COLUMBIA — Battle High School football had an up and down inaugural season.
The Spartans (5-4) ended their first year with three straight losses but still finished with a winning record. They emerged victorious against South Callaway in a back-and-forth game on Oct. 4, but suffered a crushing loss — punctuated by a 35-point swing — the next week. They battled youth and inexperience but did so intentionally so coach Justin Conyers could return all of his players next year.
The Missourian is counting down the most memorable moments in Columbia sports, honoring the top athletes and programs of 2013. The No. 1 moment will be revealed on Dec. 31.
The wild ride had many a memorable moment. There was freshman quarterback Brevinn Tyler, staying cool under pressure as a first-year starter, scrambling around making plays. There was Marshall Willingham playing on both sides of the ball, breaking huge touchdown runs and sacking quarterbacks. And then there was Nash Sutherlin's jaw-dropping 33-yard touchdown scamper against Carnahan on Sept. 20.
The highlights on the field complemented the eclectic personalities on the sidelines. The offensive line had jokesters and jugglers — Jacob Sprouse claimed to be able to take a bite of an apple in mid-air. Defensive end Chris Zachary played the organ at church on occasion — Bach's Prelude in F is his favorite. Nose guard Brandon Hedrick found motivation in his grandfather's college football career — the two never met but if they did, they would have lined up opposite one another as his grandfather played center. And who can forget Cammie the Chihuahua accompanying the band onto the field.
But perhaps Caleb Wheeler and Eli White most symbolize what Battle's first season was like. Wheeler, who donned an American flag body suit for the first game, was usually sitting in the student section — the "Battlefront" — hyping up the crowd. And White, a student with a disability and a member of the football team, stood steadfast on the sideline, slapping shoulder pads, offering a smile and encouraging his teammates, no matter the ups and downs.