Can Jackson fill holes on defense?

Friday, September 1, 2006
Jackson's offensive returning starters include, from left: Front -- Rex Meyr and Josh Wheeler; Back -- Luke Crader, Ben Wood and Josh Conklin. (Fred Lynch)

Five reasons Indians can contend for Class 5 district championship

SEMO Conference champs

The Indians have had mixed results in nonconference and district play over the past two seasons, but when it comes to SEMO North play, Jackson has ruled supreme.

Jackson demolished its conference opponents last season, and again the Indians should be heavy favorites to win the conference crown. With its conference games bunched together in the middle of the season, a trio of wins could give the Indians a boost heading into district play.

"We want to win championships, and since the conference championship is the first one that comes around, we'd like to win that again," Jackson coach Carl Gross said. "We'd like to extend our season a week or two if we could."

Kicking game

Senior kicker Grant Ressel gives the Indians an added weapon for a team that makes the field position battle a high priority.

Extra points are nearly automatic for the Indians, as Ressel made 28 of 30 extra points last season along with two field goals. While his field goal total was not high last season, he has good range and could get more attempts this season.

"Grant Ressel's ability to kick the ball, extra points and field goals, is a definite plus for us," Gross said. "The kid is something else. He's a good kicker."

Quarterback Rex Meyr takes over at punter.

"He gets it off quick and gives us a chance to work some fakes," Gross said.

Coaching

With 17 years as the head coach, Carl Gross' presence on the sideline gives the Indians an automatic advantage most nights. Jackson has been among the most highly respected and successful teams in Southeast Missouri over the past two decades.

The Indians' veteran coaching staff brings experience and insight.

"We've been together a long time," Gross said. "Three of us have been together for well over 20 years, and the other guys have been with us for a while, plus they played for us. When they came in it was business as usual. If nothing else, it's something that makes it pleasant for us."

Meyr's second year

Rex Meyr returns for his second year as Jackson's starting quarterback.

Meyr's athleticism is an important weapon for the Indians. The senior has the ability to run as well as throw. Meyr finished last seasons with six touchdowns and 637 yards passing.

"We're hoping for good things from Rex," Gross said. "He's had some good practices. Now it's just time to see what happens when the lights come on. He's athletic.

"I don't think Rex had the type of season he'd expected he'd have last year. Some really good games, some games he wasn't really excited about. I'm hoping he wants to go out and have a good senior year. It's always nice to have your quarterback back."

Size and strength

Jackson is known for its smashmouth style, and that should be the case again this season.

The Indians have good size on the line, and their dedication in the weight room gives Jackson an edge on many opponents.

"I think size-wise we're about the same as we've been the last couple of years," Gross said. "We've got some big kids. We have a lot of those kids in there between 170 and 185 pounds that play a lot bigger because of their work in the weight room."

Tradition

Football at Jackson is an institution.

Generations of former players make their way to the football field on Fridays to cheer on the Indians. Jackson youths grow up watching Jackson football, and often dream of making their mark on the field.

"I think a lot of it is these guys can look at our ex-players, who come around a lot," Gross said. "An enormous amount come back for the ballgames. There are a lot of second-generation ballplayers. I know it helps us in the offseason with the weight program. I'd like to think it carries on to Friday nights too."

