Ask Columbia football coach Scott Horner just how good his football team could be this season, and he’ll give you a guarded answer.
"You look at stuff on paper, and we’ve got a ton of kids back," he said. "A group of kids that has seen a lot of success at our high school. On paper, it does look that way. I’m happy with where we’re at. If we can stay healthy and get some consistent play out of some very important people, we should be pretty competitive."
But, Horner cautioned, he wants to keep his team humble.
"You have to guard against them being the center of attention," he said. We’re looking forward to the season. And credit to the kids, they’ve busted their rear ends. From last November to all the way to now. They don’t seem to be letting up any. We’re pretty happy with where we’re at."
Last year playing in Class 4A, Columbia finished 6-4 after losing 30-28 to Herrin in the first round of the postseason. It was the Eagles' first playoff appearance since 2008, when they were 12-1 and made it to the semifinals.
With 18 returning starters -- nine on offense and nine on defense -- the Eagles could fly (pun intended) through their regular-season schedule and perhaps do some damage in the playoffs.
Columbia has the talent and coaching to make that happen. Whether it will or not remains to be seen. One reason is the Eagles are playing in Class 4A, where the competition is a bit tougher than Class 3A, where the team had been in past years.
"It’s a whole different animal," said Horner, 41, who begins his 12th season as head coach. "If we stay healthy, and certainly we’ve got our work cut out for us with a couple of games on our schedule. ... We’re just going to take it one game at a time.
"We definitely have the potential. ... I think our enemy is going to be ourselves. As long as we keep a cool head. Everything is right there for us. We’ve just got to execute. We’ve got to play well each week, and we can’t look forward to anything except the next week."
One of the few question marks Horner is facing is how senior quarterback Logan Santanello will handle the signal-calling duties. He saw enough action last season to know his importance to the team. He threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 246 yards and a score and he caught 16 passes for 186 yards and a TD.
While he probably won’t be catching passes, he will be running and throwing to one of at least five wide receivers led by senior speedster Eric Read. Read hauled in 61 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns. Reed Greatting caught 32 passes for 340 yards and two scores.
On the ground, Charles Farris rushed for 745 yards and 10 touchdowns and had 73 receiving yards.
Defensively, Greatting had 50 tackles, Jeffrey Derington finished with 34 tackles and one sack from their defensive back spots and linebacker Camren Shewfelt ended with 62 tackles.
"We don’t talk about it much, and I don’t think the kids realize how good they have the potential to be," Horner said. "This group was humbled a lot last year. What I see between this group last year and this year is literally a 180 degree difference. They’ve just really changed their mentality. They’ve changed their work ethic. They’ve changed everything."
Will that change be enough? Horner will find out when the team travels to Wood River for the season opener.