When word started to get around that Avon’s leading rusher — senior Tony Eberhardt — would not play against Medina Highland in the regional semifinals, some thought the Eagles’ playoff run might be over.
Eberhardt was — and still is — Avon’s leading ball carrier with 867 yards on 121 attempts — a stellar 7.2 yards per carry. He’s had a dozen carries greater than 15 yards.
But that’s not what this year’s Avon team is all about. Teams talk about the next-man-up mentality. Avon lives it.
“Our first playoff game against Toledo St. John’s, (Eberhardt) had 19 carries for 138 yards and three touchdowns,” Avon coach Mike Elder said. “(He) probably played his best football. I’m talking about hard, tough yards, like running over some pretty tough dudes. Losing him was a big problem for us. What Tony does away from the ball in pass protection and lead blocking for (quarterback Ryan) Maloy are things that nobody sees.”
Eberhardt contracted mononucleosis and was not only unable to play but wasn’t able to be there with his teammates for victories over Highland and Olmsted Falls in the regional final. He’s back this week for Akron Hoban, Avon’s state semifinal opponent Friday night in Brunswick.
“It’s been hard being at home the past two weeks,” Eberhardt said. “It’s good that everyone kept playing, obviously, but I missed it — every aspect of it.”
Enter sophomore Nick Perusek and junior Mark Steinmetz.
“Tony, to his credit, would say, ‘Come on guys, just keep winning so I can get back,’” Elder said.
“Here he is now, but we’re smart enough to know when Tony comes back, he’s not going to be our feature back and get 20 to 25 carries, but certainly he can get a third of those carries. We’re excited to have him back.”
“He went down,” Steinmetz said. “He’s a great back and we knew that we would have to step up this week. We talked about it all week — ‘Let’s play for Tony.’ We wanted him back. He’s such a good back.”
“It was good,” Eberhardt said. “We all have a close bond — especially at the running back position. We’ve been together for a while now.”
Perusek, who missed five weeks of the season with a fractured hip, has 473 yards on 57 attempts, including 93 yards on just 10 carries against Olmsted Falls last week. Steinmetz has picked up 225 on just 18 carries including a 79-yard touchdown last week – 108 total — against the Bulldogs.
“I want to thank the O-line for blocking so well for me,” Steinmetz said. “Once you get into space, you still have that pressure that someone’s coming from behind. One of our receivers came in and made a great block to set me up for the touchdown.”
“He’s had a couple big runs like that,” Elder said. “He runs really hard. He’s our leading tackler on this football team. He and Kyle (Kudla, senior linebacker) are the heart and soul of our defense. He’s so important for us over there when we have all our other backs healthy.
“We use him in a limited role because of his value on defense. We need him to stop the run if we’re going to get to a state championship,p but its go time now so he’ll get his carries just like Tony will get his carries and just like Nick Perusek is demanding carries as well.”
Steinmetz, an inside linebacker, had a huge game against Olmsted Falls on both sides of the ball. Not only did he have the big rushing performance, but he was in on a dozen tackles — 10 solo — as well. For the season, he has 121 total tackles, including 37 solos. He’s had five sacks and eight quarterback pressures, and 11 of his tackles were for losses.
“Coaches all week watch film and we know where (the opponent) can hurt us,” Steinmetz said. “All week we prepare our hardest to prevent that from happening. We implemented ‘Bama Ball’ which is everyone getting to the ball, having fun, party at the ball.”
“He’s about as tough a kid as you’ll meet,” Elder said. “He really is tough … plays rugby as well. He’s a little crazy, but you have to be a little bit crazy to be a good football player. I love him and like I said, you have to have some tough guys like him on your team if you’re trying to do what we’re trying to do.”
Perusek, just a sophomore, is Avon’s future but the future was moved up a couple years due to Eberhardt’s illness.
“Nick’s got great vision,” Elder said. “He’s the fastest of all those backs. As he gets bigger and stronger, he has a bright future. He’s gotten better every week.”
“I’m beyond excited,” Perusek said. “I can’t wait to get to Friday.”
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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