Eudora coach Gregg Webb gathered his squad Monday after practice and let them know three players — seniors Gabe Cleveland and Nick Becker along with junior Andrew Ballock — had been selected for inclusion on a soon-to-be-announced all-area team.
Cleveland, a linebacker who has played with a torn ACL since Sept. 14, had a problem with that. He thought fellow linebacker Markis Hill, also a senior, was more deserving.
So Cleveland tracked down Webb after practice.
“You need to tell them to put Markis on the team instead of me,” Cleveland said.
Statistically, it’s close to a wash.
Hill has 100 tackles; Cleveland has 93. Both players have an interception, but Hill has one more sack, caused one more fumble and leads Eudora with three fumble recoveries.
“He’s had a great year, and he’s been one of my best friends for a long time, but I really felt like he deserved it,” Cleveland said. “I just wouldn’t feel very good taking something I felt like somebody else deserved.”
That Cleveland would sacrifice for a Cardinals teammate or the team itself didn’t come as a shock to Webb, who has guided Eudora back to the Kansas 4A state championship for a second straight time.
He’s an inspiration with his wrecking-ball style and gives as much as he can every practice and every game.
“The younger kids absolutely … see how hard he plays and think, ‘Holy smoke, so that’s what it takes,’ ” Webb said.
Cleveland dinged his shoulder as a freshman but played through the pain.
He shrugged off a high ankle sprain as a sophomore and battled through a high ankle sprain on the opposite leg as a junior.
Still, not even a ripped knee ligament, which he suffered in a win against De Soto during the season’s third game, kept him from playing football for the Cardinals.
“I just love it and, especially my senior year, I know I won’t have many more opportunities,” Cleveland said. “Being a Eudora Cardinal is the greatest thing ever, and I’m extremely proud to be playing on this team. I grew up watching them and this is something I always wanted to do.”
After the most recent knee injury, Cleveland asked his doctor if he could still play.
“I didn’t want to miss my senior year, and my doctor said it was already torn and I couldn’t tear it anymore,” Cleveland said. “It can be painful sometimes, but for the most part it doesn’t hurt that much. Every once in a while, though, I’ll tweak it during a game or something and it will start hurting pretty bad.”
Now, Cleveland and his fellow Cardinals face the toughest on-field challenge they’ve encountered — a 12-0 Holton team with a well-deserved reputation as big, physical brutes.
“This will be a test like we haven’t seen,” Webb said. “The Louisburgs and Paolas of the world know how to run the football. We see that style in (the Frontier League), but it’s still la little bit different because Holton is bigger and they are so comfortable with what they do and do it better than anyone I’ve seen.”