Optimism is high for a Cobra football comeback this fall
Redemption may be a key theme for the Jackson Heights High School football team this season, considering how the 2014 campaign played out.
After leading the Cobras to a playoff appearance and a league title in his first two seasons, JHHS coach Caleb Wick saw his team decimated by injuries last fall. That hindered the team on the way to a 3-6 finish, though the Cobras were just one win away from making the playoffs.
While the injury situation creates a lot of question marks entering the current season, Wick noted he is excited about what this team could achieve. The resilience his players have shown, especially a senior class that took the brunt of the injuries in 2014, only adds to that.
“I’m very optimistic. I think these seniors are hungry. They’ve been practicing with a lot of emotion, a lot of enthusiasm and I think they’re ready to go as well,” Wick said.
After a long first day of practice, which included equipment checkout, Wick noted he got texts from some of his players that same evening saying they felt, like their coach, that it was one of the best practices they’d ever had as a team. That response illustrated the commitment the players have, which could serve the team well.
More evidence of that, Wick noted, is the fact that senior players are willing to switch positions in their final campaign in order to give the team the best shot of success.
After starting at quarterback a year ago, Zane Richter is making the transition to tight end this fall, with junior Wyatt Olberding looking to step in behind center. Olberding also led the team in tackles (46) and interceptions (2) on defense a season ago.
Fellow senior Adam Brey will go from fullback to running back to make the most of his skills. Ditto with Wyatt Roles, who will move down the line to guard after starting at tackle last year.
With Brey and Roles in particular, two players with nagging injury issues through their high school careers, Wick is hoping the position switches will bring out their full potential and give them the chance to make the impact he knows they are capable of this season.
“I think they’re anxious to prove what they can do, what they can be. Last year, they were going to be the dudes. They were going to be those guys who everybody looked up to and that sort of got taken away from them, so I think they took that a little personally and they’ve been nothing but great leaders through this preseason so far,” Wick said.
They are just two pieces of the puzzle, though, and Wick noted all of the upperclassmen have put in the work to try and help this team, with some players (i.e. Auston Sauvage) looking the best they have in their four years with the Jackson Heights team.
It’s great to have that experience among the junior and senior classes, Wick said, but it will take a team effort to achieve any success on the field. That means some sophomores and freshmen will likely see playing time again this fall, especially with JHHS being a smaller, 2A school.
While that may cause rifts among larger teams, Wick said his players have all taken it in stride with the young Cobras earning their stripes and the veterans finding out what those players are capable of and how they can help the team. That is an important step, as the coach noted the cohesiveness of the team will be critical to its success this fall.
“It’s like a well-oiled machine. If one part’s out of whack, it doesn’t go right and that’s sort of how I feel the team is right now,” Wick said.
The unselfishness Wick sees in his players is a good sign, as he noted the players are quick to give credit to each other for what the individuals accomplish. It’s something that Wick said may stem from the success of the basketball team last winter.
Right now, the Cobras are doing all the right things and Wick is trying to simplify things this season so the main keys to success can be as simple as executing and tackling, but he noted he can’t help but be worried about the health of his players given how that affected the team last season.
“In the back of your mind, as a coach, you always think, ‘okay, can our guys hold up,’ especially the guys who have had some injuries in the past,” Wick said.
Simply returning to full health could do wonders for the Cobras this fall, especially with the core of veteran leadership that has taken charge of the team. With what he has seen so far in practice, Wick said he expects this team to be more grounded and just go about it’s business this season.
Given a wide-open league outlook and a district schedule that sees Heights host the two teams it lost to a season ago, the JHHS football team could have a high ceiling in 2015 despite any weaknesses or inefficiencies.
“We’re not very big. We’re not very fast. We’re probably not the strongest team in the state of Kansas, but heart and determination can carry you a long ways and with this senior leadership it’s definitely headed in the right direction,” Wick said.
Jackson Heights will get the season started with a home game against Horton on Friday, Sept. 4 at 7 p.m.
Returning starters/letter winners:
Zane Richter, sr., 6’ 3”, TE
Mason Hamilton, jr., 6’, RB
Wyatt Olberding, jr., 6’ 2”, QB, All-League in 2014
Mason Thomas, jr., 5’ 9”, FB
Adam Brey, sr., 6’, RB
Auston Sauvage, sr., 5’ 8”, OL
Wyatt Roles, sr., 6’ 2”, OL
Jason Parker, so., 6’ , TE
Kaleb Sullivan, sr., 5’ 8”, OL