With just five seniors on the roster, there could be some growing pains in J-Town this season. However, the benefit of that discomfort is–ultimately–the growth that comes with it. In year three of his tenure, Jordan head football coach Tim Wedlow is bullish on the direction of the program, and hopes that a condensed season will provide valuable opportunities for his young team to learn and take some positive strides.
“I’m excited for the seniors because this is their last go-around, but to me this season is like spring ball with gear on,” Wedlow said. “I want this team to be able to grow up and get some maturity. Because it’s an inexperienced team and we don’t have many starters back, so this will give us great experience for next season. I’m looking forward to these guys getting out here and seeing what they can do. They say they’re ready, so we’ll see how ready they can be when we get our first opponent. But they’re hungry.”
Even with the inexperienced group–which also has just nine juniors–Wedlow believes this is one of the most talented teams at Jordan in a while. Despite all the challenges presented by school shutdowns and the health concerns related to COVID-19, the numbers are up within the program. Wedlow said he has close to 50 kids on the varsity roster, which is nearly double what he had when he took over the program.
One of the few upperclassmen on the squad is also the largest player on the roster. Listed at 6-foot-3, 320 lbs., Xavier Heard will be hard to miss this season, either at his left tackle position on offense or in the trenches as a defensive tackle. Heard is a three year starter for the Panthers who recently signed a scholarship with Lane College in Tennessee. He will help lead a big, but inexperienced offensive line with three sophomores expected to start.
“It’s just a good feeling for me and my teammates to finish out this last year at Jordan, so I can say I’ve actually played all four years,” said Heard. “We’ve all been waiting for a long time for this moment, so we’ve all got that little fire in us that we want to play. We’ve got good numbers, and Coach Tim is pushing us to be better, so we’re looking good for this season.”
The strength of the team will be in its playmaking unit, with a large group of wide receivers and running backs expected to be in the rotation. One of the top targets on the outside will be junior Keyshawn Abreu, a transfer from Narbonne High who received a scholarship offer to Illinois during his sophomore season. He will be a top wideout and contributor in the secondary as well.
“I’m glad I made the move and I’m just fired up and ready to go for the season,” said Abreu. “As soon as I got here there was chemistry off the bat, they welcomed me with open arms.”
Elijah Jones will fill a similar role to Abreu, contributing at both wide receiver and at cornerback. He’s a three-year starter with the Panthers, bringing some needed experience to the lineup. He feels the team is underrated and ready to surprise some teams in their underdog role.
Other skill position players include sophomore wide receiver Damian Henderson–who also plays basketball at J-Town–and aptly-named freshman Jordan Washington, who Wedlow is very high on. Washington projects to be a starting cornerback while also getting plenty of snaps at running back this season behind starter Malik Lott. A year ago, Washington won the 100m dash at the LBUSD middle school track championships running for Lindbergh Academy. Now he’s ready to showcase his speed on the high school gridiron.
“I’m trying to shine this year,” said the ambitious Washington. “And just do whatever I can do to get my name out there, so I’m ready to work hard and do whatever I can to get noticed this season.”
Washington says he currently prefers playing defense where he can try to get into the opponent’s heads. At the linebacker spot, big sophomore Dylan Falefitu will be looking to get into the opponent’s backfield with regularity. At 6-foot-3, 245 lbs. Falefitu has great size for a 10th grader, and will also contribute as a power running back on offense.
“We’re excited for the opportunity to play, to get out there and hit and execute,” Falefitu said. “We’re a family and we’re looking to combine and play as one.”
Key returner Jacob Hernandez will be a starter at safety for the Panthers and might also see time at quarterback, backing up projected starter Mekhi Travis. Both players are sophomores, meaning the Panthers won’t have the luxury of a veteran signal-caller this season. But with so much time spent wondering if they’d even get a chance to play, the Panthers are grateful for the opportunity to show what they’re made of and try to get better over this five-game season.
Jordan will visit Los Osos for a scrimmage this Friday, followed by their season opener at home against Millikan on March 19.
3/19 vs. Millikan
3/26 vs. Lakewood
4/1 at Wilson
4/9 vs. Poly
4/16 vs. Compton