PREVIEW: Jackson football team eager for fresh start with new coach

Thursday, August 23, 2012
Jackson quarterbacks Dante Vandeven, left, and Ty Selsor warm up before Friday’s jamboree in Hillsboro, Mo. (ADAM VOGLER)

The tradition-rich Jackson football program has fallen on hard times the past three years.

A new coach is determined to restore the once-proud Indians' luster.

Brent Eckley isn't promising the world right away, but he does believe the Indians are trending in the right direction.

"We've got great kids, and they're working hard," he said. "They've really bought in what we're trying to do. And I can't say enough about the work our coaches have done. I'm not predicting a state championship, but we have made a lot of gains. I see a lot of heart.

"Our kids believe they have a chance to win. That's part of the battle."

Jackson receiver Brannon Wright picks up yardage after catching a pass during the jamboree.

Eckley was hired in late December to replace Van Hitt, who resigned under pressure after Jackson won just six games over the last three seasons.

Eckley, who built an impressive resume at Union High School, takes over a program that has hit rock bottom after making back-to-back Class 5 state semifinal appearances in 2007 and 2008. Jackson also made two Class 4 state championship game appearances in the 1990s.

It's Jackson's tradition, and not its recent past, that attracted Eckley to the job.

"To me, it's just really cool that this is a school that's been playing football since 1895," he said. "The previous schools I've been at started football in the 1960s. I met somebody recently [and] I have a chance to coach this man's son, and he'll be a fourth-generation Jackson football player."

Eckley has the credentials to get Jackson, which went 2-8 last season following records of 3-7 in 2010 and 1-9 in 2009, back on track.

Eckley led Union to a 62-18 record over seven seasons. The Wildcats had three unbeaten regular seasons during Eckley's tenure, including last year, and qualified for the Class 4 playoffs the last six seasons. They were 22-3 over the past two years.

"We're hoping to get that tradition back," the 42-year-old Eckley said. "It seems everything is in place. There is such great support from the community, the administration. It's different than other places. It's special."

Jackson players say they are impressed with what Eckley already has done, and they believe the Indians, who had just a handful of senior starters last season, will begin turning around things this year.

"We've had great practices," senior wide receiver/defensive back Brannon Wright said. "I think it'll be a really good year. We have the players to do it, the heart to do it."

Said senior lineman Stephen Dunn: "We're definitely getting it back this year."

Wright and Dunn especially like the up-tempo, high-octane offense Eckley has installed.

"A quick pace. A lot quicker," Dunn said. "We'll tire out the defense."

Jackson averaged just 12.8 points a game in 2011. Eckley's 2011 Union team averaged 48.7 points, and the school was an offensive juggernaut during his tenure. His no-huddle, shotgun spread offenses topped 500 points in five of his seven seasons, including a high of 584 points in 2011. The 2011 Wildcats scored more than 60 points in five of their 12 games.

Union's balanced offensive attack accumulated more than 5,700 yards on offense in 2011. The Wildcats passed 238 times for 2,678 yards and rushed 434 times for a school-record 3,033 yards.

"I really like the offense," Wright said. "The way he [Eckley] reads the defense, he knows what plays to call."

Eckley, who compiled a 39-14 record during five seasons at Montgomery County before taking over at Union in 2005, said the Indians have picked up the new offense reasonably well.

"It's a lot of work," said Eckley, an Iowa native who played collegiate football at William Penn in his home state. "The big thing is to get them enough reps in practice."

Junior Ty Selsor, Jackson's quarterback for the second half of last season after being moved from running back, and sophomore Dante Vandeven, last year's quarterback for Jackson's freshmen team, are sharing time running the offense.

"They're picking things up," Eckley said. "We're throwing a lot of stuff at them. They're doing a nice job. I think both of them can help us win."

Senior Lowgn Wren, who played QB the first half of last season then moved to running back, now is at wide receiver.

Several running backs return, including juniors Colten Proffer and Garrett Miller. Proffer led Jackson with nearly 500 yards rushing last year.

The majority of last year's line also returns.

"We should get a lot of snaps [on offense]. We should be aggressive in all three phases. I would hope we'll be physical," Eckley said. "They're working to try and achieve that. I would hope our fans would appreciate that."

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