Jackson Heights football ahead of schedule for 2014 season

By Kelly Breckunitch

Football at this time of year always comes in small bursts, whether it’s the upcoming Hall of Fame exhibition game in the NFL or the team camps high schools are currently going through to prepare for the fall season.

That exposure to a football atmosphere and contact is extremely important in the eyes of Jackson Heights coach Caleb Wick, though, as he sees it as a wake up call for his team.

“Football season’s here. It’s time to get focused up again,” Wick said. “They’ve been pretty focused during the course of the summer going to weights and practice everyday. Camp’s just like tuning up. It’s almost like a preseason, getting everybody acclimated to the grind again.”

It’s not like the Cobras needed a refresher, as the team has been stewing over one of the most successful seasons in recent history that somehow ended without a playoff berth. Wick said that has been on the mind of the players and coaches, making both more than ready to get back in the swing of things.

In fact, the JHHS players may not have ever gotten out of the football mindset, so the wake-up call Wick alluded to might just be a siren warning all other opponents to get out of the Cobras’ way this season. So far, Wick noted the coaching staff has liked what they have seen.

“We feel like this team will listen, is more coachable, has more speed and we’re just excited for this year to begin. This team is ahead of the two previous teams we’ve had at this point in time,” Wick said. “I think we’re ahead of the curve when it comes to us and where we have been the last two years.”

While Jackson Heights might have been missing some players for a variety of reasons, Wick noted the Cobras had the standard of roughly 25 players at the team camp last week, with the expectation of more than 30 players to come out for the team once the fall season starts.

Jackson Heights and coach Wick didn’t reinvent the wheel at the team camp last week, but he did say the Cobras have been tinkering with a two-quarterback system featuring Korby Strube and Zane Richter that could shake things up on offense this fall.

“It may give us the flexibility to do different things on the offensive side of the football because both of them have different skill sets,” Wick said.

Overall, Xs and Os aren’t the biggest focus of the team camp, according to Wick. While the general preparedness of the team allowed the Cobras to do some more advanced things this summer and focus less on fundamentals, he did note those fundamentals and getting players in the right positions are still an important part of the experience.

The biggest benefit to Wick, though, is getting on the field and having 11 guys fly towards the football. If the players come out and do that, he said he has confidence the coaches can make in-game adjustments later in the year. Effort is the key in camp.

Rekindling the camaraderie and the familial bond is another benefit of the team camp, with the players spread out around the county through the summer, and something Wick tries to foster more of in the summer months.

Wick noted he is not a fan of the coach contact cutoff date in the summer and encourages his players to have senior-run practices one to two times per week in the summer. It is especially beneficial after team camp Wick said, because it doesn’t allow for a lull between the camp and the regular season and it gives the team a chance to keep working on some new schemes that may have been inserted during camp.

After wrapping up camp last week, the Cobras headed over to Concordia where they participated in a padded scrimmage. Wick noted the team took it easier on the final day of camp, but it paid off in the scrimmage against larger teams from Larned and Concordia.

“I think we got a lot out of it. We competed well. We weren’t scared,” Wick said. “We didn’t back down and the 4A coaches had nothing but good things to say about us,” Wick said.

Both 2013 4A playoff teams had 30 of potentially 60 kids competing in the scrimmage, while 16 of the potentially 30 Jackson Heights players made the trip out west.

That was a good sign for the upcoming season, according to Wick, as well as the progress that has been made. The seniors have stepped into leadership roles and the younger players are seeing their hard work pay off this summer.

Being a step ahead of the game and highly motivated are just parts of the equation. Wick and his players know there’s going to be more work to do towards any success the Cobras have this season, but he noted they are all ready to start chasing after that success.

“We’re all anxious. We’re all excited for the year to begin,” Wick said. “We know it’s not going to be easy. We know in the Northeast Kansas League you’re going to have to come each and every week and play your hardest game. This year, I think the league race is wide open.”

Jackson Heights could be pushed right away as Wick said he expects to face a tough test in the opening game of the season at Horton on Friday, Sept. 5. Practices will officially start for JHHS football on Aug. 18.