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 Utica Eisenhower senior running back Caleb Oyster sheds a tackle in an  Aug. 24 matchup with Oak Park High earlier this season. Coach Chris Smith called Oyster a leader on the team.

Utica Eisenhower senior running back Caleb Oyster sheds a tackle in an Aug. 24 matchup with Oak Park High earlier this season. Coach Chris Smith called Oyster a leader on the team.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Do-or-die time for Eisenhower football

By: Jacob Herbert | Shelby - Utica News | Published October 8, 2018

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — In just two short weeks, the curtain will close on the prep football regular season. Naturally, the playoffs are what comes next. Some teams have already clinched a spot, some teams still have a shot to make it despite a slow start to the season, and some teams have been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention.

One of the teams that still has a shot despite a tough start is Utica Eisenhower.

The 1-3 start to the season was not what coach Chris Smith had in mind entering his seventh year at the helm. Two of the Eagles’ three losses were by double digits, but the team has since rebounded.

At press time, Eisenhower was 4-3 overall. The Eagles need to win their next two games to guarantee a spot in the playoffs.

For Smith, who played nose guard at Michigan State University under George Perles and Nick Saban, that presents a challenge.

“Getting kids to play like every week is a playoff game,” he said. “It’s not easy to get up for every game, but in our league you have to. The young guys have to learn how to do that.”

Young is a perfect way to describe the Eagles, especially when it comes to the defensive side of the football. Seven of the 11 players on defense are sophomores and juniors, which Smith said is odd for his team. Usually, they are a senior-heavy group.

Some of the players that Smith said have really stepped up to navigate the team through these waters are senior receiver and safety Ian Kennelly and senior running back Caleb Oyster.

“That’s what you’re looking for: kids playing together and playing for each other,” Smith said. “Some seasons it comes right away, some seasons it takes some time, and some seasons it doesn’t come at all. This team seemed to really band together the last couple weeks.”

Kennelly said that with the three losses in the team’s first four games, it was a wake-up call.

“The older guys had to get on the younger guys a little bit and that kind of got us going, and I think we’re hitting full stride here at the end of the season here, which is what you want,” he said.

With the pressure on each game, Smith and his team have chosen to stay loose with so much on the line.

“It’s got to be in the back of their heads that when it’s time to work, it’s time to get serious and work,” Smith said. “At the same time, we’re out here every day and it’s a long season, so you want the kids to have fun and enjoy football. These guys don’t get too many seasons of it, so if this is their last season, they’ll never play again.”

Ike has only missed the playoffs once before under Smith, in 2013, and every player on the Eagles sideline knows what it’s going to take to get there.

“We take it one at a time, so we’d like to see a win this week,” Smith said. “We’d like to see the kids come out, compete, play hard and not take plays off. Those are the goals we’re really set on because those are goals you can control. Wins or losses you can’t always control, but your effort and things like that you can.”