CHARLOTTESVILLE — First, Eastern Hancock quarterback Jarett Lewis hands him the ball for a dive between the tackles or a pitch to the outside. Next, Lewis is tossing a ball over his shoulder for a touchdown. After that? The jack-of-all-trades adds the finishing touch with an extra-point attempt. Then comes his ensuing kickoff.
Kick, run, catch, and even tackle — whatever the team needs — A.J. Muegge has done it all for the Class 2A No. 12 Royals. In a much different role in his junior campaign, Muegge has been a reliable go-to threat in addition to senior running back Devin Denny, who missed the team’s second game of the season.
Royals’ head coach Jim O’Hara even joked that Muegge drives the bus to away games.
The three-sport athlete, who also starts on the baseball and basketball teams, has surpassed his numbers from his sophomore season in just four games this year. In fact, it really only took one.
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He plays offense, defense and special teams for the Royals and has 598 total yards of offense — 241 rushing, 287 receiving and 70 on kick returns.
Muegge has 21 receptions and has scored 64 points with eight touchdowns and 16 extra points. He also has two tackles at cornerback.
Playing on a senior-laden squad in 2015, Muegge had just 20 rushing yards and 32 receiving yards. However, he did have 22 points as a kicker — his primary role.
“Devin Denny has not been 100 percent since Week 1 with a shoulder injury, and A.J. has taken mature steps forward to being the next guy up,” O’Hara said. “We are proud of him, but we also know he has a lot more to give.”
Neither Muegge, Denny nor the Eastern Hancock offense gained much traction in an opening week loss at home to Greenfield-Central. It was a Week 2 down-to-the-wire loss at South Decatur where Muegge really shined.
In a 30-26 loss, Muegge rushed for a score, converted an onside kick, hauled in a touchdown pass and then converted two more onside kicks in a pivotal fourth-quarter rally — all in that order. He finished with 110 rushing yards and 42 receiving yards.
O’Hara said Muegge is this year’s version of Matt Bowman, last season’s do-it-all senior for the Royals. In reality, he’s been better. Bowman had 213 rushing yards and 214 receiving yards through four games last season. Muegge is slightly ahead of those numbers and improving each week.
For example, after the Week 2 loss, Muegge gained 148 yards through the air and scored twice, once rushing and once receiving, in a 38-28 win over state-ranked Northeastern.
Last week, he broke down Broad Ripple’s defense and ended the night early on the bench after scoring four rushing touchdowns.
“A.J. has definitely stepped up huge so far this year,” Lewis said, who has thrown six touchdown passes this season. “You don’t get very many guys who can do all that for a team. He’s an X-factor, no doubt about it, and he plays extremely hard and strong. I can count on him and Denny both to make plays when they get the ball.”
Muegge said he made sure to put in extra reps outside of practice this summer to prepare for a larger role. Spending time with O’Hara, who has prior head coaching experience at perennial powerhouse Cathedral, and past seniors like Bowman have made a significant impact on his success.
“Coach (O’Hara) is more than just a football coach,” Muegge said. “He challenges us in every aspect of our lives. He always pushes us. His goal is to make us better people. Knowing my contribution would increase motivated me to keep my routine up.
“Matt was a really talented player and one of the greats I’ve had the privilege of playing alongside.”
Muegge and the Royals, who have earned back-to-back wins since two early losses, travel to Knightstown (1-3) tonight for their annual rivalry game. Last season, the Royals beat the Panthers 53-28.
This season, Knightstown has losses to Northeastern, Hagerstown and North Decatur. It’s lone win was against South Decatur.
Junior Richard Nelson receives the bulk of the carries on offense for the Panthers and has gained 576 yards and scored four touchdowns this year.
Yet, no matter where Muegge lines up tonight, getting the win, especially against Knightstown, is imperative. He knows what this team is capable of.
“My goal every game is to give it my best and people can say whatever they want after that,” Muegge said. “Winning is still (top) priority.”
A.J. Muegge, Eastern Hancock Junior
6.7 yards per carry
13.7 yards per catch
31.6 yards per kick off
13 of 18 on point after attempts