California addition spices up quarterback mix at Souhegan

Newcomer Austin Jain fires a pass for Souhegan in a recent 7-on-7 tourney.

The way Souhegan High football coach Robin Bowkett sees it, both Luke Manning and Austin Jain should play pretty big roles for the Sabers this fall.

He’s just not sure where.

“The great thing is that the guy who doesn’t make it can make the move to receiver and really help us out,” said Bowkett.

Both juniors, Manning and Jain are the top choices in the early going to assume the quarterback spot and succeed All-State two-year starter John Lohnes.

They come from wildly divergent circumstances.

Manning came up through the Amherst youth ranks, playing QB basically every step of the way until last fall. Jain is new to town, moving here from Palmdale, Calif., this summer when his dad relocated to a new job.

Both carry in some impressive and exciting credentials, and each is enthused about what is rounding into a healthy, exciting competition.

“I am focused on it,” said Manning, who caught 63 passes from Lohnes in 2018, earning second-team All-Division II South honors as a sophomore receiver.

“I really want to do whatever I can to help my team. John has always been a mentor for me. (Following him at quarterback) is a huge responsibility. I think I’m ready for it.”

Manning, who has spent much of the summer hustling on the club lacrosse circuit, has made as many football workouts as possible.

In 2018, he played a giant role in helping Souhegan to a playoff win and a huge campaign.

He also learned what things are like on the other end of the passing game.

“I liked receiver. It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I gained a different perspective from playing that position. I learned, from the receivers, how routes are run. And that can help me at the quarterback spot.”

Bowkett has seen plenty of Manning and he knows the goods.

“He moved to receiver because of John and he obviously had great success,” said the coach.

“He probably starts out with the edge because he has been in this system as a quarterback. He’s got knowledge of the game, a great arm and can run a little bit. He’s got good instinct, he’s a good decision-maker and he is a really good athlete, too.”

Jain has something that Manning doesn’t, a resume as a varsity quarterback, albeit one on the West Coast.

As a sophomore, he “double-dressed” (varsity and JV) at Quartz Hill High School in Palmdale, about an hour north of Los Angeles.

When injuries struck, he found himself leading the Rebels’ spread attack.

But his life has changed

radically. And at times this summer Jain has found himself just trying to catch his breath.

“It’s a lot to take in, culture shock,” said Jain, in between games this past Saturday in Exeter at the Northeast 7on7 tournament with the Sabers.

“There are a lot of new things to deal with.”

Jain is using football as a weapon to combat everything being thrown at him, and his new teammates have answered the call.

“I walked into the weight room at school for the first time and met a lot of cool kids,” said Jain, who also plans on trying out for basketball at Souhegan this

winter.

“Everybody has been nice and welcomed me to the team. I think football will help me (assimilate) a lot faster.”

Jain, if you check out his highlights on HUDL, is clearly a competitor. And like Manning, he’s excited for the season and the potential battle.

“I heard for two years they had a really good quarterback, and they have the backup (Manning) who should have been next,” said Jain. “I don’t know what he’s thinking. It’s going to be a challenge, and I like the competition, so it’s going to be fun.”

The Sabers, under Bowkett, have been rejuvenated. Already, both athletes know they have major jobs ahead of them if things are to keep trending in the right direction.

“Between now and preseason camp, we’ll keep putting in the work,” said Manning. “If we stay consistent with the work in the summer, we expect that it’s going to take us places in the fall.”

Bowkett noted, “With 52 career TDs, it’s absolutely going to be hard to replace John. He was such a great player for us.

But our offense is a quarterback-friendly offense. What we will miss most is his toughness and his grasp of the offense for sure. Both guys have very good skills.”