Two-way players key for Upper Arlington
Lewis Hughes of the Upper Arlington High School football team was moved from wide receiver to running back two games into the season for a few reasons.
The 6-foot, 185-pound senior provides a scatback quality, giving opponents cause to worry about his bursts of speed, while giving the Golden Bears' workhorse, senior running back Chris Frey, an occasional breather.
Hughes' name was on the stat sheet after the Bears' 45-7 win over Thomas Worthington on Sept. 20 for a 68-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but it was a play he made from his defensive back position that helped turn the game.
Hughes tipped a pass by Cardinals quarterback Danny Gordon on the first play of the second quarter, helping defensive back Jackson Finfrock make an interception that was returned 43 yards for a touchdown to put UA ahead 24-0.
Hughes' story isn't uncommon for the Bears, who halfway through the season have all but a handful of starters playing both ways.
"Being involved two ways brings a lot of pride, but it also brings a lot of hard work," Hughes said. "You have to be tough to do it mentally and physically. The majority of our team is going both ways, and that's why in the offseason we're doing lifting from the winter and conditioning during the summer so we're physically prepared. The mental toughness comes after practice, when you're dead-tired. That's where it all comes from and it really pays off on Fridays."
Coach Mike Golden knew that he would have some players playing prominent roles on both sides of the ball this season, but he hadn't planned on having all but a few starters playing both ways.
"We wouldn't have this except they almost insist on it with their effort. Not with their voice, but with their effort and their abilities," Golden said. "This is just a really strong core senior group that's worked really hard in the weight room and with conditioning, and they put themselves in position to be able to do it."
Frey, a Michigan State recruit at linebacker, leads the Bears' running game with 501 yards and five touchdowns on 78 carries and had a team-high 25.5 tackles through five games, just ahead of senior linebacker Chase Greenlee (24.5), who also sees time at running back.
Senior lineman Noah Spielman starts at center and nose guard and wide receivers Nick Blazek, Sam Wheeler and Finfrock start in the secondary on defense. Another receiver, Harrison Heath, starts at linebacker.
Junior quarterback Kyle Kaparos is among the starters who don't play on both sides of the ball.
"Conditioning is a big part of (playing both ways), but (more of it is) having to be physical every play, being able to take a punch or whatever every play," said Spielman, who played strictly defensive end as a sophomore before becoming a two-way starter last year. "The key is mental toughness, not tapping out whenever you feel like you have to."
UA, which lost to Olentangy Liberty 16-8 on Sept. 27 to fall to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Central Division, plays host to Central Crossing in a league contest Friday, Oct. 4.
The Bears are 4-0 all-time against Central Crossing, having outscored the Comets 258-33 in those games, including 53-27 last year. The Comets lost to Hilliard Davidson 66-20 on Sept. 27 to fall to 1-4 and 0-2.
Among the key players for Central Crossing are senior quarterback Luke Duncan, senior safety Gino Siravo and junior defensive end Shane Maxey. Against Davidson, Duncan was 24-for-37 passing for 215 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
UA considers the contest to be a must-win, as its next two opponents -- Davidson on Oct. 11 and Marysville on Oct. 18 -- are a combined 9-1, and the Bears were 21st in the Division I, Region 2 computer rankings before playing Liberty.
The top 16 teams in the region make the playoffs.
"The teams that will have the most success are the ones who continue to strive to get better," Golden said.
"I know it sounds corny, but it's so true. (The players) are in their fourth or fifth week of school, too, and it's easy to get tired and be easy on yourself. The ones who continue to improve at that point will have a big edge in a few weeks."
UA's offense largely struggled against Liberty, as Kaparos was intercepted twice and the Bears lost a fumble.
The Bears trailed 16-0 before Frey scored on a 12-yard run halfway through the fourth quarter.