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High school football: Undersized Ely key cog in Comets' defense

Nose for the ball

Newman's Jacob Barnes and Brady Rude tackle Morrison's Mason Sitzmore during last Friday's game. The Comets will be tested by the Fulton Steamers on Friday night in Fulton.
Newman's Jacob Barnes and Brady Rude tackle Morrison's Mason Sitzmore during last Friday's game. The Comets will be tested by the Fulton Steamers on Friday night in Fulton.

Michael Ely is 5 feet, 7 inches tall and 160 pounds. He's not a defensive back or a wide receiver. He's not even a smallish linebacker anymore.

Ely is Newman's starting nose guard, and has been since early last season. It's not unusual for him to give up 50-plus pounds to the player he's lining up across.

"Every game I go against bigger guys," the senior said. "I try to use my quickness. That's about all I have going for me at that position. I try to be faster off the ball."

"He's quick and strong as heck," Comets coach Mike Papoccia said of Ely, who was part of Newman's stout defensive performance in their 28-0 win over Fulton last season.

In that game, the Comets did not allow a first down until the fourth quarter and limited the Steamers to two first downs and 88 yards.

"That was probably our best defensive game ever," Ely said.

"That was almost a perfect game defensively," Papoccia echoed. "And, we needed it to secure the win."

Newman led 7-0 at the half before putting the game away down the stretch.

“They’re kind of the same every year,” Fulton coach Patrick Lower said of the Comets. “You know what you’re going to get. It’s just matter of if you can stop it. They are smash-mouth, in your face, run downhill.”

Ely did not shy away from the opportunity to become the starting nose guard last season.

"We needed someone at that position," he said. "Several of our linemen got hurt. Some of our players approached me about it, and the coaches talked to me about it. I just wanted to do whatever it took to help the team. I wasn't starting, and I just wanted to get in there."

Though Fulton is 1-3, and the Comets 3-1, the Steamers welcomed back 3-year starting quarterback Ethan Jones last week. Jones had missed the previous game and most of the Fulton's Week 2 contest, both losses, with a sprained left ankle.

"He's a heck of an athlete. He's top shelf," Papoccia said of Jones. "I don't think he was 100 percent last week. Another week makes him healthier. We're going to have to contend with him."

The Comets will also have to contend with Fulton fullback Austin Regenwether and tailback Devin Kuehl. Regenwether is the second-leading rusher in the area with 619 yards on 89 carries. Kuehl is 10th with 310 yards on 41 carries.

"They definitely have some weapons," Ely said. "Coming off the Morrison game, we held them to zero points. We hope we can build off that."

Papoccia thinks Fulton is especially dangerous, considering what they're playing for. The Steamers dedicated the season to the memory of longtime Fulton High School ambassador Oscar Clark, Jones' grandfather, who passed away Aug. 24.

"It gives the kids a purpose," Papoccia said. "I knew Oscar well. He was Mr. Fulton and a super human being. It's easy for the kids to back what he was about. We full expect them to play with a lot of emotion. They'll certainly have him in the forefront of their minds."

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Fulton High School

Twitter: Larry Brennan (@LarryBrennan)

Radio: 102.7 FM, 1390 AM

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