High school football games are notorious for going down to the wire.
In the stands, as the clock ticks toward zeroes and a contest hangs in the balance by three or fewer points, it is common to hear spectators ask a relatively simple question:
“Does this team have a kicker who can actually make a field goal?”
In the case of the George Washington Eagles, the answer has been an emphatic yes. Thanks to the strong leg of senior Jake Wright, the Eagles possess a “something extra” that literally changes the strategies of opposing coaches.
“He’s an extra weapon,” said Washington coach Ron Cohen. “He’s a definite weapon.”
In GW’s 25-0 Friday night victory over Public League AAAA Gold Division rival Germantown High School at Northeast’s Charles Martin Stadium, the Eagles improved to a perfect 4-0, setting up a riveting showdown with also-undefeated Central on Friday afternoon. Senior quarterback David Gavrilov fired touchdown passes to seniors Marquis Edwards and Shaquon Allen, while senior fullback Alex Rivera gained 91 yards on 10 carries.
On defense, senior D’Andre Dunkley returned an interception for a score and Germantown (2-2) was harassed into two safeties.
Wright was three for three on extra-point attempts and came close to a storybook performance (more on that later). The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder landed three of his punts inside the Bears’ 20-yard line, and two weeks ago against West Catholic, he buried three inside the 11-yard line. And George Washington zealots undoubtedly recall last year, when one of Wright’s punts pinned Frankford inside the three-yard line in the Eagles’ 20-13 Public League championship victory.
Not too shabby for a kid who played virtually all positions on the football field during grade school, only to take up kicking before his freshman year.
“He’s one of those kickers who can do it all,” Cohen said. “We’ve had several really good kickers over the years, some that ended up with scholarships because of it. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Jake does the same thing.”
It’s not a subject that has escaped Wright’s future plans.
An excellent baseball player and former soccer standout who is also considering the possibility of trying out for the GW basketball team this winter, Wright was a first-team All-Public League placekicker as a junior. He notched 32 points and, having already amassed 16 points in four games this season, is a virtual lock to duplicate such recognition when football season concludes.
For many hours each week, Wright practices his kicks, both with the team and on his own. He watches college and professional kickers and studies the nuances of their craft. He is hoping that his dedication and diligence to an often-overlooked area of high school football will induce a scholarship offer, particularly from a Division I college program.
Perhaps even more important than his work ethic is Wright’s mental approach. Having connected in pre-game drills on a wind-aided 55-yarder, Wright is confident he can make a field goal from about 52 yards or closer.
While Cohen isn’t about to commit to such a long-distance boot in every game situation, he said is “not afraid” to call Wright’s name anytime the Eagles advance inside the opponent’s 35-yard line.
Against Germantown, Cohen sent Wright out to try a 50-yard field goal at the end of the first half, but a Germantown lineman was able to get his fingertips on the attempt. Later, with GW leading 19-0 midway through the fourth quarter, Wright’s effort on a 51-yard kick was wide left but appeared to have enough distance.
“That’s a thrill,” said Wright, who made sure to mention the importance of long-snapper Rivera, junior holder John Santos and the linemen who prevent him from having to rush his attempts. “Every kick is meaningful, but in high school, most coaches don’t trust their kickers to try something like that. It would have been great to make it, but at least I came away knowing that I can do it in the future.”
If Cohen was a betting man, he knows where to place his chips.
“He’ll hit a 50-yarder sometime this season,” he said. “Wouldn’t surprise me in the least. He keeps his leg fresh and he is mentally prepared. I’m not afraid to use him and wanted to show him I have all the confidence in the world in him. The same goes for his kickoffs and punts. Look at what happened (against Germantown) and the difference a (strong) kicking game makes.”
Cohen was referring to the aforementioned pair of safeties that GW’s defense secured, aided mostly by Germantown’s perpetual poor field position and limited punting options — one that included a botched kick that led to an Eagles touchdown.
“Jake is able to punt the ball very high, and most teams don’t have experience with knowing how to handle that,” Cohen said. “You start adding these things up and they start making a big difference.”
An outstanding student and a member of the National Honor Society, Wright also participates in George Washington’s Peer-Group Connection, something he considers to be “a lot of fun.” His younger brother, Luke, is a sophomore at Washington and manager for the Eagles’ baseball team; older brothers Jon (baseball) and Zach (lacrosse) were also involved in athletics in their time at the school.
As a freshman, Wright benefited from the wisdom and leadership of seniors who tried to steer all underclassmen in the right direction. Now, he is doing the same thing for some of GW’s impressionable youth.