South’s Arnesen saying farewell to football

Staff photo by TOM KING Nashua South linebacker J.J. Arnesen keeps a keen eye on practice last week while nursing a leg injury. Arnesen is fully expecting to play in Wednesday nights Turkey Eve Bowl vs. Nashua South, which he says will be his final competitive football game.

NASHUA – It some ways, it certainly wasn’t an easy decision.

In others, it was.

You see, Nashua High School South senior linebacker J.J. Arnesen knows he’s not going to play in the NFL. And he also knows he’s not going to be studying next year at a conventional college, he’s just not a book/desk guy.

Instead, he will be going to a trade school, as he likes working with his hands and wants to study heating, ventilation and air conditioning (hvac). No football team will likely be at whatever institution he attends next year.

Thus, Wednesday night’s annual Turkey Eve Bowl against city rival Nashua North at 6 at Stellos Stadium will be his swan song with the sport.

Sad, but true.

“Yes, this will be my last football game,” Arnesen said. “I’m going to a community college for hvac. I’ve taken a class at South for three years and I really enjoy working with my hands, I like the trades.”

That’s an incredibly mature decision, because Arnesen would likely have made some college coach very happy by choosing his school. As Panthers coach Scott Knight said, “He’s our best football player. He may be one of the most underrated kids in the state. You watch him at 175 pounds just mauling people. I haven’t seen a kid play linebacker like that in years. He is unbelievelable.”

As talented as he is, Arnesen is giving up one thing that he loves for something else he loves – and knows will be his future in life.

“Oh it’s tough,” he said. “These have been the best four years of high school football. I’m not going to stop, I’m going to try to play intramural, flag football, I’ll stay competitive.”

But it certainly won’t be the same. Arnesen said he made the decision going into this season.

“My parents thought it was a smart decision,” he said. “I like working with my hands, I don’t want to be behind a desk. I want to be moving around.”

That’s because that’s how he is on a football field.

“He makes a lot of big plays, he flys around,” Knight said. “He’s fun to watch. If you saw his highlight tape, you’d be impressed.”

Arnesen has been a mainstay on a football field since the sixth grade, playing for the Elks Crusaders. “And I loved it ever since,” he said, adding his friends were playing, as well as his older brother Tyler. Tyler didn’t play football beyond the sixth grade but J.J.certainly did.

“I loved watching football and just said that I want to give this a shot,” he said. “The hitting was awesome.”

You can tell Arnesen loves the contact and he certainly has a knack for getting to the football and making a play.

“I was well coached throughout my career,” he said. “I started off my freshman year at defensive end, I’ve always been a little smaller and they switched me my sophomore year to linebacker. I’ve always done a lot better there.”

Knight says the Panthers were thin at linebacker and figured Arnesen would work well there. He was good in coverage, and developed the rest.

“He just has a knack,” Knight said. “Last year we started using him, and he was second on the team in tackles.”

And this year, he has over 100, far and above the leader on the Panthers.

What makes him the best linebacker Knight says he’s seen in a long time?

“He’s relentless,” he said. “He flies around, he plays whistle to whistle, puts the pedal to the metal.”

Arnesen has taken his lumps. Even as his leg injury heals, he’s got other bumps and bruises. “His fingers are banged up,” Knight said. “That kid is held together by tape the way he plays. He’s something else.”

“Reading keys and just going downhill, that’s been my thing,” Arnesen said. “Tackling is awesome, I love hitting.”

Arnesen also plays left tackle; he loves the blocking aspect. But linebacker is where he feels at home.

He also studies the game to know where to be.

“He’s a smart player,” Knight said. “He has a lot of good questions and good answers about formations and different things, maybe we should be changing our call here, changing the call there. He’s a very smart player. You combine that with the way he plays the game, relentless and aggressive.”

“You watch enough film, you kind of have an idea of what (the other team’s offense) is going to do,” he said. “You read your keys, you should know where the ball is going.

“But the key is to not be looking for the ball. You’ve got to know where you’re supposed to be at the right time, and do your job. I know the rest of my teammates are going to hold down their job, and we’re going to get the job done.”

It’s ironic that as Arnesen reflects on his high school career, his favorite play came in the North-South regular season game of a year ago. North ran a power sweep, and Arnesen busted through for a big stop for a loss in the Titans backfield.

Plays like that, plus the reaction of the fans, are what he’ll miss the most.

“It was awesome, with all the fans there, it felt awesome,” he said. “But running out here (at Stellos Stadium), running out of the tunnel (for the last time), it’s going to be sad.”

Arnesen will play lacrosse in the spring as a defensive midfielder, but, as he says, “I’m a much better football player. That’s been my thing.”

Arnesen is getting mentally prepared for his final night.

“I’m going to do everything the same,” he said. “Hydrate up, be ready, mentally be prepared. I’ve got to show these freshmen how it should be done, how to get ready for the next season. You have to make sure they find success, start them a year early.”

But, the butterflies will be there.

“Oh, man, I’m a little nervous,” said Arnesen, whose been battling a bone bruise and sat out most of practice last week but vows to be playing Wednesday. “But it’s more just have to go out there, ball out, my last game, got to give it my all. No regrets.”

None whatsoever. A player known for his tackling ability, J.J. Arnesen has already tackled the biggest decision of his life so far.