Jackson-Milton needs to build leadership, lines
By Dan Hiner
Nathan Brode is more confident heading into his second season as the head coach of the Jackson-Milton football team.
Brode said Jackson-Milton needs to develop leadership. The Blue Jays have to replace a large senior class and only have 25 players on the roster.
Brode led the Blue Jays to a 2-8 season in his first year, but the coach wants to see Jackson-Milton back in the playoffs sooner rather than later.
“Jackson-Milton went to the playoffs in back-to-back years a couple years ago,” Brode said. “I want to get these guys back to the playoffs.
“It’s one game at a time, I understand that, but if we take care of business one game at a time, our goal will be to get back to the playoffs.”
Jackson-Milton opens the season at Southington before returning home for Newton Falls in Week 2.
The Blue Jays need to replace quarterback Sebastian Lay. Junior Michael Liberato will play quarterback this season.
Senior Jimmy Harper is returning at running back while Sean Lengyel and Ryan Staton are also expected to get carries.
Brode said he’ll rely on his running game early while Liberato adjusts being a starter. Liberato will also rely on receivers Dyllen Gibbs and Bryce Davis.
“Bryce Davis is going to be our standout receiver, our best receiver,” Brode said. “He’s done a great job putting in work in the offseason and he’s done a lot of good things for us.”
Offensive tackle John Landis is the only returner on the line. Junior Harrison Lay will play center this year, but the rest of the offensive line is new.
The strength of the Blue Jays’ defense will be in the linebackers and defensive backs.
Gibbs is returning at outside linebacker and Harper is returning at middle linebacker. Brode said the team is going to start two new linebackers this year.
Davis and Lengyel have been practicing at both corner and safety. Their actual positions are still to be decided. Liberato is expected to see some time in the secondary as well.
Similar to the offense, the defensive line is under reconstruction. Brode said the team is expected to start two new defensive linemen.
The new guys up front, they have to step up,” Brode said. “We’ve prepared them in the offseason and once we were able to practice. But in [four] days, it’s gonna be their turn to show us if they can do it.”
Gibbs will be the kicker and will handle kickoffs. Harper will handle punting responsibilities.
“Jimmy [Harper] had a nice outing against Valley Christian in our scrimmage,” Brode said. “He had some nice punts. I think he was averaging about in the 40s for yards per punt. Those are gonna be our two kickers this year.”