… US-127 from Leslie to Jackson High School, that is.
It became official on March 4 when longtime Leslie High School football coach Scott Farley announced he was leaving the Blackhawk program and taking over at Jackson.
“This was a very, very difficult decision to make,” Farley said. “The people in and around the Leslie program and community have been very supportive and we’ve built something special here. I had to take some time before making a decision, but I look forward to this challenge.”
And quite a challenge it will be…
The difference in the programs is immense. Farley compiled a 117-82 record at Leslie – including an 84-42 mark since 2001 – three conference championships and trips to the state semi-finals in 2007 and 2008. The ‘Hawks have featured one of the area’s most high-powered offenses in recent years and have waged several epic battles with perennial area power Grass Lake.
The Vikings, on the other hand and although playing on a larger stage, have struggled, going winless last year and 4-23 the last three years. Jackson has lost 16 consecutive games and hasn’t posted a win since a 35-34 victory over Fowlerville in September 2011. Yet, Farley sees the potential and embraces that challenge.
“I’ve always kept an eye on the Jackson program and looked at it as sort of a diamond in the rough,” he said. “You look at Lansing and they have several major high schools, all competing in many ways against each other. Jackson is a one high school town, which I think is a good thing. Certainly academically Jackson High is one of the top schools anywhere and there is so much community support.”
Even the thought of mixing it up with some of the state’s biggest and best football programs doesn’t deter Farley’s outlook.
“I look at the conference (the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue Division) and see teams like Holt and Grand Ledge, and know that we can’t back away from that,” Farley said. “We have to aspire to be like those programs. We have Lumen Christi right down the road from us, and that’s one of the best programs in the entire state. We have to recognize them for what they are and aspire to be at that level someday.”
And Farley thinks the offense he ran at Leslie would be a perfect fit at Jackson High.
“Jackson High has always had tremendous athletes,” he said. “So I think we’ll do very well there. The offense we run is very flexible depending on the type of talent we have. If we can find a strong-armed quarterback we think can throw the ball around, we’ll do that. If our strength is our running game, we’ll move in that direction.”
Yet, as the consummate football coach, Farley knows where long-term football success at Jackson High will start.
“It has to start up front,” he said. “We have to be better up front and in the trenches. It has to start with the fundamentals and that means off the field, too. We have to work with the kids so that they know what it takes and what it means to be a football player at Jackson High School.”
Farley has the football pedigree and the proven track record needed to begin laying the foundation for long term success for the black and orange. And he’s eager to get started. With most of his staff at Leslie expected to remain with the Blackhawks because of school district commitments and player connections, Farley will spend the upcoming weeks organizing his new coaching staff and meeting the players.
It’s clear he has a vision for Jackson High football and I asked him what he wanted opposing coaches and players to say about Viking teams starting this fall.
“I want teams we play to know that the Jackson Vikings will compete,” he said. “Even if we aren’t as talented or we’re not as big, I want out football team to compete – every play, every game. I want our guys to play hard and we have to be fundamentally sound. That’s where it starts and we have to be prepared. We have to be prepared mentally and physically to play football.”
In the coming days and weeks the Vikings and the Jackson High community will meet their new football coach. Let the rest of the CAAC take note: If Scott Farley brings the same fight and tenacity his Leslie Blackhawk teams displayed to his new job, then Withington Stadium will be a lot louder on Friday nights in the fall, and the Vikings a whole lot tougher to play.