The Jefferson Dragons went an uncharacteristic 8-3 last season. That snapped a 6-year 10-plus wins streak. People just aren’t used to seeing the program lose, much less in the opening round of the state playoffs.
“Definitely being at Jefferson, we’re not used to losing in the first round,” says star senior quarterback Colby Clark, who was one of the plethora of Dragons bitten by the injury bug last year. “This year we definitely have a chip on our shoulder.”
“We’ve looked at every aspect of our program – sports medicine, strength training, conditioning, practice scheduled, everything,” says coach Gene Cathcart on assessing the injury plagues of 2018. “It’s unfortunate – the vast majority of our injuries last year were contact injuries.”
While injuries took a toll in 2018, Jefferson had the proverbial blessing in disguise, as about a dozen players who ordinarily weren’t viewed as getting much time last year were thrust into action. Many of them shined, notably Carter Stephenson, who went 7-1 as a starter at QB for Clark, and Rem Maxwell, who Clark points out was spectacular on defense last year.
The Dragons have something to prove – that they are very much as good as the team that went 10-3 the year before and 12-2 on the way to the quarterfinals in 2017.
Perhaps the toughest task for Cathcart will be not letting his young guys collect dust after proving themselves last year.
“The good thing about football, it’s a meritocracy,” says Cathcart. “You earn what you get and you get what you earn. We hopefully have some depth…that’s always something as a coach you’re always concerned about. The beauty of it is ‘steel sharpens steel’. It’s improved our practice competition, it’s improved the intensity for the competition for certain positions.”
There will obviously be opportunities for the Dragons, and undoubtedly there will be more injuries to deal with. That puts Jefferson in the rare category of having significant and talented depth that Cathcart eluded to. Most programs don’t have that affordability.
In any case, it will be interesting to see how the veteran Dragons use the healthy competition from the younger players to up their level of play. The tough 2019 slate, which happens to be one of the most difficult in the state – 9/10 playoff teams – will help Jefferson stay sharp heading into the postseason.
If we’re able to stay healthy and improve during the year, we certainly have all the resources and players and things necessary to make a run [at a title],” says Cathcart.
“This year, definitely, we will not lose in the first round,” states Clark.