Fayette duo signs with Eagles

Fayette seniors Jason Esau and Collin O’Connell signed a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday to play football at Central Methodist University. Pictured above at the signing, held in the high school gym, are: (front row) Peggy O’Connell (Collin’s mother), Collin O’Connell, Jason Esau, Mary Ann Hudson (Jason’s mother); (back row) Central Methodist football head coach Jody Ford, Maggie O’Connell (Collin’s sister), Cameron O’Connell (Collin’s brother), Brian McMillan (Collin’s father), Fayette fo

By Greg Jackson
Sports Editor

Football coaches tend to be busy on the recruiting trail during the offseason, and Central Methodist head coach Jody Ford is no exception to that.

On Wednesday, he added a few more signees to his incoming recruiting class. The best part for Ford, who is getting ready to enter his third year as the Eagles’ head coach, is that he didn’t need to leave town to lock in his newest players.

Fayette seniors Jason Esau and Collin O’Connell signed their Letters of Intent with the Eagles, becoming the first Fayette football players to sign with Central Methodist since 2011.

“To get two guys who are like that, who fit our mold and our team so well, I can’t ask for anything better,” Ford said. “They embody everything our football team is about. They’re great kids and we’re lucky to have them.”

The two have been playing football together since the fifth grade, and with their signing, they are looking at four more years together on the gridiron.

“It’s been really good to grow up with him and finally getting to go play college ball,” Esau said of O’Connell.

“I haven’t played a single game without him, so I wouldn’t even know what it’s like (to play without him),” O’Connell said of Esau.

Esau and O’Connell are both coming off All-Conference seasons with Fayette and were the Falcons’ only two selections on the first team. Esau was a first-team running back and O’Connell was a first-team linebacker in 2013.

Over the course of their careers, Esau was a two-time All-Conference and All-District football player, but O’Connell made both teams for three seasons. During his sophomore year, he received his postseason honors as a punter.

The two players excelled on both sides of the ball for the Falcons. On offense, Esau was Fayette’s No. 1 running back and O’Connell started the 2013 season as the starting quarterback. Both were linebackers on defense and earned All-District honors at that position last season.

O’Connell saw a change of position midway through his senior season, just as he had the year before. With an offensive line in need of bodies, O’Connell gave way to Fayette’s backup quarterback, Ethan Harper, to take a spot on the offensive line. Still, by season’s end, he was the team’s second-leading rusher.

“He’s not a selfish individual,” Fayette football head coach Tom Oakley said. “He’s going to do whatever is best for the team.”

Esau was Fayette’s top running option during his junior and senior seasons. As a junior, he totalled 535 yards and scored five rushing touchdowns. In his senior season, those numbers increased to 615 yards on the ground and six touchdowns.

“He can play either side of the ball,” Oakley said. “He played linebacker for us, but at the college level, he’d probably fit in as a strong safety. Running track this season, he’s shown he has a lot of speed for a kid his size.”

O’Connell led Fayette with 139 tackles in 2013, which included a 21-tackle performance in a win at North Shelby. In his time at quarterback, he also passed for 210 yards and rushed for another 278 yards.

If statistics and honors weren’t enough, Ford had some help getting additional information on his two recruits.

“My nephew plays on Cole Camp and I was able to talk to him to get a scoop on these boys,” Ford said. “Even their opponents had great things to say about them.”

The signing had some sentimental value for O’Connell. May 24 will be the 40th anniversary of when his father, Brian McMillan, signed to play football with Central Methodist.

“My dad played there and my mom works there,” O’Connell said. “It’s just like another home.”

Ford invited both players to get to know some of the current Central Methodist players during the summer and to stop by the weight room. While O’Connell will put his pads and helmet back on this fall, it’ll be a bit longer before Esau joins him.

In August, Esau will begin his basic training with the U.S. Marine Corps. He plans to start at Central Methodist for the 2015 spring semester and join the football team for spring practice.

“It’s good that Coach Ford is willing to do that,” Esau said. “I’ll be able to put on some more weight when I get back in weight room with them.”

Ford said he will likely use O’Connell as a linebacker for the Eagles, but a permanent position for Esau is still up for debate. He did know one thing is for certain, however.

“They’re just going to get bigger, stronger and faster,” Ford said. “We always just want to accumulate athletes, and that’s what these two young men are.”

The signing dates changed a few times during the spring before finally settling on Wednesday. Once the big day arrived, the two Fayette seniors said they shared a similar feeling.

“It’s a big relief,” Esau said. “It’s great and it feels good.”

The signing also marks the first time since becoming head coach that Oakley has had a player advance his football career past high school. He said they are the type of kids that will portray the program in a positive manner.

“They’re a good representation of Fayette High School,” Oakley said. “I know they’re going to represent Central Methodist as upstanding citizens and hard-working kids. They’ll contribute any way they can.”

Fayette finished 2013 with a 2-8 record for the second-straight season. After having a rough season, Oakley said Wednesday was a great day for Fayette football.

“It shows the underclassmen that if you put your mind to work, there’s something at the end of the road,” Oakley said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from a big school or a little school. They’re looking for kids with a strong work ethic who can help their program.”

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