Wolfpack enters season with high expectations | Football
Last updated 9/5/2017 at Noon
After enduring a tough stretch of four straight losing seasons, the Jackson football team broke through with a winning record in 2016.
The Timberwolves overcame some significant obstacles to accomplish this. The Wolfpack lost a starting running back and its entire secondary to injuries and also cycled through three different quarterbacks by the end of the season.
Jackson finished 6-4 overall and was 3-4 in the Wesco 4A, just missing out on the league’s No. 4 playoff berth. Arch rival Glacier Peak grabbed the final playoff spot with a 4-3 record.
“We were super excited to have a winning season, but we felt a little disappointed,” said senior running back/linebacker Clint Wagner. “We had a few games there where we felt we could have won. We fell short a little bit.”
Late touchdowns in the fourth quarter led to close losses to the Grizzlies and Mariner.
Jackson coach Joel Vincent said the program is reaping the benefits of a successful season with increased overall numbers and enthusiasm among the returning players.
“6-4 is not what we necessarily set out to do last year, but it was the first winning season in four years,” Vincent said. “I believe in the idea that success builds success. The winning record really helped us in terms of offseason attendance. There’s an excitement around here that hasn’t been here for a while.”
Senior running back/linebacker Jonathan Navarro likes the hard work he saw from his teammates in the summer. The Timberwolves are united as they head into a new season.
“Everyone has a goal on this team. We want to go to the playoffs this year and having a winning season,” he said. “Every day our goal is to get better. That’s what I’ve noticed.”
A healthy Ben Olesen, Jackson’s starting quarterback, should be a big boost for an offense that has multiple talented skill players, including senior wide receiver Daniel Arias, a University of Colorado recruit.
As a sophomore, Olesen was named the starter last year but he suffered a torn ACL in the third game and spent the rest of the season on the sidelines.
“He worked diligently and very hard in the offseason with his physical therapy,” Vincent said. “His knee responded really well. You watch him around here and you can tell he’s ready to play.”
Vincent noted that it isn’t often that a sophomore is able to land a starting quarterback position. But Vincent and his coaching staff saw the qualities of a strong signal-caller early on in Olesen.
“The thing that impressed me the most is he’s got good arm strength. He has a knack of putting the ball on people,” Vincent said. “He’s got great feet. He has the ability to extend plays and keep his vision downfield and find his receivers downfield. When he’s on the run, he throws incredibly accurately.”
Wagner noticed Olesen’s leadership skills.
“He can control the huddle,” Wagner said. “He just knows his players and knows where they’re going to be.”
Led by Arias, Jackson’s wide receiving corps and backfield might be among the league’s most talented.
Arias received 20 offers from Division 1 programs across the country before verbally committing to Colorado this summer.
“We expect a lot out of him and the other receivers and running backs,” Wagner said. “We expect to go out there and be a powerful offense. We expect the defense to play lights out.”
Wagner and Navarro should be a strong 1-2 punch in the backfield and senior Jake Litchfield also returns at wide receiver.
“I really like where we’re at with our skill people,” Vincent said.
The same could be said of an offensive line anchored by senior linemen Louis Stout and Jared Pavek, along with senior Tyler Thomas.
Jackson’s defense struggled late in the season, giving up 54 and 42 points to Monroe and Mariner in the final two league contests. Injuries factored into the losses, as Jackson was forced to play some of its younger players. The Wolfpack also allowed Lake Stevens and Glacier Peak to score 49 and 37 points early in the season.
“Obviously, I’d like to see us play better defense. I think part of what you saw last year is we were fairly green and inexperienced,” Vincent said. “I would have liked to see more improvement as the year went on.”
The Timberwolves are going to have to play better defense if they want to be a legitimate playoff contender, Vincent added.
Vincent is looking to linebackers Wagner and Navarro to be the catalysts for a defensive resurgence this season.
“They are the leaders,” Vincent said.
Wagner and Navarro both are seeing better play from the defense, especially in the secondary and with linebacking corps, which both saw plenty of action in 2016.
“With all the experience, we know what it’s like to play on Friday nights,” Navarro said. “We know what to expect.”
The defense wants to increase its takeaways and avoid giving up the big plays, Wagner said.
“We’re definitely going to be working on more takeaways and turnovers. We didn’t have as many of those as we expected to last year,” Wagner said. “We let a lot of big plays happen. So we’re going to try to make those minimal.
“Playing good defense is going to be key. Defense wins games.”