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Plenty of grit, but no quit in this East Lake team

The Eagles have won seven in a row thanks to players like linebacker/quarterback Caleb Coburn.
East Lake senior Caleb Coburn is a full-time quarterback and linebacker for the Eagles this season.
East Lake senior Caleb Coburn is a full-time quarterback and linebacker for the Eagles this season. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Oct. 27

TARPON SPRINGS — Trailing Steinbrenner by 26 points with six minutes left in the third quarter, East Lake took a moment to listen to Bob Hudson, who spoke with heated conviction: “All of you know that if you play like are you capable that there is no time in any game that you are out of it.”

None of the Eagles seemed to doubt the coach.

“We just said, ‘Okay, let’s do this,’” East Lake senior quarterback Caleb Coburn said. “There was no way we were giving up.”

What followed was nothing less than remarkable.

Behind three long touchdown passes from Coburn, mixed in with a lost Steinbrenner fumble, the Eagles cut the gap to 54-49 midway through the fourth quarter.

With about two minutes remaining, Steinbrenner lost another fumble near its 20-yard line. Less than a minute later East Lake took the lead, 55-54, on a Coburn rush.

In the final seconds Steinbrenner missed a field goal and history had been made: East Lake had come back from the greatest deficit in Hudson’s 27 years with the Eagles (the last 20 as head coach).

In his 20th season as head coach, Bob Hudson again has the Eagles on a winning track with a 7-1 record heading into the game Friday night against arch-rival Palm Harbor University.
In his 20th season as head coach, Bob Hudson again has the Eagles on a winning track with a 7-1 record heading into the game Friday night against arch-rival Palm Harbor University. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

“That game right there (on Oct. 3) shows what this team is all about,” Hudson said. “These guys are some of the toughest, most dedicated players I’ve ever been around. They always believe. They never quit.

“This team is full of great, tough kids, and that’s saying something because I’ve coached some really tough kids.”

Arguably none is tougher than Coburn, who was a full-time linebacker before East Lake starting quarterback Jake Bechtel went down with a back injury before the first game. Coburn suddenly became a full-time linebacker and a full-time quarterback.

Every Saturday morning this season Coburn has been doubly bruised and cut from head to toe, unfolding himself from bed before taking a full-body ice bath, “which makes all my cuts really sting.”

“But somehow feeling the pain feels good. There is no better feeling, win or lose, than walking off that field knowing you gave everything you had with your teammates, your brothers.”

Coburn said he really doesn’t pay attention to his stats, though they are certainly worth a gander: In eight games, he has completed 66 of 106 passes for 899 yards and nine touchdowns while rushing for 662 yards and 12 touchdowns.

He also has averaged 5.3 tackles a game, ranking second on the team. Coburn has helped East Lake average 43 points a game, while allowing an average of 21.

Most importantly, he says, the Eagles are 7-1 heading into the game Friday night against Class 4M (metro), District 6 opponent Palm Harbor University (5-3, 1-1). An Eagles victory would also seal up the district title with a 3-0 record.

On Tuesday, Coburn stood on the practice field and said he knows his team is ready, because “we’re always ready for anything.”

East Lake senior Luke Yoder has rushed 111 times for 970 yards and has 19 total touchdowns for the Eagles.
East Lake senior Luke Yoder has rushed 111 times for 970 yards and has 19 total touchdowns for the Eagles. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

Like Hudson, he talked about his teammates’ toughness, specifically players such as East Lake senior Luke Yoder, the son of former Tampa Bay Buc Todd Yoder, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound ball of muscle, who this season has rushed 111 times for 970 yards with 19 total touchdowns.

The same Luke Yoder who last year played for Palm Harbor University, rushing 256 times for 1,602 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Yoder, who transferred to East Lake in the offseason, said he expects his friends from PHU to come strong for him.

“I’m just going to be humble and let my play do the talking,” he said. “That’s all.”

Four-year starting offensive lineman Austin Huff said knowing that guys like Yoder and Coburn are behind him and his fellow lineman, including three-year starters Devonne Barry and Conner Thomas, only fuels the fire.

“We all love this, we love our team,” Huff said. “We’ve bought into everything, this brotherhood, the coaches, all of it. We trust in each other.

“When we went down 26 to Steinbrenner we never lost that trust, that belief. Then after we came back and won, it just made us that much stronger. It reinforced that idea of how special all of this is.”

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