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story.lead_photo.caption Jays wide receiver Devin White gets up after being tackled during a game last season against DeSmet at Adkins Photo by News Tribune

There's a different feel around the Jefferson City football team this season.

More than half the positions on both sides of the ball have changed hands.

There are a few additions to the offensive playbook.

There are several adjustments to the defensive schemes.

But none of this is a surprise with it being Year 2 under coach Terry Walker.

"I think the environment between the staff and the kids is more relaxed in the sense that I think they're more comfortable with us and we're obviously more comfortable with them," Walker said. "They understand our expectations.

"There's not any real surprises when you don't do what we asked you to do. There's probably going to be a consequence that goes with that. It's not meant as punishment, that if you're going to be a great team, you've got to be disciplined, you've got to be physical, you've got to chase the football, and you've got to be willing to play hard each play. I mean, that's the bottom line at any level.

"We're just trying to instill those characteristics into the players and sometimes that's a challenge."

The Jays don't plan to change too much with the offense, just a couple tweaks in order to get defenses out of position.

"We wanted to maintain some of our traditional spread concepts, but we knew we had to put some misdirection in to slow some teams down," Walker said. "And also to create some opportunities for us to make some big plays."

Defense is where the Jays are getting more complex, lining up in multiple fronts and using numerous coverages.

"We've expanded significantly on defense this year," Walker said. "We want to have the opportunity to give the offense multiple looks just for the very fact that if you just set in a defense, as we learned last year, these teams are good enough that they will adjust and they and they will attack it."

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THE JEFFERSON CITY Jays turn to Cole Gresham, one of four captains for the Jays, at quarterback after he backed up Devin Roberson last season as a junior.

Most of Gresham's game action came in last season's 36-0 defeat at Blue Springs in the district tournament. He completed 9-of-22 passes for 87 yards with two interceptions. He also ran it for 34 yards on 10 attempts.

"Cole continues to really impressed me," Walker said. "He really throws a good football, he seems to have a good feel for the offense. And if we can give him enough time, I feel quite confident he's going to make some great throws in this first game against Kirkwood."

Blocking for Gresham will be seniors Brandon Backues, Harrison Mobley, Alex Burkhead, Sam Jakob and junior Brady Connell.

Backues, a captain, and Connell will either be at center or left tackle.

"Brandon Backues has been a fantastic leader," Walker said. "The kids respect that he's a very good worker."

Burkhead, the third captain on offense, has bulked up to help out the offensive line.

"Alex has really sacrificed in moving to offensive tackle," Walker said. "I was very pleased to see that he was willing to do that. In the offseason, I think he put on probably 20, 30, maybe 35 pounds and blossomed in the weight room, and really physically became one of our stronger players.

"Pretty decent feet and is not afraid to contact."

Mobley, who's listed at 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds, will play right guard, and Jakob, who's listed at 6-6, 275 pounds, is slotted at left guard.

"We've got great size and we had very good size last year, but you've got to know how to use the size at the same time," Walker said. "Size in and of itself never really scares me from a coaching perspective, but a team that understands how to use our size to their advantage.

"Our kids have gotten better at that. They've gotten their pads down a little bit and we're coming off the ball a little bit better. We still need to make a lot of improvement there. It's one brick at a time."

Senior Mathias Wieberg and sophomore Isaac Enloe have also rotated in on the offensive line.

The Jays have a pair of new players in the backfield with sophomore David Bethune and junior Orientheus Pitts taking turns at running back.

"We don't have the straightaway speed like we did with Maleek (Jackson)," Walker said. "But David and Orientheus both do a really good job of reading the blocking on the line of scrimmage, or at the point of attack, and are probably more physical than we were last year."

Walker said he's more concerned about the yardage the backs gain after first contact than in the open field.

"That's truly, I think at any level, how a great running back is measured," Walker said.

Returning at the H-back is junior Jake Duke with seniors Michael Heislen and Bryant Gipe also available to play that spot.

"Jake Duke has done a great job at the H and he understands the different looks we try and give a defense with the different types of motions that we do," Walker said. "So he certainly has the inside track at H and Cole's comfortable with him and the offensive line is comfortable with him."

Devin White, a junior, is the top returning receiver after being third on the team with 17 catches for 222 yards last season.

Fellow juniors Darrell Jones and Nick Williams along with Heislen will rotate in at receiver.

"Coach (Kirk) Obermiller, coach (Darius) Hicks, coach (JR) Simmons, those guys have done a great job with the receivers," Walker said. "This time last year we struggled catching the football at times. But in the offseason, the kids spent a bunch of time catching footballs and have just worn out the JUGS machine.

"I'm really excited to see what our receiving corps can do. If we get could get a few seconds to throw the football, I'm excited to see what kind of routes we get to run out there."

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WALKER ISN'T SHY about voicing his displeasure with the defensive performance last season.

