THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo
An athlete like Eric Page comes along perhaps once in a generation at most high schools, or leagues for that matter.
At Springfield and the Northern Lakes League, it has been nearly two generations between Rick Upchurch who starred for the Blue Devils 38 years ago and Page, the school s current football sensation.
For Springfield fans old enough to remember, the comparisons are inevitable between Page and Upchurch, who helped the Devils to an NLL championship in 1970.
Upchurch was a lightning-quick 5-10, 165-pound running back in his high school days, the identical size at which the speedy and elusive Page plays quarterback these days.
Eric is as talented as anyone I ve ever seen, said Upchurch, who has studied videotape of Page s games from his home in the Las Vegas area. He s quick, fast, has great balance, is elusive and is accurate throwing the ball. He makes all the players around him better and he gets his teammates involved. He is a leader by example.
Springfield s star of the present might approach the next level with the same uncertainty as his talented predecessor.
Before he became the standout receiver and electrifying return man at the University of Minnesota and with the NFL s Denver Broncos (All-Pro five times in nine seasons), Upchurch began at the junior-college level.
Page needs to lift his grade-point average slightly to qualify for a college scholarship. If he makes the grade, Page will have his pick of several Division I football programs, likely as a slot receiver/return man.
Mid-American Conference schools Toledo, Bowling Green, Akron, Miami and Eastern Michigan have extended scholarship offers, according to Page and Springfield coach Dave Connelly, and Big Ten schools Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue, Indiana and Wisconsin have shown interest.
If Eric really wants to commit himself, his future looks real bright, Connelly said. When he really decides to tee it up, I think he can do whatever he wants to do.
He can step it up. I don t know if it s adrenaline or what, but he s got another gear in him that you don t see in practice. For some reason, he can rise to the occasion and run faster than he would on a track. He just takes it to another level.
Maumee coach John Boles was the most recent witness to Page s dynamic array of football skills when his previously unbeaten Panthers lost 55-41 to Springfield.
Page rushed 41 times for a school-record 331 yards, including four touchdowns.
He completed 9 of 16 passes for 174 yards and three TDs. He also returned punts and kickoffs, played part-time on defense and booted seven PATs.
He s pretty phenomenal, Boles said of Page. I ve been coaching a long time and I don t remember a player who changes a game and dominates a game like he does. He runs the ball, passes the ball and he s a tough kid. He creates, and sometimes it turns into backyard football.
He just has incredible instincts. It s like he sees things before they happen. He has incredible anticipation, the speed to hit it and the ability to make people miss. He s the best I ve faced and, to be honest, it s not even close.
Page was anxious for redemption after sitting out the first half of Springfield s humbling 60-0 loss at Southview a week earlier.
I kind of came out [last Friday] with a chip on my shoulder, Page said. I was just trying to win. I wasn t focused on my stats. Everything just opened up for me, and we just had a good game plan against Maumee.
How does Page explain his football talent?
I don t know if I see the game different from other people, Page said. It feels like normal to me. I m able to use a person s momentum against them and go the other way, and see where my cutback block is and where everybody is on the field.
Quarterback really suits me because it lets me get the ball on every play and either pass it or run it, and help my teammates succeed. It s nice knowing I can have the ball on every play. It gives me a lot more chances to make something happen.
Page s performance last Friday was not an aberration. In fact, in last year s 58-42 win at Maumee, Page scored five TDs. Friday was his fourth career 300-yard rushing effort, including two others this season. He ran for 330 in week two against Bowsher and for 322 in a loss to Bowling Green in week five.
He s got a vision out there, and I think he sees things developing long before most people see it, Connelly said. His cutting ability and his vision really make him pretty special as a runner. He s not the fastest guy on the team but on Friday nights he is. He s a real competitor and a warrior out there.
Last year, against Rossford, his left shoulder popped out. They popped it back in and, five minutes later, he s back in the game. Against Maumee on Friday he got the wind knocked out of him. He came over to the sideline and couldn t breathe. By the time we got the ball back on offense he was ready to go. That s what some of the great athletes have is that competitiveness.
On the season, Page, who just turned 17, has rushed 160 times for 1,637 yards (10.2 average) and scored 23 total TDs. He is 46-of-90 passing for 797 yards and eight TDs. With a field goal and 25 PATs, he s scored 172 points.
As a junior, Page rushed for a school-record 2,039 yards, scored 23 TDs (167 total points), and passed for 1,137 yards and 17 TDs.
These stats have been achieved for a team that finished 3-7 a year ago and is 4-3 (2-2 NLL) entering tomorrow s game at Anthony Wayne. These numbers have come despite the fact opposing defenses focus foremost on stopping the guy wearing No. 5.
When his career is done, I think you can mention his name with [1980s Macomber star] Chuck Webb and Ricky Upchurch and [1970s DeVilbiss star] Terry Crosby, Connelly said. I m not saying he s better. But, for his name to even be mentioned with Ricky Upchurch, I don t think you need to say any more than that. He s in real good company.
Page may be equally gifted at baseball. As a junior shortstop whose best future position may be center field, Page batted .477 with two home runs and 41 stolen bases. Some local coaches believe he has the tools that may lead to a selection in the 2009 pro baseball draft.
Upchurch follows Page s weekly exploits via the internet. He has also spoken to Page a few times by phone, offering positive reinforcement and some words of wisdom.
Eric is capable of playing at any level he would like, Upchurch said. If he keeps his grades up he can write his own ticket.