NAPOLEON - Every football team has to deal with injuries. How a team copes with - and overcomes - the injuries it sustains during a season often determines how successful it can be.
The Napoleon football team has risen above several injuries to key performers on both sides of the ball to start this season with six victories. As a result, the Wildcats are ranked fifth in the state in Division III and have earned the top spot in the Region 10 computer rankings.
The injury bug struck first when linebacker Eric Schwab, one of the team's tackle leaders, suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him out of the Wildcats' home opener against Bowling Green.
To replace Schwab, Adam Miller moved from middle linebacker to Schwab's "bat" linebacker position. Miller said he had no reservations about making the switch.
"I kind of saw it coming," Miller said. "I had some experience at 'bat,' so I figured I'd be the one to move. And we have a good back-up at middle linebacker [Ben Behnfeldt].
"The coaches tell me to go, and I go. I play where they need me."
Behnfeldt said he focused simply on trying to play well against the Bobcats. He did, and Napoleon beat BG 29-17.
"I knew when Eric came back I wouldn't be taking his position, because he's really good, but I tried to use the playing time in the BG game to show what I had," Behnfeldt said.
In that game the Wildcats suffered another blow when star tailback Brad Weaver suffered a nerve injury to his shoulder. He missed the game against Bryan, but Lucas Oberhaus took his place and responded with 97 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 28-8 victory over the Golden Bears.
"I thought at the beginning of the week I might get some tailback time, and I was excited. I like carrying the ball," Oberhaus said. "The hardest thing was [dealing with] the expectations. You have to just go out and do what you can do."
While Weaver obviously would have preferred to play, he was happy to see Oberhaus contribute in his place.
"It was really cool to see him [play well], so I felt really good for Lucas," Weaver said. "Every time he came out he would ask me, 'Did I do the right thing there?' I told him, 'Dude, you're doing great!'●"
Napoleon coach John Snoad said he emphasized to his team that injuries would not be used as an excuse to lose.
"I think [a coach] is more worried about his kids having that moment of panic, of saying, 'Now what do we do?' when someone gets hurt," Snoad said. "I've been around the game enough to know somebody will step up. Somebody has to step up because a game is coming on Friday, whether we want it to or not.
"We talked to the kids at the beginning of the year about it. Things happen in football, and I told them I never wanted to hear, 'We can't win because somebody's hurt.'●"
In fact, having players step in when needed has become a source of pride for the Wildcats. Without being asked, several of them pointed to other examples of teammates making sacrifices for the good of the squad.
"Can I give you another good example [of the unselfishness?]" Miller asked. "Nick Wagner was a back-up tight end, but we ended up moving him to tackle because we needed him there. We needed him, and he stepped in and played."
Seniors such as Miller, Schwab and Weaver all recognize how valuable the contributions of the reserves have been to the team's success.
"It is awesome [to have guys step in and play well]," Schwab said. "If you're on the sidelines, you still love to see that your team can perform despite the injuries."
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