NEWARK – Good luck getting the first punch on Wes Jurden.
In fact, blink and Jurden will be in the backfield. The Newark Catholic senior linebacker was not waiting around this season.
A young defense fed off Jurden’s aggressiveness and went toe to toe with some of the area’s top offenses. The Green Wave did not always win the war, but they won plenty of battles.
“I like playing downhill,” Jurden said. “When I see a lane, I tend to take it.”
Jurden’s attacking style allowed him to make 22 tackles for loss and constantly put opponents on their heels. He was never far from the ball in making or assisting on 153 tackles and forcing five fumbles.
Jurden, however, was not simply feast or famine in becoming The Advocate Defensive Player of the Year. He was not always blitzing. He just seemed as if he was one step ahead of the offense.
“He is one of the best blitzing linebackers I have ever coached,” assistant coach Ted Londot said. “He is great at seeing that little opening and taking it. A big part of why he is so good at that is his ability to prepare. He was burning up as much tape as us coaches. He was commanding the field, getting everybody in the right spots, talking about tendencies and key players.”
Jurden’s first varsity playing time came during his sophomore season as a running back. When the Green Wave graduated a chunk of its linebacking corps, it was time for him to step in.
Jurden continued to play offense situationally, but the coaching staff committed to making Jurden the heart and soul of the defense.
“I didn’t care. I didn’t care who got the ball. Whatever they needed me to do, and whatever was working,” said Jurden, who is undecided about where he will play in college. “It was kind of like (former NC standout Kevin Bourne) was. He made plays on offense when he needed to, but he went to (Kent State) for defense.”
NC did not miss a beat the past two seasons, building off the defensive tone the 2013 team set. The Green Wave have allowed 30 points just twice in their past 36 games as Jurden had plenty of help from classmates Nate McNabb up front, Cole Buchanan beside him and Jud Lewis in the secondary.
“If you look at what makes you go, what motivates you to play, it’s a kid like Wes,” Londot said. “If you are a defensive lineman and you see him behind you, you know no matter what he is going to get his job done. It raises the accountability level of the entire defense when you have a guy like him. Nobody is going to out-prepare, nobody is going to out-hustle, nobody is going to out-hit him.”
Jurden pulled down a scrambling Nelsonville-York quarterback to preserve a Week 2 overtime victory, and the Green Wave shut out Heath’s explosive offense in a key mid-season win.
After battling tooth and nail in losses to playoff teams Licking Heights and Johnstown, the Green Wave’s crowning achievement came in Week 10. NC slowed down Watkins Memorial to edge the Warriors 22-20 and earn the program’s 500th victory and record 34th playoff appearance.
“It was definitely our heart,” Jurden said. “We never quit. We were all real tough, and our work ethic — (head coach Bill Franks) says all of the time that this is probably one of the best work ethic groups we’ve had. All through the months leading up to the next season, we were all in the weight room working hard.”
And it always gave Jurden a leg up on the competition.
- 2014 Jett Nye, Granville
- 2013 Clayton Bullard, Johnstown
- 2012 Kevin Bourne, Newark Catholic
- 2011 Clayton Plute, Granville