From left, front row: Grant Ressel, Dallas Proffer, Caleb Smith, Logan Lawson, Jake Scheper, Luke Clippard, Rex Meyr, Alex Austin, Josh Wheeler, Trae Smith, Danny Miller, Austin Leimer, Ben Wood, Nick Patterson; second row: Chris Hurst, Duncan Hahs, Clayton Davis, Steve Begemann, Jamie Schumacher, Cody Randen, Matt Lang, Josh Conklin, Luke Crader, Chris Kamp, Kelvin Waller, Terry Amelunke, Ross Wiginton, James Perkins; third row: Seth Koehler, Rob Maddox, Zach McElmurry, Kyle Kurtz, Jacob Bullinger, Tommy Stoops, Antonio Garritano, Brian Hill, Tyler Ptacek, Micah Nickelson, Perry Hazelwood, Josh Gwin, Daniel Johnson, Demarcus Huddlest, Drew Bucher; fourth row: Tyler Martin, Adam Collier, Ray Bucher, Ethan O'Connell, Zach Humphrey, Jake Wolpers, Blake Peiffer, Kyle Schutte, Ryan Kessinger, Nathan Shank, Blake Jones, Tyler Eggimann, Levi Petzoldt, Seth Wachter; fifth row: Adam Zweigart, Luke Brown, Kris Brown, Jeremiah Johnson, Jake Scroggins, David Ivester, Drew Coleman, Marcus Harris, Mitchell McCulley, Jake Wren, Kyle Borneman, Chris Amos, Kevin Pridemore, Bent Floyd; sixth row: Matt Brown, Choya McCafferty, Andy Zeller, Justin O'Neal, Seth Goodman, Dillon Bowen, Josh Cooley, Andrew Shrum; back row: Randy Tingwall, assistant coaches Eric Venable, Mike Gross, Josh Adams, Matt Roethemeyer, Sam Sides, head coach Carl Gross, assistant coaches Brandon Norman, Bob Sink, Van Hitt, Nathan Norman, Jerry Golden, Reagan McDowell.

And five reasons they won't contend

Graduation losses

Jackson's 2005 lineup was littered with talented seniors, nine of whom earned first-team all-conference honors.

Defensively, a linebacking corps that was one of the top units in Southeast Missouri lost three all-conference players. In all, only one full-time starter returns on defense.

"We play physical, strong defense," Gross said. "That's one of the things we're all a little concerned with: Of the kids that will play, at least 10 of them are inexperienced."

Who will carry the ball?

An offense centered around the running game will have to find a new back to carry the load this season.

Last year, Joel Penrod carried the ball 237 times for more than 1,000 yards, helping the Indians continue their tradition of punishing backs. Senior fullback Josh Wheeler is Jackson's top returning rusher with 264 yards rushing last season.

Jackson's tailback options are all relatively inexperienced at the varsity level, with just a handful of carries between them.

"We're brand new in the backfield other than Rex," Gross said. "Where we do have experience back is we bring back three offensive linemen. So we like the fact maybe our offensive line will be a good group for us."

Rough schedule

While on paper several newcomers to Jackson's schedule appear beatable, if the young Indians experience some early growing pains, it could lead to an ugly record to start the season.

Francis Howell Central, Parkway North, Clayton and district opponent Parkway West replace Rockwood Summit, Jefferson City, Roosevelt and Jackson (Miss.) Hillcrest on this year's schedule. Four of Jackson's first five games will come outside of the cozy SEMO North Conference, which could take its toll on the Indians.

"We've got Francis Howell Central, which is Class 6; Parkway North [Class 4]; Vianney, that's Class 6; and Clayton which is Class 4, but a perennial power in St. Louis," Gross said. "Then of course Eureka, Parkway West and Seckman. The only teams anyone around Southeast Missouri may be familiar with are Central, Poplar Bluff and Sikeston."

Eureka

Starting district play with a win is paramount in order to bring home a district title, and this season Jackson will face likely its toughest district opponent right off the bat in a road game at Eureka.

The Indians stuck with eventual 2005 district champion Eureka, holding its vaunted running game to less than 150 yards in last year's meeting. Eureka is expected to be strong again and could derail Jackson's district chances before they get started.

"You've got to go there sooner or later, might as well meet it head on," Gross said.

Passing game

If the Indians are going to be successful, their running game is the key. The Jackson offense revolves around it.

But an improved passing game could go a long way for Jackson.

Starting quarterack Rex Meyr completed 39 of 94 passes last year, making big plays at times. Jackson has a veteran group of receivers, but the passing game will likely be determined on a game-to-game basis.

"It's one of those things I'd like to think we'll be a little more balanced, but every coach in the U.S. would tell you if you're able to run the football, move the chains, run the clock and keep the defense off the field they'd rather run it," Gross said.

"I feel if we have to throw it, we have a quarterback who can get it to them and guys that can catch it."

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