Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Jackson football enters first year of Nesbitt era with expectations of success

Junior wide receiver Kai Crowe returns as the Jackson football team’s leading receiver from last fall. Photo by Jay Forness

This fall for the first time in a decade, the Jackson football team will not be under the tutelage of MFCA Hall of Fame head coach Brent Eckley. Even with that being the case, though, the playing style fans are used to will not drastically change under new head coach Ryan Nesbitt.

Nesbitt comes to Jackson after serving as head coach for Class 6 Troy Buchanan the past nine years, where he helped the program make its first-ever state semifinal two seasons ago.

While taking over the reigns of a coach like Eckley, who won the Indians their first and only state championship in 2020, is a daunting task, Nesbitt is excited to do so and enjoys the pressure that comes with it. He’s also had support from the Jackson community even before he stepped foot in the area.

“The kids have done a great job of responding to me,” Coach Nesbitt said. “They lose a hall of fame coach, and there’s a whole lot of change, so I can’t tell you how thankful I am for how they’ve responded to me so far.

“I treat each individual kid just like I do my own. We’re in this for a bigger purpose than football — football is a tool to educate kids and help them grow into the best version of themselves. … I’m going to push them, I’m going to challenge them and I’m going to love them. Football wins seem to be a by-product of that.”

As a former player himself at Hickman in Columbia as well as Central Missouri at the college level, Coach Nesbitt says it’s easy to thrive in programs like Jackson that have a great football tradition. This is what Nesbitt has become used to over his playing and coaching career.

“There’s an understanding of the program I’m stepping into — it was built and paid for by guys that have come before me,” he said. “It’s the same for our players. There’s a long line of alum that have built this reputation, and it’s our job to maintain that.”

The Indians are coming off a season where they finished 6-4 overall and failed to win a state playoff game for the first time since 2015. Jackson ended up earning the No. 1 seed in the Class 5 District 1 Tournament, but it fell to rival Poplar Bluff by one point at 21-20 in the district semifinals at The Pit.

Offensively, the Indians will continue to run a spread formation and will be led by returning senior quarterback Adrian Fox, who divvied up starts with 2023 graduate Zach Calder. Fox was a dual threat both throwing and running the ball last fall, so Coach Nesbitt is excited to see what Adrian can do in his final year of high school.

“Adrian has a very reliable arm, and he’s really athletic with his feet — he’s a long strider,” Nesbitt explained. “He’s an intelligent kid, very cerebral and book smart. He’s growing quite a bit in his decision making and making them fast to get the ball out in time. We can do a lot with him, and he’s what you want as a quarterback.”

Fox will continue to receive protection from a future Division-I offensive lineman in senior guard Zane Coon, who verbally committed to Southeast Missouri State in July. Joining Coon on the offensive line will be junior center Brayden Smith, junior guard Jesse Keller, sophomore tackle Brysen Wessell and junior Grant Lindsley.

Coach Nesbitt said Jackson will be more of a run-heavy offense and will distribute the ball between three running backs this fall starting with freshman Jaylon Hampton. The Indians are hopeful a player like Hampton can fill in for a back like Tony Williams, who was a two-year starter and helped Jackson win state in 2020.

“What a special talent he is — just abnormally strong for an incoming freshman,” Nesbitt said. “He’s high school football ready physically — he runs incredibly well. What’s really caught my eye is his vision. A lot of times you’ll see those young backs, it’s how quick can they get to the sideline. He is not afraid to get north and south, and he has a knack for finding seams even if they’re small.”

Also getting reps alongside Hampton will be junior Zach Crump, who Coach Nesbitt described as a “really good” complement to Hampton as a physical running back. Jackson senior Jason Goodman will also see time in the backfield.

As far as receiving options go for Fox, the Indians return their leading receiver from last fall in junior Kai Crowe. Joining him at wideout will be senior Blayne Harris, who didn’t play football last season but helped the boys basketball team reach the 2022-23 Class 6 Final Four.

“It’s not very often that you have two really, really talented receivers,” Coach Nesbitt said. “Kai Crowe is unbelievably talented, and the thing I appreciate about Kai is he’s been working really hard at everything else besides just the talent. His leadership, the details and his work habits. His on-the-field performances will only continue to grow.”

Other players at receiver for Jackson will be senior TJ Altenthal, who also returns as a two-year starter at cornerback for the Indians. Junior Gavin Alspaugh, sophomore Kamden Brock-mire and freshman Evan Turley will also factor in at wideout.

Coach Nesbitt also is going to incorporate tight ends more frequently in his offense as senior John Paul Sauer was a returning starter at the position. However, Sauer suffered a season-ending injury this offseason, paving the way for senior David Wilburn to take over. Other tight ends include juniors Brady Blackman and Lee Ivy.

Moving over to defense, Jackson returns several starters from a unit that pitched two shutouts and allowed no more than 14 points in four other games. Even after losing a player like current Kansas Jayhawk Tony Terry to graduation, Coach Nesbitt is “very excited” about this year’s defensive line.

Returners from last year’s unit include seniors Hayden Wessell, Reid Landers, Cole Fultz and Trenton Rollet. Also joining the defensive line will be senior Evan Smith as it will be his first year of playing football, but Coach Nesbitt said he’s certainly not afraid to hit.

Coming back and starting his third and final year for Jackson will be senior outside linebacker Fisher Stevens, who Nesbitt admires the most for his competitiveness. Fellow senior Peyton Klund, who started at inside linebacker last fall, will start at the outside position opposite of Stevens.

Other players like seniors Cayden Meyers, Albert Stause and junior Cole Geiser will also play considerable time at outside linebacker.

There will be two new starters at inside linebacker this fall in junior Marcus Cutsinger and sophomore Boyd Langford, while Fultz should also mix in.

“[Our front seven] is a group that runs to the ball well, are coachable and weight-room strong,” Coach Nesbitt said. “They like to play strong and physical, and I think we’re going to be good defending the run.”

Moving to the secondary, Altenthal will continue to defend opposing team’s top wide receiver. Playing at receiver this season will also help better know player’s tendencies when he’s defending them.

“TJ is the type of kid that No. 1 has the physical tools but mentally he likes having the challenge of playing another team’s best receiver,” Nesbitt said.

Joining Altenthal at corner will be junior Tyson Ford and freshman Blayne Reagan, who Nesbitt said is actually faster than TJ.

At safety, senior Gavin Guilliams will continue to man his spot as another multiple-year starter for the Indians defense. Nesbitt described Guilliams as a “unbelievably” steady player, who is a sure tackler, covers receivers well and does a great job communicating with his secondary on coverage assignments.

Along with sometimes lining up at outside linebacker, Geiser will play at the opposite safety position of Guilliams. “He’s big-time athletic — runs incredibly well and has some great tools,” Nesbitt said. “He’s learning to be consistent.”

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

You May Also Like

City News

A 26-year-old Mississippi man was disarmed, arrested and charged with murder following an early morning shooting spree on Wednesday, Dec. 22, at the Town...

City News

A 58-year-old Jackson man drowned after going into Jackson City Park’s Rotary Lake during the July 4th firework show Sunday night. The man’s body...

City News

Americans frustrated by the policies of the current administration in Washington have let their feelings be known in large sporting venues across the country...


Former Jackson High School athletes will soon be honored in a new hall of fame program approved by the Jackson R-2 School Board during...