From the time he started playing football at 5-years-old, Owen Suedkamp has been one of the bigger kids on his team.
Naturally, he was raised in the game as a lineman.
But something happened between his freshman and sophomore years at Columbia High School, and it happened in the weight room.
“I trained really hard, got a little leaner and got stronger,” Suedkamp said. “I went to the coaches and said I’d like to try playing linebacker.”
Even with an endorsement from defensive assistant Scott Germaine, head coach Scott Horner wasn’t so sure the former big body had enough speed for the position or could learn the footwork after all those years with “his hands in the grass.”
“I didn’t know if he had the quickness or how he would work moving laterally,” Horner said. “But once we saw him, there wasn’t a question about whether he could do it or not.”
Now still a junior, Suedkamp has become one of the area’s most efficient tacklers.
The BND’s Week 9 Athlete of the Week ranks seventh in the bi-state region and tops in the metro-east with 127 total tackles. His 89 solo tackles rank fourth.
I'm not saying the other kids don't work hard, but if they all worked like Owen I think the sky would be the limit for us ... There is no question he's a special linebacker because of his effort. We've not had one like him.
Scott Horner, Columbia head football coach
Suedkamp averages more than 14 tackles per game and has twice registered more than 20. He had 19 tackles in the Eagles’ 35-12 win over Nashville Friday.
“He’s not a speed burner by any means, but he has an extreme nose for the football,” Horner said. “His feet are always moving such that when he hits, he generates the kind of force that will stop you in your tracks.”
The Eagles are one of three teams in the metro-east to complete their regular season at a perfect 9-0 (Althoff and Edwardsville are the others). They’ll face Central in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs at home Saturday starting at 1 p.m. kickoff.
The Bulldogs gave the Eagles their stiffest challenge of the year in Week 7 before eventually losing, 28-27. Suedkamp says he expects Central to be emboldened by the previous meeting and motivated for revenge.
“Central gave us a great fight and is a really good team,” he said. “They are going to want a piece of us after the way we beat them in the regular season.”
127 Suedkamp’s total tackles over nine games in 2015, which averages more than 14 per game.
98 Suedkamp’s solo tackles, which ranks No. 4 in the entire St. Louis area
A high-scoring offense has been the calling card of a Columbia team that has qualified for the playoffs six consecutive seasons, losing a total of just nine games.
That’s still the case with the 2015 version of the Eagles, which averages 41 points per game. A stingy defense that has allowed opponents just 13 points over nine games may get overlooked, however.
“We put our best players on defense first, then figure out what we’ll do on the other side of the ball, because — and I think most coaches will tell you this — a good offense starts with a good defense,” Horner said. “We run a spread (offense) and have the ability to quick-strike and control the football. We need the defense to control the game and put it back in the hands of our offense.”
Colton Byrd, Jonathan Holmes, Jordan Holmes, and Greg Long all have more than 30 tackles on the season for Columbia. Connor Little, Chris Wagner and Corey Hornbostel have 5,4 and 3 quarterback sacks respectively.
So Suedkamp will bristle at the idea that he’s the anchor of the Eagles’ defense.
I've had success personally because the outside guys do a good job forcing things to the middle, which brings the play my way a lot. I just try to read my keys and make the tackles.
Owen Suedkamp, Columbia linebacker and BND Athlete of the Week
“The defense really doesn’t have one person that we have to rely on all the time. We just work really well together,” he said. “I’ve had success personally because the outside guys do a good job forcing things to the middle, which brings the play my way a lot. I just try to read my keys and make the tackles.”
That’s typical Owen Suedkamp, says his coach, adding that modesty isn’t the only trait that sets his middle linebacker apart.
“He is without a question the hardest working kid on the team — not just on the field, but in the weight room,” Horner said. “I’m not saying the other kids don’t work hard, but if they all worked like Owen I think the sky would be the limit for us. I mean, it is day-in, day-out, in-season, off-season.
“There is no question he’s a special linebacker because of his effort. We’ve not had one like him.”