Pictured: Orion Inkel has seven brothers and sisters, so he might have to share some Neil’s with them. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Paul Augeri

HIGGANUM — The Orion constellation represents the hunter of Greek mythology. It is depicted in star maps as either facing the charge of Taurus or chasing after the hare (the constellation Lepus) with his hunting dogs. The stars of Orion are visible throughout the world – and you don’t need a telescope to see them.

When Orion Inkel’s parents, stargazers on camping trips, discussed naming the sixth of their eight children, they batted around the names Orion and Hunter. They loved both and settled on Orion, who is now a junior at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

From mythology, we know that Orion can either charge or give chase. Which is exactly what Orion Inkel can do – and do well – on a football field, as either a possessor of the ball or a force in the middle of the Cougars’ linebacker front.

Through two games of the new season, Inkel is more “hunted” than “hunter.” And he’s the “Neil’s Donuts Top Performer” for the week.

As a follow-up to a fabulous performance in H-K’s season-opening win over Old Saybrook/Westbrook – 105 rushing yards a touchdown; two receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown; an 81-yard kickoff return for a score; plus 20 tackles — Inkel gained 183 yards on 18 carries and scored two TDs against Morgan.

The larger takeaway is that Pequot Conference opponents, when they study H-K, surely have to game-plan for Inkel’s remarkable versatility and big-play capability on a young Cougars team.

This is Inkel’s first season playing offense. He started several games at outside linebacker as a freshman. Without a sophomore season, he used his time getting stronger and faster while learning what it takes to be an effective two-way player.

“We knew he was a special kid coming up from the youth program,” H-K coach Tyler Wilcox said, “and with him playing defense as a freshman, we were really looking forward to that sophomore campaign. Unfortunately with COVID, that didn’t happen. But the hard work that whole year and a half – he put the team on his back and was a leader of the guys in the weight room. Now we’re getting to see all of that hard work pay off. I’ve lost count of how many tackles he’s broken in the first two games.”

And what a way for Inkel to get started. He took the opening kickoff and ran it back 81 yards to set the tone in the Cougars’ 27-22 win over Old Saybrook/Westbrook. It is his favorite individual moment so far.

“It was just a great feeling,” he said. “Obviously my blockers did really, really well. I just saw the hole and reached for glory.”

With Inkel bearing the brunt of the carries, the challenge for Wilcox as play-caller is maintaining balance between the run and the pass.

“We’re trying to stay balanced to give him a break here and there,” the coach said. “He knows he’s the workhorse back, but he knows we have to have a passing game to open up the running game.”

Inkel appreciates the work that H-K’s offensive line, particularly the freshmen on it, has put in since August preseason.

“They’re still getting to know the game, so obviously they make a few mistakes, but the line has helped me out a lot,” Inkel said.

Wilcox mentions two freshmen in particular who have played well – Chris Frasco and first-time player Trevor Dixon – and credited assistants Barth Keck and George Callender with molding a “patchwork” group into a unit that has produced positive results.

And with many inexperienced players learning at the same time about what it takes to play varsity football, Wilcox said they are holding each other accountable for their mistakes.

“We’ve preached accountability all offseason and into the preseason to where we are now,” he said. “We knew the line may have been our weakest point coming in so it was good that everyone was starting off on the same foot and stepping in to fill holes.”

Inkel has a lot of high school football left, but he wants to play in college. He also is a jumper – triple and long – and runs the 100 and 200 meters during the indoor and outdoor track seasons. He finished fourth in Class M last spring in the triple jump and celebrated with the rest of the Cougars when they won the team championship.

Inkel’s siblings — five brothers and two sisters – range in ages from 13 to 27. Smiling the whole time, he said the house can be a battleground on some days. They have sport-minded parents: His father was a football player in his younger days and his mom is a lifetime runner.

“My whole life, I have only lived with five of my brothers and sisters,” he said. “It’s pretty much a fight every day, which is why football is such a great sport. It can be hard. There is never a boring time in my house. We are all close. We all love to do sports and we’re active and outgoing, so it’s fun.”

Top Performers: Best of the Rest

Kaleigh Bodak, H-K volleyball: Had 12 service points, 4 kills and 14 assists in a 3-0 win over Coginchaug.

Marshall Butler and Dario Rigano, Middletown soccer: Each scored twice in the Blue Dragons’ wins over Rocky Hill and Windsor.

Jack DeToro, Portland soccer: Still on his way back from leg surgery, the senior scored the winning goal in a 2-1 decision over H-K.

Kate Donlan, Mercy soccer: Scored a goal in a win over Wilbur Cross and the only goal in a 1-0 win over West Haven.

Drew Kron, Xavier football: Threw for 208 yards and 2 TDs in Falcons’ blowout win over Wilbur Cross.

Drew Nye, Morgan football: Completed 22 of 34 passes for 287 yards and 5 touchdowns in Huskies’ 36-22 win over H-K.

Brady Stevenson, Xavier soccer: Has scored 4 goals in the Falcons’ first 3 matches, all wins.

Ally Woodward, Coginchaug soccer: Recorded a hat trick in the Blue Devils’ win over Capital Prep.DJ Wright, Xavier football: Scored 3 touchdowns in the Falcons’ rout against Wilbur Cross. He has 6 TDs in Xavier’s 2-0 start.

DJ Wright, Xavier football: Has rushed for 6 touchdowns in the Falcons’ 2-0 start.

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