Wolfpack seeks balanced attack

  • David Pan<br>Enterprise sports editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:37am

MILL CREEK — If numbers and experience can help predict success, the Jackson football team should be considered among the favorites in the Western Conference South Division.

The Timberwolves return its largest senior class in history with 32 upperclassmen. Sixteen returning starters give the Wolfpack a level of experience few teams can match.

Jackson head coach Joel Vincent is pleased by how quickly his players have returned to form.

“Our kids seemed to have picked up where they left off last year and through the spring,” he said. “We’ve made good progress.”

The Wolfpack are coming off another successful campaign. Jackson advanced to the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs for the second time in three years.

The Wolfpack offense is led by first-team, all-league quarterback Jake Gelakoska, who lit up the opposition for 1,938 yards and 17 touchdowns.

What stands out for the Oregon State-bound Gelakoska is the development of the offensive line.

All five players on the offensive line are seniors and are leading the way throughout training camp. The consensus among the players is that Luke Watson, Hunter Spencer, Tylor Rathbun, Zach Pace and Josh Cain are the hardest workers on the team.

The offensive line spent a lot of time in the weight room this summer.

“They’re doing the best they’ve ever done,” Gelakoska said. “I give all the credit now to the linemen … I’ve never been on a football team like this. We’re just coming together.”

The offensive line may not be the most physically imposing group in the league, but all five run well, have good feet and are just plain athletic, Vincent said.

The Wolfpack had one of the most prolific passing attacks in the league but didn’t have as much success on the ground.

Shoring up the running game is a top priority this year.

Senior Dan Reimer and sophomore Taylor Cox bring two different styles in the backfield. Reimer is more of a straight-ahead type of runner, while Cox is speedy and will be able to bounce to the outside.

“I think ultimately our success offensively is going to be predicated on being more balanced than last year,” Vincent said.

Cox came up from the freshman team with four games to go in the regular season last year. He was the first freshman to see varsity action since Travis Snider, the former baseball standout.

“Taylor was doing some phenomenal things on the field,” Vincent said. “We were kind of struggling in the run game. One of the reasons was we didn’t have a lot of speed … he brings speed.”

Cox admits he was a little nervous his first varsity game.

“I felt I could play after I got the feeling of games and how they work,” Cox said.

Cox’s speed will be needed in the backfield and in the secondary due to the likely loss of one of the team’s top players, Kawika Emsley-Pai. The senior wide receiver/defensive back is still recovering from a back injury suffered during the spring baseball playoffs. Vincent doesn’t know if Emsley-Pai, a first-team, all-league wide receiver and second-team, all-league defensive back, will be healthy enough to play this season.

Emsley-Pai also was the Wolfpack’s punter and punt returner. He saw time at running back and threw a touchdown pass last season.

“We’ve kind of got to do Kawika by committee,” Vincent said.

Watson expects Emsley-Pai’s replacements to do a good job.

“Other people are going to step up,” Watson said. “We’re going to find out just how well we can come together.”

One familiar face Vincent hopes will help fill the void is senior Jamie Eisinger, back after taking last season off.

Eisinger helped lead the Timberwolves to a fifth-place finish at the Class 4A state boys basketball tournament this past winter.

“He’s basically a natural athlete,” senior wide receiver/defensive back Billy Green said. “I think he’s going to help us a lot this year.”

The Jackson defense has other experienced players such as Luke McKinley and Connor Gage, although not necessarily one standout athlete.

“We’ve got to play great team defense … with players flying to the ball,” Vincent said. “We have to have 11 guys committed to every play.”

The large number of seniors and returning starters is resulting in better team chemistry, Green said. “We’re just jelling a lot better.”

More was expected of Gelakoska in terms of his leadership with his teammates and the senior quarterback is responding.

“We want him to excel not only on the field but take a bigger role in leadership out there,” Vincent said.

Gelakoska is quick to offer words of encouragement to his teammates.

“He’s more vocal this year definitely,” Green said. “He’s stepping up his leadership a lot.”

Gelakoska’s physical tools are obvious. In addition to his arm, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound quarterback used his legs last season, running for 360 yards on 88 carries, the second highest on the team.

But his demeanor on the field is what Vincent sees as Gelakoska’s biggest asset.

“He seems to be very even keeled,” Vincent said. “He doesn’t really get excited about stuff good or bad. He always seems to have his wits about him. I think that allows him to play through good and bad. He’s very even tempered. That’s good for a kid playing his position.”

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