JACKSON TWP.  With the school year now complete, student-athletes’ focus has begun to shift to the summer.

Some are still wrapping up their spring sports, but for most it’s full steam ahead with training and skill work for their fall sport. Over the course of the summer, the Jackson Suburbanite will follow three Jackson athletes as they prepare for their senior seasons.

The Summer Athletes Series is in its third season and offers an inside look at what these athletes go through as they balance training, practices and other time demands from their sport with the other obligations on their schedule.

Past Summer Athletes Series participants have included football standouts Ricky Spradling, Mike Ross and Jake Pallotta, as well as volleyball player Stephanie Spencer and soccer player Alexis Harold.

This year’s Summer Athletes Series participants include two football players and a cross country runner. Each will share insights into what they’re doing over the summer months to make sure that they’re in the best possible position to have a successful senior season in their respective sports.

Zach Harrison

Harrison, a running back and linebacker for the Polar Bears, was listed at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds as a junior and as he prepares to anchor the changing Jackson defense as a senior, his focus is on making sure he’s as physically strong as he can be for his final year of high school football.

“My focus this summer is just to get stronger and faster,” Harrison said.

Harrison was part of a defense that allowed an average of 27.5 points per game last season and forced 15 turnovers, both numbers veteran head coach Tim Budd would like to see improve in his second season at the helm for Jackson.

According to Harrison, the defense will be a shifting one this season, perhaps alternating between a 3-4 and 4-3, making versatility and flexibility important, especially for the linebackers. Team activities on the field won’t start until later in the summer, but players are already doing lifting work and for Harrison, the weight room is a big piece of his offseason plans.

Jackson head coach Tim Budd wants to see Harrison connect his efforts in the weight room with his performance in games and practices.

“Zach has really worked hard to improve his strength and athleticism. He has lived in the weight room while participating in track this spring,” Budd said. “The next step for Zach is to apply this to the field. Last season he was getting his feet wet. This summer, I need to see a confident football player whose production on the field matches his production in the weight room.”

Gary Parsons

Like Harrison, Parsons will line up at linebacker for Jackson this fall and look to help the Polar Bears as they look to step their game up on defense while the offense undergoes some major changes. After just missing out on the playoffs last year despite an exciting rivalry win over Hoover in Week 10, Jackson must replace its starting quarterback, Pallotta, along with top receiver Jack Tirmonia.

Parsons, similar in size and build to Harrison, will be one of the pieces the coaching staff counts on the upgrade the defense’s performance from where it was last fall.

Four times last season, Jackson held foes to 20 or fewer points and the defensive coaches would love nothing more than seeing that number rise in 2016. Parsons sat out the first three weeks of the season after transferring back to Jackson from Walsh Jesuit, but ended up third on the team with 49 tackles and forced two fumbles in the final seven games.

“Gary didn't get on the field for us until Week 4 last season. He immediately provided a physical presence,” Budd said. “This off season he has added strength and speed to match his tough mindset. The next step for Gary this summer is to begin asserting his will on the rest of the team. He is a strong, intense player who needs to lead everyday and make more game changing plays for us when the pressure is on.”

For Parsons, the goal of the offseason is simple.

“This summer I’m really trying to gain in my strength and get a lot stronger for the season,” Parsons said.

His football activities this summer will be balanced with his summer job pouring concrete, which will make for some physically demanding days in the summer heat. Beyond his work in the weight room, the physicality of working with concrete is another way he’ll develop the strength needed to take on opposing linemen and ball carriers on the field this fall.

Kayla Chapman

Chapman hasn’t officially started her summer yet because she’s busy completing a successful track season, but the good news is that her spring sport shares plenty in common with her fall sport.

An All-Ohio and All-Federal League selection and Stark County Runner of the Year as a junior, Chapman has already accomplished plenty on the track and cross country course.

She led the way last fall as her team reached the state cross country meet and with a deep, talented group set to return for the coming season, a return trip to Columbus isn’t out of the question for the Polar Bears.

During the course of the summer, Chapman will focus her energy on building up a good base and enhancing her speed for her senior year.

“This summer, I plan to improve my speed endurance,” Chapman said.

A strong summer and senior season are vital for a runner with designs on continuing her success at the college level and while her interests include water sports such as skiing, tubing and swimming, it’s her work on the roads and trails over the summer that will be most important when it comes to having the sort of senior season she wants to have.

"Kayla is a great representative of our entire program … she works hard, is an outstanding student, gives back to the community, and loves her teammates,” Jackson cross country coach Kevin Walsh said. “As her senior year approaches Kayla needs to keep up the same great work ethic, stay positive, and set high goals for herself. I have no doubt that she will continue to amaze all of us.”

The Summer Athletes Series will begin next month. Each athlete will be featured once a month and each story will center on a different part of that athlete’s summer work as they get ready for their fall sport. The stories will offer insights and analysis on what life is like for a senior-to-be as they put in all of the hard work and training for their final season of high school sports.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB