Jared Smarsh’s first experience starting at quarterback as a sophomore at Andale in 2011 wasn’t the perfect scenario. He was returning from a broken collarbone suffered during a summer camp, and when he moved into the starting lineup in Game 4, Andale was 0-3.
It was a bit scary for Smarsh, but he quickly learned about strong leadership.
“My teammates were nice. They picked me up,” said Smarsh, whose team finished 5-6 with a ninth straight playoff berth. “They told me what to do, and that helps me to be a leader.… Now I pick up my teammates.”
Smarsh is one of the reasons Andale is considered a contender for the Class 4A title. Not only is he fast and powerful while running the ball — a staple at Andale — he proved in the second round of the playoffs last year that he can pass.
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He threw for nearly 250 yards in a close loss to McPherson in the second round; his total yards were nearly half of what he had thrown for in the regular season.
“That was a lot of fun in that game,” said Smarsh, whose team finished 9-2. “I wish we would have won it, but I think people who thought Andale won’t pass … I showed we can do it. It’s there if we need it.”
Don’t expect Andale to become a pass-first team, though. Not with Smarsh’s ability to run, junior Hunter Knoblauch back at running back and an experienced offensive line that includes Trevor Buckner, Ben Walther, Mike Maus and Nathan Bergkamp.
“Most successful high school football teams run the ball,” coach Gary O’Hair said. “Obviously you want to to be able to throw it, but the teams that make it to the state championship game, they run it. You can’t do it without good kids on the offensive line. Our success will depend on them.”
Andale is used to success. Over the past eight years, Andale has 14 losses — six in 2011 — and won the 4A title in 2006 and 2007 with unbeaten records.
For Andale to push for another title, though, the unknowns will be important. Teams know about Smarsh and Knoblauch, who O’Hair calls the Indians’ go-to players.
But then there’s players such as Hank Eck, a slotback and linebacker, who could be the real surprises. O’Hair said Eck has been a smart, talented player, but he didn’t have the size.
Eck bulked up over the summer and improved his speed.
“He’s been in the weight room and setting an example for everybody,” Smarsh said. “He’s been getting fast, and he’s really coming along. There’s a couple guys like that, and it looks good.”