They were poised to have a big season. Expectations were high.
But the Vilonia Eagles have been bitten by the injury bug; some would say snake bitten by the injury bug.
A team that started the year with 52 players are down to 34 with injuries that range from season-ending knees to thumbs, shoulders and collar bones.
Offensive coordinator David Jordan said what he has seen this season has been unlike anything he has experienced in his coaching career.
"Oh my gosh," Jordan said. "It’s the roughest year I’ve had in 27 years."
The Eagles coaching staff has witnessed five suffer season ending injuries including three knee surgeries, a broken collar bone, and an open dislocation of the thumb by Chase Marshall.
Marshall led the Eagles in receiving with 41 catches for 424 yards.
The dominos began in week two during practice when running back Joseph Owes tore the ACL in his knee during practice in preparation for a showdown with the Wynne Yellowjackets.
That injury hurt the Eagles enough, but Owens was just the first domino to fall. Early in the game against Wynne, tight end/defensive end Branson Vanlandingham broke his collarbone.
Down just 31-28 and driving for the go-ahead touchdown, running back Houston Cotton dislocated his knee.
Starting cornerback Brandon Paladino injured his knee last week as well.
Jordan estimated that as many as 10 starters have missed time due to a variety of injuries including knees, ankles, and shoulders.
Even reciever Drew Estes has been playing with a broken thumb, and Jordan admits there are several players that are playing that wouldn’t be if the circumstances were different.
The plague has caused the Eagles to not just change their offensive philosophy, but have changed it every week.
"Every Monday it’s like starting summer football all over again," Jordan said.
Coaches have mixed and matched every week, and as a result have had to re-teach kids new positions. The Eagles have switched offensive schemes altogether going from a spread passing attack to a running style operating out of the double Wing-T.
"Moving a lineman to tight end," Jordan said. "We move a fullback to guard. We have to teach kids new positions all over again. We’ve had to piece it together every week just to get through that one game. Then two or three more would go down, and we’d have to re-teach all over again."
Jordan said there have been questions of what the Eagles have been doing in the offseason, but said there has been no significant differences in last summer’s program than previous years.
"It’s just one of those things," Jordan said. "It’s not anything we could have prepared for. It’s broken bones, and dislocated knees. It doesn’t matter what types of workouts you do, you can’t avoid those (types of injuries)".
Contact in practice has ceased in the midst of the crisis.
Jordan said the Eagles have canceled Junior Varsity games because of the number of JV players playing on Friday night.
"I’m basically fielding a JV team out there on Friday," Jordan said. "We have 12 or 13 sophomores that are starting or seeing significant playing time that didn’t start last year as freshmen. They were backups in ninth grade, but they are starting on Friday night."
Despite what the Eagles are going through, they still stand at 2-3 in league play with a chance to make the playoffs with a win over Greenbrier. Their reward would be a trip to Batesville in the first round, a team that Jordan said could be the most phyiscal team they would face all season.
Doesn’t sound like much of a reward for a team that are trying and have been unable to avoid getting hurt.