Defense is one of the big reasons that the Gig Harbor High School boys football team has gotten out to a 5-1 start this season.
Over the six-game span, the Tides’ defense has surrendered just shy of 15 points per game, almost five points less than they did the year before at this point in the season.
And even though there are plenty of talented players on the defense, junior defensive lineman Jake Jennings has been making a lot of noise by racking up quite a few tackles and sacks.
“I think it’s not just me. I think as a team, we all work well,” he said. “As I’m getting a tackle, that’s usually because someone else on the line filled up the gap and it [runs] out the person out to me and I was there to make the tackle.”
So far this season, Jennings has gathered at least 36 tackles, four sacks and 12 tackles for loss. He makes up one fourth of a really strong defensive line for the Tides.
Alongside Jennings are Brendan Rivera, Sam Peacock and Tate Turnbull, a few other linemen that help bring the best out in their teammates.
“We’re all really great friends. Tate and I went to the same middle school, so we’ve known each since the 6th grade,” he said. “Peacock and Rivera, I didn’t get to know them until last year. But we all have great chemistry and we talk to each other outside of football.”
Jennings’ success this season can be traced back to when he came to Gig Harbor. As a freshman, he played on the Tides’ C-team, and then saw some action on varsity as a sophomore.
With Rivera and Peacock being as good as they are, that allowed Jennings to help sharpen his skills as he would often go against them during drills at practice.
But that is only half the case for Jennings because he is a natural athlete as well.
“He’s a freakish athlete. I don’t use that term lightly,” said coach George Fairhart. “Not that this is track and field, but he won a state championship as a sophomore. That just doesn’t happen. It’s because he’s really gifted.”
As a sophomore, Jennings wanted to increase his speed for football, so he joined the track team as a way to help get faster. And although it did not pan out, the Tides coaching staff thought the javelin toss would suit him better.
Jennings agreed and went on to practice and improved week after week. By the end of the season, he won the 3A state championship for the javelin toss with a throw of 186 feet and four inches.
“Before I knew it, I was competing at the state meet. And I just barely won by [almost] two feet. It was great,” he said. “Other than strength wise, [football and javelin] are two different sports.”
Jennings is one of the taller players on the Tides’ roster so naturally, he uses his whole 6-foot-3 inch frame to generate a rush against his opponents.
In fact, his favorite move to use on his opponents is one where he pushes really hard into them, then pulls them to move them out of his way.
“Well, [Jake] is probably the most explosive player in that group, and it’s a real good group,” Fairhart said. “Those four kids are all big and strong and athletic and tough.”
For Jennings, playing with a high level of aggression helps him create those explosive plays that generate pressure on the Tides’ opponents.
Growing up in Florida, Jennings used to play youth soccer. Because he really wanted to play football, he would often push people over to get that aggression out.
Jennings got his opportunity to play football starting in the third grade. However, he had to soon trade in his football pads for a rugby kit.
“Originally, I lived in Gig Harbor. Then I moved to Florida and then we moved to Australia,” he said. “My mom used to live there, that’s where she grew up. And so my mom wanted me to experience that.”
Living in Australia obviously took Jennings away from football. But playing rugby allowed him to become even more physical and tough, something that has rolled over into football once again.
With all his physical gifts, it is still important for Jennings to push himself and try his hardest on the field.
“I like trying hard. I think that’s how I got here,” he said.
Jennings and the rest of the Tides will travel this week as their matchup against Shelton starts at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18 at Shelton High School.