Jake Luton waited a long time to have the season he always knew he could have.
The Marysville Pilchuck High School graduate had an Odyssey-like college football career that spanned six years, three institutions and too many injuries to count. It wasn’t even a sure thing that he would be given the opportunity to have a 2019-20 season. His college quarterbacking career would have been complete, his NFL dreams dashed.
But the fates gave Luton one last chance to show what he could do, and oh what a season he produced. Luton had a star-studded breakout campaign as a sixth-year senior at Oregon State University, which led to his being selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL draft. For that Luton was named The Herald’s 2019-20 Man of the Year in Sports.
“It’s definitely been a year to remember,” Luton said from Jacksonville, where he’s attending training camp with the Jaguars. “I feel very fortunate that I was able to play alongside such great people. The memories that I made with my teammates in 2019 are ones that I’ll never forget. My time at OSU helped form me into the man I am, and allowed me to pursue my dream of playing in the NFL. Being drafted by the Jaguars was a lifelong dream come true. My family made so many sacrifices throughout my life to get me to that point, so to be able to share that moment with them was incredible.”
Luton’s long and winding collegiate path, which included stints at Idaho, Ventura (California) Community College and Oregon State, seemed destined to be a cautionary “What if?” story. The 2014 Marysville Pilchuck grad transferred from Idaho after finding little opportunity, and after one stellar season at Ventura he landed at Oregon State. But his time with the Beavers was marred by injuries, including a gruesome spinal fracture that ended his 2017 season just four games after he earned the starting job.
But Luton was granted a medical redshirt for 2019, giving him a sixth year of eligibility, and he made the most of it. The strong-armed 6-foot-6, 224-pounder won back the starting spot and went 222-for-358 for 2,714 yards and 28 touchdowns with just three interceptions. That caught the attention of the Jaguars, who picked Luton 189th overall in the sixth round of the NFL draft in April.
It was the final chapter of a 2019-20 that exceeded all expectations.
“I always knew what I was capable of, but coming into 2019 I understood that my time to prove myself was running out,” Luton said. “I tried to prepare for the season as best as I possibly could in every aspect, and told myself I could deal with any outcome as long as I knew I gave it my all. I try not to focus too much on things that are out of my control, so I didn’t really have any expectations per se, I just wanted to be the best version of myself and help my team any way I could. I knew the rest would take care of itself.”
While the football world was surprised by Luton’s breakthrough season, those who coached him knew he was capable of compiling those big numbers.
Marysville Pilchuck coach Brandon Carson, who coached Luton in high school, saw Luton make tremendous strides from when he was a prep quarterback.
“He’s a really good athlete and he really improved a lot in college,” Carson said prior to the NFL draft. “I know he had a scary injury, and to see how he bounced back from that was really impressive.
“He’s not just a good football player, he’s a good human being. He’s a good person who works hard and will represent the organization well.”
Oregon State offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren had the pleasure of having a front-row seat to Luton’s 2019 college season.
“He’s got the arm strength that (NFL scouts) are looking for,” Lindgren said about Luton last November. “He can make all the throws at that level. I think the question for him was, ‘Can he stay healthy?’ That’s the thing that hampered him his whole career. But he’s healthy now, and those guys were waiting for a season like this.”
Not only did Luton earn a shot at the NFL, he landed in a good spot for a young quarterback. Jacksonville traded starting QB Nick Foles to Chicago during the offseason, and the presumptive starter is Gardner Minshew II, a second-year player who himself was a modest sixth-round pick. The two other quarterbacks in camp with the Jaguars are journeyman Mike Glennon and career backup Joshua Dobbs. So Luton has a legitimate shot at sticking with the Jags.
“Training camp has been great so far,” Luton said. “Similar to the start of 2019, I’ve just been trying to give everything my 100% effort. At the end of the day, all you can do is give your best effort. If you know deep down that you gave something your all, you can be at peace with any situation no matter the outcome. That’s how I try to approach every day.”
It’s an approach that took a while to pay off for Luton, but in 2019-20 it finally did, and now he finds himself living his NFL dream.