By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
Taking over a team that had won four games in five years, Head Coach Rick Schmitz faced few lofty expectations last season when he took over the Jefferson J-Hawks football program.
When no one was looking, the J-Hawks stood 3-4 with a shot at the playoffs with two weeks left in the season.
They dropped the last two games, but the season was still a success. With that backdrop, and some key players returning off that team, Jefferson is looking to have similar results now that they have everyone’s attention.
“If you are going to go out and just try to win, forget it,” Schmitz said. “There’s improvements that need to be made. If we think it’s anything different than that, we’re kidding ourselves. It’s not goals, it’s work ethic.”
An important player returning for Jefferson is last year’s starting quarterback, Joe Ward. Last season, Ward established himself as the leader of the team while trying to take on a new offense and while the coaches tried to learn what they had on their team.
With a year’s starting experience under him, Ward now has a grasp of the offense and is helping push his teammates to prepare and get better for the season.
“Joe is a really smart kid and a great leader,” Schmitz said of his senior quarterback. “That is the real key is that he is such a good leader. He just gets it. He’s also throwing the ball better. He gets the offense a little bit more. He’s more confident.”
Running back Josh Woodford returns as well to help Ward lead a group of returning skill position players. They will also have a defense that is built on speed.
Where the J-Hawks could struggle is on the offensive and defensive line. Most of their starters on the lines are gone, and they lack size and experience at those spots.
Despite that inexperience, coach Schmitz does hope he has the right kids to put into starting spots on both sides of the ball, instead of having players play both sides.
“If we can work things out, we hope to have an offensive line that just plays offense, and a group of kids that just play defense,” he said. “When you play the same thing night after night, you just get better.”
From the Aug. 17-23, 2011, issue