ELDON — Anyway you spin it, it was a rough season for the Cardinal High football team.
The Comets finished the season with a record of 1-8 — one lonely 27-20 victory at Danville sandwiched in between a deluge of often lopsided losses.
But not all victories are measured by the numbers on a scoreboard, some or more subtle, more easy to miss. And, although effort doesn't always translate into glossy statistics, no matter what the score, Cardinal always played hard.
And, perhaps no Comet embodied this never-give-up spirit more than junior inside linebacker Nathan Yeager.
"One thing that coaches told us was how hard our team played and I think our kids take that from Nathan," Cardinal football coach Adam Hadenfeldt said. "He's full speed at every rep."
Whether Cardinals was winning by a razor-thin margin or losing by a landslide, Yeager's style of play never wavered: He always played hard, really hard.
Yeager's give a 100 percent 100 percent of the time mindset combined with a high football IQ allowed the Comets' inside linebacker to break the school record in tackles this season with 135. Yeager broke the record in the team's last game of the season, a lopsided 47-0 loss to West Branch.
"They watch film to decide our tackles, so I didn't know until they watched film [if he'd broken the record]," Yeager said. "I thought about it, I wasn't sure if I did or not, I knew I was close."
The Comets' inside linebacker said when he reached 100 tackles he started to realize that he had a real shot of breaking the record.
"It's pretty important to me that I broke it," Yeager said. "When I broke it I was pretty excited. It was a goal I made when I realized how close I was."
So, aside from his relentless approach to the game, what makes Yeager such a great tackler?
"First and foremost he's a very, very smart football player," Hadenfeldt said. "He's been getting varsity reps since his freshman year. He's really gone from a guy who made plays because he got himself to the football, to where he really has been able to make great reads to see where the play is going to develop and he gets where he needs to be. When he gets to the right spot he's a very physical football player. He doesn't miss tackles when he's there."
Yeager said he first started see real improvements in his game when he was a sophomore.
"Probably at the start of my sophomore years I was reading a lot more things," Yeager said. "Just reading where the guards are going, because that's where the ball is going most of the time. Just being able to read what people are doing and just following the play and trying to make a tackle."
But Yeager isn't just an intelligent and physical player, he's also imbued with a quality that can't always be instilled or willed into a player: Toughness.
"He's played through some things that would keep other individuals, who don't have his physical and mental toughness, out of the lineup," Hadenfeldt said.
Yeager has performed prodigies on the gridiron from the linebacker position while also serving as the the Comets' starting fullback. One thing striking about his statistics is how the caliber of competition had virtually no affect on his productivity from week to week.
For example, he recorded 13 tackles in the Cardinals' win at Danville in the Comets' second game and he amassed 16 tackles in a lopsided 51-6 loss to E-B-F in the Cardinals' third week. And, despite starting on both sides of the ball, if anything, Yeager's defense got even more ferocious toward the end of the season. Before he broke the school record with a 13-tackle night at West Branch, Yeager recorded his season-high in tackles in the two previous games: He made 21 tackles in a 34-6 loss to Wapello in week seven and he amassed 21 more tackles in week eight in a 42-6 loss to Sigourney-Keota.
"He's a guy who would rather let his actions speak for him, rather than his words," Hadenfeldt said. "Everyone in our program looks to him as the guy who drives our football team. That's a lot for a high school kid to have on his shoulders and he's done a good job with that. He's not really a rah-rah guy, he's kind of a quiet leader."
"Yea, I don't think about it a ton," Yeager said when asked about his leadership role on the team, "I just go out and give a 100 percent every time and I hope when people see me give a 100 percent they will give 100 percent, too."
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