On Monday, Aug. 6, Mohawk quarterback Rodney Lens collapsed on the practice field from non-football related injuries and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. He is currently being treated at Children's Hospital in Columbus and Northwest coach Mark Spears would not comment on the nature or severity of the injuries except to say that Lens will not be with the team for now.
It was the second tragedy for Northwest in as many years. Last season Michael Orban, a backup fullback, died of nephrotic syndrome, a rare kidney disorder that causes high levels of protein in the urine and low levels of protein in the blood.
“We try to tell the kids that you know Rodney's brother (James) is out every day because that is what his parents felt Rodney would want,” said Northwest coach Mark Spears. “You always think of an injury ending your career, but you never know when it could be your last chance to participate.”
At the time of his collapse, Spears said Lens was on track to graduate as valedictorian and was competing for the starting quarterback job that he held for part of last season. That job now belongs to Justin Malone.
The Mohawks will likely need all the emotional charge they can muster to defeat an East squad coming in off an SOC I championship season. The Tartans hosted the Mohawks last season and defeated their SOC II rival 22-7, but East coach Darryl Davis is taking nothing for granted.
“We're very concerned with their passing attack,” said Davis. “They've done well in their first two scrimmages. They throw 90 percent of the time in a shotgun spread formation. That caused some problems for us in our Piketon scrimmage.”
The passing game notwithstanding, Northwest is a Division IV school, whereas East is Division VI and the Tartans will be facing a charged-up opponent.
“It's a larger school and one of their players had a tragic situation and all these things are things that concern you (as a coach),” said Davis. “I hope that their kids do play emotionally and charged up. I'm hoping that our kids can rise to the challenge.”
That improved team includes a backfield that returns seniors Dustin Bradford and Brian Collins and adds sophomore Derek Gray and junior Brian Hoover, all of who fit into the traditional Davis coaching style that Northwest is well aware of.
“Darryl is pretty much power football and trying to run it down your throat and come right at you on defense,” said Spears. “He has some nice looking kids and a nice strong line like in the past and some nice running backs, so it's a pretty good squad.”
The game pits two teams with vastly different stories against each other. The Tartans are fresh off recent success and charged up for a chance to defend their title while the Mohawks, coming off an 0-9 season and with the health of a friend and teammate on their minds, just wants to see some positive results for their hard work.
“They're coming out and working hard every day and right now, their attitude has been really positive,” said Spears. “They work hard every day and they'd just like to see something positive. Hopefully (tonight), we'll have a good crowd and see some positive results.”
JOHN STEGEMAN can be reached at email@example.com.