New Albany: Eagles' Jayden Fudge flourishing in role
The first time he touched the football this season, Jayden Fudge ran 46 yards for a touchdown.
It was the kind of play he envisioned for his senior year, but it came in a role he did not necessarily expect or want.
The 5-foot-7, 155-pound running back for New Albany was expected to be the speedy slotback next to classmate and longtime friend Mechi McCaulley, who despite being the same weight and an inch taller prefers to invite contact rather than getting outside like Fudge. But those plans changed early in the season opener Aug. 28 against Lancaster, when McCaulley suffered a broken collarbone that coach Bubba Kidwell expected will sideline him for the rest of the regular season.
Without McCaulley -- who rushed for 1,355 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior -- Fudge suddenly became the featured back.
He rushed for 203 yards on 26 carries against the Golden Gales and so far has amassed 498 yards and six touchdowns on 68 carries for the Eagles, who are 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division entering a Friday, Sept. 18, home game against Westland.
"It's different, but it's easy to (adjust) with my team helping me and having my back. I know I've got this," Fudge said. "(McCaulley) is like my brother. He's part of my family. He's basically been like my family for five years. We started off not even liking each other but we're close now. It had nothing to do with football. We always just seemed to bump heads, but I feel like it changed when I started playing football (in seventh grade). He really brought me into it and taught me a lot."
Fudge was the junior varsity team's primary back as a sophomore but, with Reed Hall and McCaulley splitting time in the backfield last year, moved to starting cornerback as a junior. Hall and McCaulley combined to rush for 3,900 yards and 30 touchdowns, and Fudge got six carries for 50 yards and a score.
"We knew the type of athlete he was, but he's been able to carry the load. Jayden is similar like Mechi in that he's not a real big guy but he's strong, tough and fast," Kidwell said. "Jayden does a great job with his vision when we run the buck sweep, putting his foot in the ground and getting vertical, but he also does a great job of getting outside on the jet sweep and setting himself up in space. That is where he does the damage, on the outside."
Although he enjoyed playing defense last year, Fudge admitted preferring offense.
"You get the ball and you get to do you. You have eyes on you," said Fudge, who scored three touchdowns in a 42-41 overtime loss at Gahanna on Sept. 11 but was stopped on a two-point conversion that would have won the game.
Westland, which is 0-3 overall and 0-2 in the OCC-Capital, has been outscored 146-13 this season.
If the Eagles make a sustained playoff run and McCaulley is able to return, Fudge will be thrilled to relinquish the role of featured back, but not because he isn't capable.
"I'm just trying to make it far for Mechi to get him back," Fudge said. "I want there to be games for him to play. He'll be back out there."
WESTLAND at NEW ALBANY
*When: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18
*Last meeting: First meeting
*Westland (0-3 overall, 0-2 in OCC-Ohio) to date: Lost to Groveport 38-0; lost to Gahanna 49-7; lost to Pickerington North 59-6
*New Albany (2-1 overall, 1-1 in OCC-Ohio) to date: Defeated Lancaster 20-13; def. Grove City 23-7; lost to Gahanna 42-41 (OT)
*Top Cougars: Colton Bogle (OL), Jovaan Cooper (QB), Zane Gibbs-Aguon (WR), Payton Hayes (OL/DL), Hayden Hughes (OL/DL), Jakob Hurley (LB), Jack Little (WR), Tim Smith (RB/DB) and Seth Westmoreland (DB)
*Top Eagles: Braeden Elwer (TE/OL/LB), Jayden Fudge (RB), Ian Hoff (LB/K), Collin Johnson (OL/LS), Brock Kidwell (RB/QB/DB), Brock Tibbitts (QB/P), Tyler Van Meter (RB/LB), Jaron Webster (OL) and Owen Wilcox (WR/DB)