Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
EAGLE POINT — Odds are if you're lined up against Eagle Point senior Peyton Dole, the Eagles believe that is a matchup in their favor.
And that's for good reason, since Dole stands 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds and has the athleticism of someone with a much smaller frame.
Already this year, Dole has played wide receiver, tight end, fullback and tailback when on offense.
As a defender, he's moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker and has proven to be just as comfortable in coverage as he is at getting after the quarterback.
Seemingly whatever the Eagles need the most, that's where you'll find Dole.
"We could literally put Peyton just about anywhere and he'd do a good job there," says first-year Eagle Point head coach Seth Womack. "It helps that he's as big as he is and athletic as he is, but more important for Peyton is he's a team guy and wants to do whatever he can to make his team successful."
Dole is just as pleased that he can play multiple roles for the Eagles, who will be looking for their fifth straight victory at 7 tonight when they play host to third-ranked Ashland in Midwestern League action.
Where he'll be lined up for Eagle Point (5-3, 3-2 MWL) is anybody's guess.
"That's one of the questions we always go into our coaches meetings with starting each week is really, where are we gonna put Peyton at this week?" says Womack. "Where do we need a boost and or want to attack teams from?"
"It's an enormous luxury to have players like that," adds the coach. "For us having those kind of options has been one of the things I attribute to some of our success this year, and it's not only from Peyton. We have several other guys we can move around to give us something different."
Wherever he's been placed, Dole has shown a knack for coming through for his team.
"I've been playing football since I was 10 and I've basically played every position there is," says the 17-year-old. "I guess it's just always been whatever they've needed me to be at the time is what I'm willing to be. I enjoy playing just about every position on the field, although I don't think I'd have too much fun as a lineman."
Dole has hauled in a team-best 11 touchdown receptions and has 439 yards on 26 catches while also helping pave the way for running backs Seth Arena and Donald Everett. His 101 tackles are among the best on the team, with 11 sacks and two interceptions to go with eight forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
"I'd say it's easier for me to be more consistent on defense because, for the most part, defense is all about effort," says Dole.
Effort, most definitely, is not an issue for Dole, according to Womack. The only surprising thing about the senior for the coach is that he hasn't received more college interest given his skill set.
"He goes 100 miles an hour at linebacker," says the coach. "He may not make every play but Peyton's able to recover much better than a lot of the linebackers we've faced because he's so fast and so athletic. There is no slow motion to Peyton. In games, he wants to make every tackle or break up every pass or make every interception."
Womack said he and his staff started moving Dole around on defense mostly because they kept finding that teams were going away from him once they knew where he was going to be aligned. The steady emergence of Bryson Baker, who is 6-6 and 210 pounds, as the opposite outside linebacker, and Hunter Hoeptner and Sean McKenzie in the middle have made it more of a guessing game for opposing teams.
"Our linebacker corps is pretty good and to have an anchor like Peyton out there really helps a lot," says Womack.
The same goes for Dole's versatility on offense. He proved his mettle as a red-zone target last week by hauling in the game-winning 8-yard TD pass from Jorge Quintero with six seconds to play against Bend — his third score of the game — and he was an integral part of EP's upset of Marist with his move to fullback enhancing a ground-based game plan.
In that Marist game, Dole slipped out to receiver in the fourth quarter and snared a wide-open, 35-yard score that put the Eagles ahead 14-7 en route to the 14-13 triumph.
"I think they just lost him," says Womack. "They forgot where he was in a sense and he's such a great athlete that he got downfield and made a big play when we needed it."
Dole played in only three games last year before suffering a broken ankle in practice, so his role as an offensive weapon is a little new to him. He served as primarily a blocking tight end before getting injured and was trying to make the transition from safety to linebacker when his season was cut short.
The time off to heal only served to help him appreciate the game of football more, and Dole says he was eager to make up for lost time this year. While the Eagles got off to a slow start when it came to wins and losses, they've gradually picked up steam to enter the final week ranked No. 19 in the Class 5A power rankings.
"For the most part, these last four weeks we've been playing pretty well and really, I think, hitting our stride at this point," says Dole.
That will definitely be tested tonight by the Grizzlies (8-0, 5-0), who boast a complete package on both sides of the ball and are No. 6 in the power rankings. A victory for Ashland secures an automatic berth in the state playoffs — the top eight teams in the power rankings earn that right — while the Eagles know they'll face a play-in game next week but could potentially play at home if they can move into spot Nos. 9-16.
"Ashland's a pretty good team, obviously, since they haven't lost a game," says Dole, "but I don't think they're unbeatable by any means. If we play well, it'll be a good game."
Womack says any play-in or playoff talk has been put on hold so the Eagles can focus entirely on an Ashland team that he says does "all the little things right."
"They've had a great year and it's going to be a tough game for sure," says Womack. "It's going to be a fun one to watch and be a part of."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry