ERIE — Like most schools in Kansas, some unfortunate circumstances have impacted Erie High School football.
The team right now is 1-5 because of injuries, a new culture and having to deal with COVID-19, which is impacting myriad schools around Erie.
Starting with injuries, the Red Devils lost their starting middle linebacker in Cayce Welch, who broke his wrist in the very first game versus Cherryvale – a 24-16 win for the Red Devils. Welch has been out for four weeks, and is now wearing a soft cast, but is working himself back into playing shape.
Senior center Arren Babcock, junior tackle Eric Dillinger and junior wide receiver Rylie Hays have been banged up all year, too, suffering concussions the last several weeks. They have been going through the concussion protocol in hopes to return.
Combine all the injuries with Erie having one of the tougher schedules in all of the Tri-Valley League, as well as second-year head coach Eddie Kearns getting his team to fit his new culture, and it’s a situation where the Red Devils have only won one game while losing five straight games by an average of 23.6 points.
Kearns and his coaching staff, however, have done everything to lead the team to a better place.
“When we have our film study, we always end up on a positive. The kids are looking at the film and they are starting to figure some things out,” Kearns said. “They are listening. It’s never a lack of effort on our kids. The kids are really working hard. And the one thing I can say about our kids this year, is they had never quit. Sometimes they’re making mistakes going 100 miles an hour, it’s just a mistake. I don’t expect anyone to play a perfect game. In the past, they would just roll over and quit, and they had not done that at all. Even being down by 30, we march down the field and score.”
Some ways to motivate Erie’s football group include handing out hit stickers, heaping praise when it’s due and feeding the players consistently. These tools, along with self-motivation, have led Erie through the season so far despite the circumstances.
Although the season hasn’t panned out the way Kearns wanted it to, there are some bright spots. Senior quarterback Dawson Lehman, who is also a defensive back and Erie’s top punt and kick returner, has been leading by example.
“I try to be a positive leader despite having guys getting hurt and all the school shutdowns in the area,” Lehman said. “The team is always going hard and trying not to take the season for granted.”
Erie (1-5) will need this kind of leadership today against a program that has a winning tradition in St. Mary’s-Colgan, 7 pm at home.