Columbia High School sophomore running back Donavan Bieber looked forward to the day he’d get a start in the Eagles offense.
But he never hoped for the circumstances surrounding his opportunity, and he couldn’t have imagined the kind of debut he would have.
One week after watching senior standout Colton Byrd suffer season-ending ACL and meniscus tears in a loss to Wesclin, Bieber stepped in with 200 yards and three touchdowns in a 64-28 win at Carlyle last Friday.
“That was rough to see Colton go down, with him being a senior.” Bieber said. “We needed someone to step up, and I’m glad coach (Scott) Horner picked me to be the guy.”
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Sharing the spotlight with an Eagles defense that forced nine Carlyle turnovers, Bieber may be the Eagles’ “guy” for the next 2 1/2 years.
Entering the game with just one carry for 11 yards while playing sparingly in the Eagles’ first four games, Bieber tallied his first touchdown on a 15-yard run with eight minutes remaining in the first half. Then he added scoring runs of 49 and 15 yards in the second half.
The win moved Columbia to 2-1 in the Cahokia Conference and 3-2 for the season.
Bieber said he wasn’t nervous stepping in for Byrd, who rushed for more 2,800 yards and 39 touchdowns over the past three years.
“No, I really wasn’t nervous; I was ready,” Bieber said. “We got off to kind of a slow start in the first quarter. But we did better in the second quarter, and then in the second half we really got moving because we were all doing our jobs.
“When we all do our jobs we are amazing.”
While Bieber’s starting debut was impressive, it came as no surprise to coach Horner.
Byrd, a senior, joined other area standouts such as Jarrell Anderson, of East St. Louis; Dionte Rodgers, of Edwardsville; and Freddy Edwards, of Granite City, with season-ending injuries.
“You never want it to happen to any player, but when it happens, a team has two ways it can go, and how you react to it is going to be a big difference-maker as we move forward,” Horner said. “Last week, I was proud at how we responded. We’ve got a lot of kids banged up right now and a lot of young kids who are seeing their first varsity action. I thought we played well.”
Bieber was a true difference-maker for the Eagles against a Carlyle program that, like Columbia, is fighting for a playoff spot with its 3-2 record.
Horner said the Eagles coaching staff knew they had something special in the sophomore speedster.
“We knew he had that kind of ability, but we were waiting for the right opportunity to get him in there and get his feet wet,” Horner said. “The offensive line did a great job of giving him space to run, and with his speed and his ability to cut and make defenders miss, he was able to get into the open field and make some plays for us.”
Bieber also proved he can bounce back from adversity. After turning the ball on a fumble late in the first half, he responded with an even more impressive second-half performance.
“That showed me something right there,” Horner said. “After making a turnover in a big situation like that, some young kids might go into the tank. Donovan didn’t. He came right back and continued to run hard. I was proud of him for that.”
Bieber is also a member of the Columbia track team and competes in the 100- and 200-meter, as well as the sprint relays. He believes his preparation for track has helped make him a better football player.
“In terms of speed and just getting stronger and in better condition, track really helps me get ready for the football season. We do a lot of running,” Bieber said. “Last week, I was just trying to do my part and help us win the football game.
“I believe we can make the playoffs. We’ve got a lot of guys who are working hard to help us get in. We’ve got a good football team, and hopefully what we did last week against Carlyle will give us a spark for the rest of the season.”
Columbia travels Friday to Freeburg for a Cahokia Conference game.