When linebackers Hayden Holloway and Drake Foreman went down with injuries early this season, no one on the Blue Springs High School coaching staff pushed the panic button.

“We lost two great players and two even better kids,” said Derek Wilson, the Wildcats defensive coordinator and linebackers coach said. “But if there was any type of silver lining to a bad situation, we found it with Austin Stuller.

“We found out what a great player Austin is. He’s a (6-foot, 225-pound) junior who has come on and done a great job. And now that Hayden is back, we’re really strong at that linebacker position.”

Stuller knows the heartbreak of an injury, as he broke his arm on the first play of his freshman season.

“I was making a tackle, flying over this kid, and just snapped my arm,” said Stuller, who leads the 9-2 Wildcats with 44 tackles and has four sacks and seven tackles for loss. “I was so disappointed, so when Hayden and Drake got hurt early this season I knew exactly what they were going through.

“Then, when I got the opportunity to play I dedicated this season to them. They are such great players and great teammates. We’re all so happy that Hayden is back, and Drake is out there supporting us at every game.

“They’re seniors, and I know that all the underclassmen want to do all we can to make sure we get to the state championship game this year for our seniors. And to do that, we have to get past Blue Springs South again Friday night.

“It’s just a huge game against a great team. They’re our big rivals, and South week is always a big week at Blue Springs. We beat them (21-3) earlier this year, but that doesn’t mean anything. I know how much we want to win this game and I know they want to win it as much as we do.

“There is going to be a lot of emotion on the field, in the stands and in our community. It’s going to be special.”

Talk about special – that’s one of the first words coach Kelly Donohoe uses to describe the new heart-and-soul member of the Wildcats defense.

“He’s a special player and a special young man,” said Donohoe, who has led the Wildcats to wins in nine of the last 10 games against the 5-6 Jaguars. “He’s hard-nosed, a blue-collar player who is just tough as nails.

“He makes sure everyone is in the right place out there on defense and he’s done a great job all season. The only setback to him playing so much defense is that we thought he could be an all-state fullback before the season started.

“But he’s meant so much to the defense, we can’t really use him that much on offense. He’s one of those 100 percent guys who leaves it all on the field. We’ve lost a lot of kids to injuries this year, and a player like Austin comes in and get the job done – and plays some great defense at linebacker.”

Austin downplays his role in the Wildcats’ success, saying it’s been a team effort all season.

“We kind of feed off each other,” Stuller said. “The defense will make a big stop, and the offense will got get a touchdown. If the offense stalls, we’re going to make sure the defense keeps our opponent from scoring.

“Coach Wilson calls it the 1/11th job – 11 guys out there taking care of their business. I have so much faith in the guys next to me, all I have to do is concentrate on my job. With 11 guys taking care of business, and not worrying about anything else, you can have a lot of success, and we have had a lot of success this season.”