The grass field just west of Strafford Middle School was where, as sixth-graders, football became a distraction from tests.
Now, on that same field, Jacob Wade is still throwing the football around with Brady Collier, Dallas Hester and Dalton Taylor as he prepares for the final test of his high school career.
“I moved here (from Pleasant Hope) during MAP Testing week in sixth grade, and ever since then we’ve been out here on this practice field throwing the ball,” said Wade, who established himself as one of the area’s top quarterbacks last season. “We’d come out here during recess and play. They were amazed when I came here and hoped we could all play together when we were (older).”
That hope has become a reality. That quartet leads Strafford squad that ran through the regular season unbeaten, capturing the Mid-Lakes Conference championship, before falling to Mountain View-Birch Tree Liberty 50-36 in the district semifinals. For the Indians, 10-1 was good, but not good enough.
“It definitely didn’t (end the way we wanted it to),” said Hester. “I expect a lot more out of us this season, because we put a lot of work in this summer. We came in every morning at about 6:30 to lift weights and work on conditioning, and we’re still doing it.”
That dedication, combined with the return of 13 starters, eight on offense, has optimism high for Strafford.
“We’ve been working hard every day in practice, all through summer,” Collier said. “I think we’re going to be able to make some big plays and have a good season.”
Big plays weren’t a problem for Strafford in 2012. The Indians averaged nearly 48 points per game, as Wade threw for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns. He rushed for another 647 yards and 15 more touchdowns. All of his wideouts, whom he introduced as “The Weapons,” are back for their junior seasons.
“They make me look pretty good,” Wade said. “It’s not about me, it’s about the team. When you’ve got guys like Brady, Dallas and Dalton all on one side of the ball, it’s pretty incredible what can go on. Defenses don’t know who to cover.”
It’s hard enough to cover Wade.
His 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame is atypical for a quarterback and makes him one of the biggest players on the Strafford roster. And that size has its perks.
“We can see him deliver the ball easier,” Collier said. “He stands up over most of our linemen, and usually the linemen are bigger than the quarterback.”
And it’s not just the wideouts who benefit. Wade, also an all-state linebacker, has been known to use his size to bury would-be tacklers as a scrambler.
“I hate sliding,” Wade said. “I like trying to run over people and get as many yards as possible.”
Even with a reconstructed offensive line — one that Wade said will prove doubters wrong — offense seems to be less of a concern for the Indians. Their shootout loss to Liberty left them looking vulnerable on the defensive side, though to be fair, Strafford did have six shutouts last fall. They return five starters from that unit.
But whether it’s by shutout or shootout, Strafford has one overriding mission for the 2013 season.
“Beat Liberty,” Hester said. “That’s the main goal.”