FOOTBALL FRIDAY: Kanaley is the Cougars’ quarter-block
LITCHFIELD – Sometimes baseball players come to the ballpark wondering if they’ll be in the lineup and where.
That’s never a problem with Campbell High School football player Jackson Kanaley; the 6-foot-4 senior always knows he’s in the lineup.
But during the week it’s fun to find out where.
Will he be at quarterback? Will he line up at fullback? Will he be out wide? Will he be on linebacker? Defensive end?
It’s part of the fun of watching a Campbell game, for sure.
“I like it, it’s fun, I just try to do whatever I can to help my team win,” Kanaley said as the Cougars prepare for Friday night’s key Division III showdown with fellow unbeaten Trinity. “I just go wherever my coach tells me to.”
Kanaley always finds out during the week what he’s supposed to be doing. His favorite is quarterback, but being mainly a running team, the Cougars ask their QBs to run and block more than throw.
That’s why Cougars coach Glenn Costello says a lot of the 800 or so yards that bruising sophomore back Scott Hershberger has gained are due in a big way to the work of Kanaley.
“There’s no way I can give you one thing that he does, because he does it all well,” Costello said. “The kid is a four-year varsity football player, and even in our division that’s saying something.
“You talk about Scott’s success, there’s a direct correlation between Jackson Kanaley and Scott Hershberger’s yardage. Jackson’s bought into our philosophy in running the football, and even though on our roster he’s listed as a quarterback, he’s probably the best fullback in the league.”
“It’s not your traditional quarterback,” Kanaley said. “It’s fun, I can throw the ball sometimes, which is good, but we’re a running team, and I’m happy to help my team run the ball either when I’m running or blocking for a running back.”
Don’t forget his ability to catch the ball, either.
“It’s always fun going out wide to run a rout,” he said.
That’s where he played as a freshman, when Costello and the coaches would call him “the Baby Deer” because he could run that well. Then he transitioned to QB as a sophomore and his hybrid role; he’s likely a better wideout than a QB if truth be told.
On defense, he’s outside, as a contain player on the edge in the rush, but he’s also asked to go down inside and then also back up in pass overage. He started in the secondary.
“He’s always been a natural ball hawk,” Costello said. “But as he’s gotten older, he’s gotten closer and closer to the ball (at linebacker, etc.).”
Kanaley has been playing tackle football since the eighth grade; he’s had cousins play for Campbell (D.J. Simoneau for one) and would come to watch them play, and get the bug.
And he became a varsity player right away as a freshman.
“It was fun,” he said. “Obviously the Class of 2020 was a very strong football class, it was fun to get to know the game with them, see their experiences. I saw how they played on the field and wanted to play just like they did.”
And he saw how he wanted to be as a senior, helping to mentor younger players. But in Hershberger’s case, he does more than that, paving a lot of the way as his bodyguard during some of those eye-popping runs.
“I just try to clean up the linemen’s mistakes if they do make any, or any other mistakes, and a Iike to deter (opponents) from Scott’s way and open up a hole for him,” Kanaley said.
Who knew one of the Cougars’ best blockers would be their quarterback?
“Blocking’s for everybody,” Kanaley said. “When I was a freshman wide receiver, that’s the first thing they taught me how to do, was block. It’s very important on this team to block, to make sure only one guy is trying to tackle the running back.
“It’s fun. I learned techniques. But I think part of it is just reading and reacting to the play. Just seeing where I think there’s the most open spaces where I need to go.”
“Most of the long runs (by Hershberger) are often sprung from Jackson’s last block,” Costelo said. “The O-line does the work at that first level, but something like 70 percent of those big runs are all Jackson. … As much of an athlete as he is, he’s going against smaller, quicker kids. But he has the knack to position himself where he’ll have success.”
Costello says he’s seen the confidence and much better body language in Kanaley, “but his leadership is what’s grown more and more than anything else. … Now he’s at balling at the top of his game.”
Kanaley had to accept the different roles, and as Costello said, “He never blinked. There’s a mutual level of trust between him and I. If I told him to play tight end, he’d do it; if I asked him to play offensive tackle, my guess is he would do it. He wants what’s best for the team…which is obviously a lot different than a lot of kids from his generation.”
Kanaley, however, is a multi-sport athlete, and this is probably his last season in organized football. He plays basketball in the winter (no surprise with his height), but his main game is likey lacrosse, where he’s a defender or long stick midfielder.
Does he have a favorite?
“It’s a tough question,” he said. “I’m probably the best at lacrosse. It depends on the season. Right now, football’s my favorite sport; in the spring lacrosse is.”
But if he plays a sport in college – Kanaley wants to study business/finance – it would be lacrosse, a sport he’s been playing since the third grade. He’s been recruited by Division III schools for that sport, “but I’m not sure if that’s what I want to pursue it yet or not.”
Basketball used to be his favorite, because he was so taller than everyone else as a center in youth basketball; but now at 6-4 he considers himself to be a “short center and can’t shoot.”
Lacrosse, he says, “has the physicality of football and the pace of basketball.”
Good comparison. Thus Kanaley is having fun playing for a winning football team, and is ready to do his part in Friday night’s showdown in Manchester.
“They’e (Trinity) a very talented team with skillful players,” he said. “But I think we work just as hard if not harder. I think we’re going to be prepared.
“I’ve always loved playing in big games. That’s why you play sports, for the big games.”
He’ll miss football after this year if that’s how it turns out. Even, as he says, “the hard practices in the crappy weather.”
“I’ll miss every bit of it,” he said.
And you can bet Campbell will miss him, too.
“Jackson is special,” Costello said, “when it comes to that sacrifice when you’re looking at it for a football player.”