Nothing was going to hold back Kaleb Varner from playing in Edgewood’s season opener at Northside last week.
The Wildcat receiver appeared to break his finger just a week before the game but after practicing all week, he got to the game ready to contribute and he scored three touchdowns in Edgewood’s 35-8 victory. Varner is the Elmore County Player of the Week.
“Through practice, I was getting a little frustrated with it but in the game, it didn’t feel like anything was wrong,” Varner said.
Edgewood coach Darryl Free said the injury turned out to be a torn ligament but he never expected Varner to sit out the first game. Varner said he taped it up and cut the fingers out of one glove so he would still feel comfortable playing in the game.
“We monitored it and talked to him about it,” Free said. “It was never a physical thing but it took him those first couple of practices to take some hard balls from Alex (Johnson). He just had to mentally get over it and he’s fine now.”
After the Wildcats took an early 7-0 lead, Varner put his first mark on the game by jumping in front of an errant Northside pass. He managed to keep his feet in bounds and ran 25 yards down the sideline to double Edgewood’s lead.
“I think it was big,” Free said. “His interception was really set up by our defensive line because we put them in a throwing situation. They don’t want to throw the ball much but when he scored to go up 14-0 it definitely set the tone and gave the defense confidence going forward.”
Edgewood extended its lead again when Varner made his first impact on offense. His first reception of the night came on a jump ball from Johnson to the left side of the end zone. Varner rose above everyone else to haul in the 38-yard catch for the score.
“You can tell the offense has grown together over the summer,” Varner said. “We just have to keep building on that stuff throughout the season.”
Varner added one more touchdown in the third quarter when Johnson found him cutting across the middle of the field at the 20-yard line. Varner caught the ball and turned up field to see plenty of green in front of him before scoring his third touchdown of the game.
“It was a good play call,” Varner said. “It took away the linebackers and really opened up the middle. I caught and had one blocker up the field so I didn’t see anyone else from there.”
Varner finished with 87 yards on just three touches while adding 1.5 tackles and two interceptions. He scored on four different plays but one touchdown got called back because of a penalty.
“I feel like I really helped set the tone for me and my team to have success this season,” Varner said.
Edgewood will need Varner to continue to have big performances throughout the season if it wants to achieve its goals this year. Free said the Wildcats rely on Varner plenty but there is still room for improvement for everyone.
“Kaleb just has to be him,” Free said. “He’s going to have his opportunities to shine so he just has to make sure when those opportunities come, he’s ready to capitalize. We’re going to lean on him but we just need Kaleb to be Kaleb.”