays.
2011 results (6-4)
at Warsaw, W 34-14
Whitko, W 34-21
at Bellmont, W 28-21
at Homestead, L 13-52
DeKalb, W 28-14
at New Haven, L 33-62
East Noble, L 14-17
at Carroll, W 31- 7
Norwell, W 37- 7
Bishop Dwenger, L 10-27
No team is better prepared every Friday night than Columbia City. Coach Hudgins is thorough and so intense that The Pig would line up at defensive tackle after one of his speeches. They have the goods to give Homestead a run.
Columbia City enters this season fully expecting to be a factor in the Northeast Hoosier Conference race. The Eagles are now in their fourth season under coach Randy Hudgins, so this senior class knows exactly what the coach wants to accomplish.
The Eagles will have a new quarterback, but a strong senior class full of vocal and demonstrative leaders.
News-Sentinel: What are some of the expectations for Columbia City?
Hudgins: This is a group that's won pretty much at every level, and has had a lot of experience at the varsity level. We had a really good end to last year, but didn't end quite the way we'd like. But the way our season ended last year really put a fire under our guys. They've worked very hard since November. We've had our best weight-room participation this summer and our best 7-on-7 summers. This is really one of our better senior groups in terms of leadership and coming together and forging a team bond early on. As long as we can stay away from injuries, and perform under pressure and handle the ups and downs of the season, I think this can be a special group.
News-Sentinel: Who are some of your key returning players on offense with what kind of experience?
Hudgins: Our most experienced area is probably offensive line. We have five guys who have started a varsity game before and several that are three-year starters. I think that will be our strong point. We also return our running back, Adam Neely. Receiver-wise, Jared Murphy provides a lot of things for us that other teams might not be blessed to have. He'll be coming back and we're looking to get him the ball as many ways as possible, but also to have a supporting cast around him that takes advantage if defenses are trying to compensate. We have a junior, Travis Herbst, who will be our quarterback, who has really put in the work since January to make himself better and had a pretty good 7-on-7 season. It'll be interesting to see his development. Offensively, we'll try to be balanced even though we use the spread. The biggest thing for us is to dictate the tempo, force the defense to play at a faster rate, distribute the ball to our main guys and perform in those critical situations. I think we can be very explosive if we continue our development.
News-Sentinel: How about defensively?
Hudgins: We're switching our scheme a little bit to more of a 4-4. There's a lot more people that run the ball than pass the ball and it also takes advantage of our personnel. It's so hard to find two deep safeties that are good and corners that can play up on the receiver. And we have a large number of guys who are linebacker/running back types, so it fits our personnel better. We have a lot of guys who have to step up in certain positions. We had guys last year who, because of injury or otherwise, had to step up. Our defense really clamped down in games eight, nine and 10. We played probably our best defensive game we've ever played against Dwenger. And so we're looking to keep that momentum going. Our big thing is to play physical, pursue to the football and cause disruption to the ball. If we can do that, our defense can be pretty solid and complement our offense.
News-Sentinel: Tell me about the NHC, which is always a difficult conference. Do you expect more of the same this year?
Hudgins: Someone asked me who our big rival is the other day. It almost seems like every week is some type of rivalry game, or it has been in the past, whether it be DeKalb or New Haven or East Noble or Homestead or Bellmont. So basically, we talk about there is no easy week, no letdown week, or anything like that. Obviously, the conference championship will always go through Homestead. But we also have a lot of our bigger games at home, which is fortunate. We don't leave the county until Week 5. Homestead is at the top of the mountain until someone knocks them off. East Noble, with a new coach and a couple good classes, will be difficult. Bellmont will be very formidable opponent. I'd like to think our returning guys will be a force to be reckoned with. Top to bottom, there won't be any easy weeks, but that's how we like it.
News-Sentinel: The IHSAA is putting in a new success rule, where teams may end up moving up a class. Your thoughts?
Hudgins: It's almost like punishing success. But also, if you look at the teams it will probably affect, you have to get to the semistate two consecutive years to even be in that category, so generally there aren't a lot of schools that can do that consistently. A lot of times certain schools that are in the upper echelons every single year for whatever reason, I think they can benefit from doing that. A lot of those schools go outside the state of Indiana to play because other teams won't play them for whatever reason. They play that during the season, so why not in the playoffs as well. For us, it doesn't affect us much, and neither does the sixth class, but overall I think it can be a good thing for the competitive balance in the state of Indiana.