The Jays allowed nearly 31 points per game, including giving up more than 40 four times in the final five regular season games.

"We need to see a big difference," Walker said. "In a perfect world, I'd love to cut that in half because you'll win a lot of football games at the high school level if you're giving up 13 or 14 points. So we're comfortable and confident that our changes are going to be effective. But that being said, we know we still have some work to do."

Other than adding different looks up front and adding coverage schemes, Jefferson City is hoping to cause more turnovers after forcing just 10 in 10 games.

The Jays got off to a good start at that in last Friday night's Jamboree at Rock Bridge, recovering three fumbles and intercepting a pass in the end zone.

"Things that create turnovers are great pursuit," Walker said. "And then when you get to the football, attacking the football. We're hoping that that we're going to be more opportunistic defensively."

The Jays are keeping their options open for the defensive line. Tyler Johnston, a senior captain, Backues, Jakob, Wieberg, Connell, Enloe, junior Frank Gilmore, and seniors Laine Fischer and Darrion Luebbering are all in the rotation.

"We're just trying to find the right mix of guys that are willing to go hard on every single snap, and also understand what we're trying to do defensively," Walker said. "(Luebbering) hasn't played at the varsity level the last couple years but could arguably be one of our most explosive players"

The majority of the experience returning to the defense is at inside linebacker with Gipe and Burkhead.

Heislen and junior Nick Williams hope to bring an immediate impact while still gaining knowledge of the position.

"Heislen is a kid who was on the fringe of starting last year," Walker said. "Athletically he showed some real flashes of having the ability to be a good defender.

"Nick Williams has probably been the most consistent performer out of the bunch and he didn't play last year. Last week in the Jamboree, Nick made some mistakes but he also made some plays."

Walker noted Backues could move off the line and play linebacker if needed.

Leading the secondary group is White, who'll play corner along with Bethune.

The Jays plan to try more press converge this season and got to try it out last Friday in the Jamboree.

"The kids have wanted to do press, but last year physically we just were not developed enough physically in order to make that happen," Walker said. "This year, we're a little bit more developed physically so I'm really anxious to watch this group as they develop over the course of the season."

Marshaun Dye, a junior, will also play corner.

"Dye is another kid who didn't play last year, but really shows us real flashes of having the ability to really be a good cover corner," Walker said.

Junior Darrell Jones and Pitts will play the safety spots with sophomore Kevion Pendleton, who had an interception in the Jamboree, trying to work his way on the field.

III

SPECIAL TEAMS WAS one of the reasons Jefferson City defeated the Battle Spartans last season for the fourth time in five matchups.

Ben Folz kicked a 37-yard field goal for a 17-14 victory in Columbia, the team's fourth and final win of the season.

Folz will take care of the kicking along with the punting as a senior.

"Ben was great last year and I have every confidence he'll be great this year," Walker said. "He's had a year to mature and get stronger. He's attended several kicking camps and has really worked on his craft."

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THE JAYS WILL travel away from Adkins Stadium for the first three weeks of the season, starting tonight at Kirkwood. Game time is 7 p.m.

This is the third straight season the Jays and Pioneers will meet in Week 1, with Kirkwood winning by a combined 72-7.

"We haven't been real competitive the last two years against them," Walker said. "Our first message is we want the kids to compete, we want them to battle, we want them to fight and play as hard as they can."

The Jays will once again try to find a way to stop Kirkwood's air attack, including receiver Jay Maclin.

Maclin, cousin of former Missouri Tiger and NFL receiver Jeremy Maclin, is committed to Missouri.

The elder Maclin joined the Kirkwood coaching staff this season.

"They have a couple polished receivers," Walker said. "Kids that understand how to run routes, kids that understand how to use space to their advantage, and kids that are very good at catching the football.

"So that's certainly going to be a challenge for our secondary."

Jefferson City will be in Hannibal for Week 2 and in Columbia in Week 3 to face Hickman.

The Jays' home opener is Sept. 20 against St. Louis University High.

As usual, Jefferson City will end the regular season against Rockhurst. But this will be the final matchup in the historic rivalry for at least a couple years.

With the Jays joining the Central Missouri Activities Conference next season, the Hawklets will not be on the schedule for the first time since 1975.

The Nov. 1 game at Adkins Stadium will be the last regular season game for Rockhurst coach Tony Severino, who's decided to retire after leading the Hawklets to seven state championships in 36 years as head coach.

"There ain't a Jeff City football fan that don't want to see us beat Rockhurst and we would love to do that, especially if it's his last regular season game ever," Walker said.

The Jays will have some new district opponents this season after being placed in Class 6 District 3 with Joplin, Kickapoo, Kirkwood, Lafayette: Wildwood, Lindbergh, Marquette and Northwest: Cedar Hill.

The only district opponent Jefferson City will face in the regular season is Kirkwood.

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Related Media

Jefferson City Jays Football Podcast [Kirkwood preview, Aug. 30, 2019]

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