Jackson Heights running back Adam Brey (shown above, middle) shoots through a hole created by his lineman and fellow backs as the team runs through some plays at summer camp. JHHS coach Caleb Wick said the leadership of Brey and his fellow seniors will go a long way towards building this team up heading into the fall.

Toughness a focus for small Cobra football squad this summer


If Jackson Heights’ summer football camp is any indication, then the high school team could be a small group this fall.

While the Cobras might not crack 30 players on the roster this season, according to coach Caleb Wick, what they lack in numbers they can make up for in toughness and that is something the coach has been stressing this summer.

“I thought a weakness of ours last year was our mental toughness. It seemed like when something went bad, it was just a snowball effect from there,” Wick said.

Camp is a time for teams to retrace their steps, look at what worked and what didn’t the previous season and try to turn weaknesses into strengths. That’s one reason Wick has been stressing toughness with his players this summer and it’s part of the reason he tried to simplify his approach.

The coach admitted he tried to do a little too much with the team last summer in terms of implementing new schemes, so he decided to go in the opposite direction this summer and felt it paid off for the Cobras.

“I think I made the mistake last year of trying to do a little bit too much. I was always told ‘why do a lot of things mediocre if you can do one thing really well,’ so that’s the philosophy we’re taking,” Wick said. “It was night and day better.”

“A person’s always a lot faster when they’re reacting to the play and not thinking during the play and I think last year you caught us thinking a lot and trying to react at the same time,” Wick said.

Injuries, vacations and summer jobs can provide some hurdles to participation in the summer months, but more than that Wick said he is still trying to foster a mindset where attendance for his players is second nature.

For that to happen, the coach knows the input of the seniors will be key and this year the Cobras will have a large and experienced group leading the charge.

Some of those players, like Wyatt Roles and Adam Brey, have been banged up with injuries in the past, but they’ve also had their fair share of success. If Jackson Heights is to be successful this year, Wick said the input of those players (along with Zane Richter, Auston Sauvage and others) will be crucial and the good thing is they realize that and seemed to take some steps forward as leaders during the team camp.

As far as the camp is concerned, Wick said the team got progressively better, but what he will be looking for in the fall is the hunger and the drive that may have gotten lost in the shuffle last season.

“These kids, their freshman and sophomore years, had success. I think that success got to their heads and they thought, ‘hey, this is going to come easy’ and I don’t think they worked as hard as they could to get to that next level to be able to be successful year in and year out,” Wick said.

Getting back there, Wick said the focus has been on a broad spectrum from working fundamentals to looking for leadership to conditioning (especially with a lack of players and depth) and building some team camaraderie.

In addition, camp is a time for players to start to get a feel for where they fit in and figure out what kind of role they can fill on the team.

“Camp’s used for maybe some of the tweeners who can play this position, they can play that position, and are trying to find their niche on the team,” Wick said.

It also allows some more inexperienced varsity players to get crucial reps in, as Wick noted the only experienced returning running back is Brey.

Summer camp can be an organic process for teams because while it can be somewhat standardized in certain cases, each coach knows the strengths and weaknesses he wants to work on in the summer.

Both mental and physical toughness (Wick said the Cobras were soft at the point of attack last season) were areas of concern for the Cobras. Through camp and work in the weight room, Wick said his team made some strides in the offseason.

What more they do is left up to the players. Outside of the weight room, coaches are no longer allowed to interact with their full teams until the first day of fall practice on Monday, Aug. 17.

Wick said while some chances to take part in padded camps fell through for JHHS, he encourages his players to take part in any additional camp opportunities they feel like. One thing he hopes they feel like doing is getting together for some player-run practices through the rest of the summer.

That once again comes down to senior leadership and Wick said it will go a long way towards determining what the Cobras are capable of achieving this fall.

“We’ve given them the avenue to be successful, now it’s up to them to do it,” Wick said. “Last year didn’t turn out the best for us, but coming down to the last game we still had a chance to go to the playoffs. These kids have tasted the playoffs before and I’m sure they want to do it again. Now, it’s just up to them to put forth the work, have great intensity and we’ll see what happens here come fall.”

Jackson Heights will open competition in 2015 with a home game against Horton at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 4.

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