ASHLAND — Brice Mueller, starting quarterback for the Southern Boone County High School Eagles, has gone from a skinny youngster in shoulder pads to a strapping senior — much like Ashland's football program.
Students like Mueller, who have played since elementary school, have helped the program expand. Ashland’s team turns 10 next season, and the town’s boom in population over the last decade has helped the football team grow, too.
“I think the year before I got here there were probably 25 players in the program,” said Roger VanDeZande, varsity coach for the Eagles since 2009.
“This year we had about 45 … I think our school is growing, and more and more kids want to do something else and so (football) has grown.”
VanDeZande remembered Mueller as a middle school student, and said he is proud of the quarterback's transformation.
“I can look back to when he was maybe an eighth-grader and he first came to work out in the summertime,” he said.
“I know how small he was and how much weight he could lift or couldn’t lift … and I look now at someone who is 6-foot-4-inches and he weighs 190 pounds and is really a leader of the team.”
One thing that’s helped build interest is the youth league, which started in Ashland shortly after high school football was introduced a decade ago. Starting in the third grade, boys can play tackle football against area teams and gain exposure to the high school community.
“A lot of our high school kids will help with youth football on Saturdays and Sundays,” VanDeZande said.
“We do a thing called Little League Football Jamboree during homecoming week where all the younger grades come and play against the high school kids out on the game field, so I think it’s kind of symbiotic.”
Mueller has found that investing time in football pays off in teamwork and friendships.
“This past year I grew a lot closer to some guys that I would have never thought that I was going to even get to know last year when they were eighth graders," he said.
"There’s a lot of cool freshmen, and being from a small town, we all hang out … and it’s the relationships and friendships that I really enjoy.”
VanDeZande said he appreciates the community commitment. The town, he said, is really behind the football team.
“It brings people together,” VanDeZande said. “In a small town it’s very important to watch your kids excel and be involved in something outside of the book learning. It’s an exciting thing for everybody.”
Supervising editors are Jeanne Abbott and Judd Slivka.