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      It's never easy

      Paul Kopsky/
      The Blair Oaks Falcons advanced to the state football semifinals in 2011. Last year, they were in the state title game. There's just one more step to climb on this championship ladder. One. The big one.But this final step --- which is never easy to begin with--- has grown to the size of a mountain.Projected two-way starter sophomore Levi Dial is out for the season with a torn ACL. Senior Kyle Luebbering is also out with a knee injury. Junior Dalton Fifer, a two-way starter, is out until September with a stress fracture. Another senior is out indefinitely because of disciplinary reasons."It's part of it," Falcons coach Brad Drehle said. "Better now than at the end."That, however, would be the "good" news of the bad news. There's football, then there's life.Senior split end/defensive back Joey Bernskoetter has been battling a severe case of viral meningitis. He spent three weeks in the Intensive Care Unit this summer --- three days spent in Jefferson City, before he was life-flighted to St. Louis Children's Hospital.He's out for the season."It's been rough for him, no doubt," Drehle said. "He's getting a little bit stronger every day. But he's lost 40 pounds and as a high school kid, you don't have 40 pounds to lose."But he's in good spirits --- and our community and our kids are great. Everybody picks each other up, that's what makes this such a great community."They've rallied around him and his family, just like they did the Jones' family."Which brings us to Jim Jones, who's officially the superintendent of the school district. In reality, he is the leader of Gang Green. Always there, always with a smile and a warm handshake.But in late May, Jones was in a horrific car accident just west of Jefferson City. He was life-flighted to University Hospital in Columbia. After several surgeries, he's still in recovery mode --- although he's back to work on a limited basis, walking with a cane. But still far from 100 percent.Drehle saw him recently."He looked like a POW," Drehle said. "He had his arm in a sling, he's pale-white and skinny. But he's going to make it, he's going to be okay."But enough, already."I don't know if all of this is a rallying cry," Drehle said, "but these are things that obviously draw you together as a group. It makes you stronger in the long run, I think."Back to football --- there are just seven seniors still ready to play."Our seniors have really stepped up into a leadership role," Drehle said. "There are two things they need to bring to the table --- they have to allow for the young kids to have success, and the second thing is mental toughness."If they do those things, we have a chance to be a good football team."One of those seniors is wide receiver/defensive back Haydn Lock."It's a learning process, but it's all going pretty good," he said. "What's happened doesn't stop us, we're still going after it in practice. People are just stepping up, they're taking the Ram by the horns."It's a chance for someone else to do something better."Said Drehle: "It will definitely be tough. But the good part about it is, it will give some younger kids a chance, and we've got some good young kids who we feel can contribute. They just have to contribute faster."The biggest thing is that you run out of players at the freshman and sophomore levels, you've only got so many. When you start shuffling bodies around and filling holes, then you have holes at the younger levels."Time will tell."This is a proud program, a program that has stamped its mark on the state. It's a program that fell one win short of a state championship just nine months ago."Anytime you do something like we did last year, it's a journey, it's an experience," Drehle said. "You have to come together as a group, as a team, in a pretty special way. It's just a feeling of camaraderie and family and love for each other, and you don't want to let each other down. You have a strong desire to succeed, not just for yourself, but for one another."Once you get to that point, you hate to see it end."Despite this season's odds, the Falcons are keeping the faith."No one has any faith in us at all, that's the sweetest part about it," Lock said. "That makes us go out and work even harder and prove all of them wrong. We're going to have confidence in our team and if nobody else does, that's alright."We'll get it done."