High School Football

Deep, experienced Columbia Eagles have designs on playing late into November

In this football family, twins are coached by their father

Brothers Nic Horner and Sam Horner are members of the Columbia, Illinois High School Eagles football team in southern Illinois which is coached by their father Scott Horner.
Up Next
Brothers Nic Horner and Sam Horner are members of the Columbia, Illinois High School Eagles football team in southern Illinois which is coached by their father Scott Horner.

Always a busy time of year, Columbia football coach Scott Horner’s schedule is a little more hectic than usual as he prepares for the start of a new season.

Entering is 19th year at Columbia with a career mark of 131-58 and eight straight appearances in the Class 4A playoffs, Horner is doing double duty as Columbia’s new athletic director in addition to leading one of the top high school football programs in the St. Louis area.

“It’s been a lot of fun making the transition to the athletic director’s role. Obviously it’s a lot of learning, but hopefully it will get easier as time goes on,’’ Horner said. “Juggling that with football has made for a lot of late nights, but it keeps you young when you stay busy.’’

With 17 starters returning from a team which tied for the Cahokia Conference championship, finished 8-3 and reached the second round of the Class 4A playoffs a year ago, Horner will also have fun on the football field in 2019.

Led by an experienced offensive line, two of the top running backs in the Cahokia Conference in seniors Ronnie Hunsaker and Donavan Bieber , plus brothers Nic Horner at quarterback and Sam Horner at wide receiver, the Eagles should have no trouble putting points on the scoreboard.

Others return in key roles on defense.

“We’ve got 16 seniors and overall a good group coming back. All signs look for us to have a successful season,’’ Horner said. “But we’ve still got work to do. We’re nowhere near where we’re going to be.

“Things are progressing the way we want them to, but that’s the one challenge for coaches that when you have a bunch of kids coming back not letting them get complacent. These are kids are very athletic and they’re working hard, but there are those times when you have to guard against those things.”

Columbia, which opens its season Friday against visiting Mascoutah, is loaded at the skill positions. As Horner points out, scoring points will start with the offensive line.

“That’s where it starts for us. We’ve got a lot of good skilled position kids back, but if you don’t have the guys up front doing their jobs, you are going to have difficulty moving the football,’’ Horner said. “We aren’t huge up front, but we’ve got four of our five guys back and they’ve worked hard in the weight room and on on their quickness.’’

Senior Ryan Hornbostel (6-6, 230) and the Napier brothers — Cade (6-4, 255) and Chase (6-1, 240) — headline the Eagles experienced front wall which also includes senior Connor Holton and junior Kyle Jackson. Senior Ryan Weatherford also is in the mix.

That group will block for speedy running backs Donavan Bieber and Ronnie Hunsaker, both of whom played key roles a year ago. Hunsaker, who won three medals at the Class 2A state track meet in May, ran for more than 830 yards and 13 scores, while Bieber ran for 710 yards and seven touchdowns.

Both Hunsaker and Bieber have breakaway speed and can also run up the middle.

“I would image there are a few coaches who would like to have this pair in their backfield. They can both take the ball up the middle with power, but once they get a step, I don’t think there are many defensive backs who are going to catch them. They’re both sub 4.5 players in the 40 (yard dash),” Horner said.

“We’re going to use them both in the backfield to get them (offensive touches). That’s the coaching staff’s job. To get them both the football as much as we can.’’

Horner’s sons — Nic at quarterback and Sam at wide receiver — are both three year starters and among the top players in the St. Louis area.

“As a football coach, having the opportunity to coach my sons for three years has been a wonderful experience. It’s something I’ll cherish every second this season,’’ Horner said. “Nic is like his dad in that at times he is hard on himself if he’s not perfect on every play. That’s not realistic.

“Sam knows the game and has great hands.”

Sam Horner is also the Eagles placekicker and one of the top defensive backs in the metro-east. He is one of several players who need to make an impact for Columbia to be as good as advertised.

Senior linebacker Eli Wagner is one of many outstanding players on defense for the Eagles who may have one of the fastest teams in school history.