JACKSON TWP. On any given Friday… Northeast Ohio skies could dump buckets of rain on your local high school football field.
That was the message delivered to the entire Jackson football roster on the first day of team camp when a morning storm traveled through Stark County, drenching the team as it went through drills and offensive installation.
Senior quarterback Jaret Pallotta was among those trying to stay on track in the soggy conditions as the Polar Bears worked to install their new offense, one they hope will pick up their pace and keep them ahead of opponents.
“It’s really important to get as many reps as possible since we’re installing a new offense,” Pallotta said. “Our offense is going to be very fast-paced and I’m not going to be running over to coach (Tim) Budd between plays.”
The change, Pallotta noted, came because Budd and the offensive coaching staff felt that Jackson didn’t run enough plays as compared to its opponents last season. The offense was productive when it had the ball and Pallotta threw for more than 2,000 yards in his first season as a varsity starter, but the pace was slower than Budd and his assistants would have liked.
Installing a new offense was the focus of team camp this week, but rain on the first day would seem to throw a wrench into the works. Yet the rainy conditions weren’t a hindrance and even served a positive purpose for Pallotta and the rest of the offense, as they presented the unit with one of the myriad challenges they might see any Friday night of the season.
“That’s what coach said to us, that on any given Friday, it could be pouring down rain and you still have to find a way to play well,” Pallotta said. “Even though it was raining, you still have to hold receivers accountable and I still have to be accountable. At the end of the day, it’s Northeast Ohio and the weather can be crazy.”
As the rain fell, some position groups were scattered around various practice fields doing tackling or technique-based drills, but most of the team was on the main field running through the new offense. As Budd stalked the sideline, he demanded that players not on the field repeat each play call as it was sent out to ensure that everyone knew it by heart.
In keeping with their up-tempo philosophy, offensive players hurried to the line after each play, lining up as an assistant relayed the play using hand signals.
The only time the action stopped was if a player committed a penalty such as a false start or not lining up properly, prompting Budd to bellow out, “Up downs!” That meant everyone stopped and did five up-downs, which consist of a player dropping forward to a push-up position, them popping back up to standing upright, repeated five times.
The small reprimand is something Jackson hopes will pay off in large dividends this fall. One of the primary bugaboos for the squad last season was penalties that stalled out promising drives and if they can minimize mental errors and infractions this season, the Polar Bears believe getting out of their own way will create a clear path to the end zone.
“Penalties were a huge problem for us last season. Even though we were a good offense, we had a lot of holding penalties or stupid mistakes or false starts and this offseason, we’re really working on eliminating those,” Pallotta said.
Doing so on a rainy day underscored the need to block out distractions and not use weather conditions or other external factors as excuses. There is also the idea that a mistake by one player impacts the whole team, so no matter who incurred the practice penalty in the rain, everyone did up-downs.
Playing in extreme weather could be a factor this fall, or it could be that Jackson enjoys a season full of moderate weather days without rain or snow. Pallotta recalled a junior varsity game his sophomore season in which Jackson faced Canton McKinley at Don Scott Field and the day was so cold he couldn’t feel his hands or properly grip the ball, prompting him to almost two-handedly lob the ball to receivers.
Another such brutally cold day could come late this season and if it does, the senior signal caller knows both he and his entire offense need to be ready. A fast-paced offense is good when it runs effectively, but as the owner of any fast, shiny sports car knows, being able to handle the road in subpar conditions is vital. Rain or shine, the Polar Bears want to be the ones crossing the finish line first this fall and that starts with dealing with the elements on an inconspicuous practice field in the middle of the summer.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB