COLUMBIA — Cosmopolitan Park is no Lucas Oil Stadium, and the receivers on the 14-and-under Columbia Colts football team have neither the speed nor agility of Reggie Wayne or Joseph Addai. But Zach Reuter still aspires to play as hard and as well as Peyton Manning.
Reuter, the Colts’ quarterback, has been playing tackle football since third grade, and he transitioned from running back before fifth grade. In his sixth year of organized football, Reuter is approaching a new level of play.
High school football looms large in his mind, and in a town where boys begin wearing jerseys, pads and helmets in kindergarten, Reuter will face intense competition.
In his final season of youth football, Reuter is working to bring his skills to a higher level in order to succeed in competitive football.
“He’s a well-rounded football player,” head coach Doug Zeugin said. “He’s great as far as being a leader on the field. His handoffs are clean. He fumbles very rarely. He’s got good passing potential.”
Reuter’s exposure to football began long before he stepped onto the field in a Columbia Youth Football League uniform. His father began teaching him about the game at an early age, and the years of familiarity with the sport have only added to Reuter’s potential.
“His background has contributed greatly,” said Craig James, the other eighth grade head coach. “Any time you start them young, that’s a big plus. He’s going to follow through with football and he has the chance for a football career.”
Reuter’s goal in his final season before high school is to work on his passing game. The Colts, who have a 1-3 record so far this season, are not known for exceptional passing, but they make up for it in other aspects.
“They’re more of a grind-it-out, power offense, rather than passing,” said Chad Henry, the CYFL president.
As much and he and the team improves their rushing and tackling skills, though, Reuter knows that passing will be key to success at Rock Bridge, where he hopes to eventually play quarterback.
“I’m going to be working on passing a lot,” Reuter said. “We throw every once in a while, but right now it’s a lot of rushing.”
If the Colts become a more dynamic team that can throw the ball, Reuter will not only gain an edge, but all of the Colts will be more likely to succeed at a competitive level.
“This year we have increased the passing routes,” said Timothy Terrell, another Colts coach. “We’re getting more players involved... At this level, you are getting ready to go into where passing is a much more important part of the game. So he’s got to get used to it.”
Physical skills are only half of the package when Reuter’s coaches discuss his high school potential. The young quarterback is also a quiet leader on the field and easy to instruct.
“He’s very football-knowledgeable, very coachable,” Zeugin said. “Some quarterbacks are hard to get along with, but he’s a great kid. He listens to the plays, learns them, and studies his playbooks. He’s a very intelligent young man.”
Terrell added that Reuter often helps other players fine-tune elements of their games, but he doesn’t think that the eighth-grader knows the full extent of his influence.
“He’s a quiet leader,” Terrell said. “I think that the kids look up to him. He’s not a very boisterous individual, but he’s definitely a leader. And in turn, he looks up to his linemen and his other players. So it goes both ways.”
Traveling to St. Louis every other weekend for games and practicing four nights a week, Reuter knows that the CYFL is a time commitment that is preparing him for the rigors of high school football. The product of a town with an established, competitive youth football program, Reuter was indoctrinated into the world of football at a young age and sees no end to his days of helmets and mouthguards.
“Only he can determine how far he goes,” James said. “He’ll go as far as he wants to let his talent take him. I try to help him along, to perfect the basics, and he can use that now and until he ever makes it to the NFL.”