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Highlands senior RB Jermaine Jett poised for big final season

| Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, 11:09 p.m.
Highlands senior Jermaine Jett takes a handoff during practice on Aug. 14, 2017, at Highlands Golden Rams Stadium.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune Review
Highlands senior Jermaine Jett takes a handoff during practice on Aug. 14, 2017, at Highlands Golden Rams Stadium.
Highlands Head Coach Dom Girardi  works with senior Jermaine Jett during practice on Aug. 14, 2017, at Highlands Golden Rams Stadium.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune Review
Highlands Head Coach Dom Girardi works with senior Jermaine Jett during practice on Aug. 14, 2017, at Highlands Golden Rams Stadium.

For the past three seasons Highlands senior running back Jermaine Jett played the role of groomsman.

But after patiently waiting his time behind standouts Elijah Jackson and Dom Martinka, Jett suddenly finds himself as the best man in the Rams backfield.

"Waiting (to start) just made me mature a lot more," said Jett, who led the Rams with five rushing touchdowns last season. "Now it's my time. Everything is ready to go, and I feel confident in what I do."

After touching the ball 13 times for 48 yards as a freshman, Jett led the Rams in rushing yards (648) and touchdowns (10) as a sophomore before splitting carries with Martinka as a junior. Last season, Jett finished second on the team in rushing behind Martinka with a modest 368 yards. He averaged 7.1 yards every time he touched the ball.

Ask Jett how he feels going into his final season, and his face lights with optimism. He said his personal goals are to rush for 1,000 yards and 30 touchdowns.

"I feel good," Jett said, who names Army, Navy and Temple as schools that have shown interest. "I plan to dominate, show everybody what I'm about this year and show them not to sleep on me."

Nobody is going to sleep on Jett, but they just might have a hard time keeping up with him. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds and appears poised for a breakout season as the Rams' featured back.

While bursting to daylight through the Highlands offensive line or sprinting wide, hitting the corner and turning upfield are Jett's forte, catching the ball is something he has spent a great deal of time getting better at in the offseason. With first-year coach Dom Girardi installing a new spread offense, Jett will have every opportunity to show off his hands.

"(Coach) made a couple plays, so that the running back goes out for wheel routes," said Jett, who also lines up at linebacker on defense. "My freshman year, I couldn't really catch and I've been practicing all summer and I want to show everybody that I can catch."

The only reception of Jett's career came last season, a 3-yard loss. Surrounded by playmakers in previous seasons, Jett was never really given the opportunity to blossom in the passing game with Highlands' run-heavy offense.

"It's high school football, and running back is a key position in high school football," Girardi said. "Everybody thinks quarterback is because they're used to watching the college or pro game."

Girardi has a luxury some first-year coaches don't often have. He has a proven commodity in the backfield while the Rams offense gets acquainted and learns the new scheme.

"Coming into a program with someone like (Jett), who has experience and game experience, playing that position and having the talent and skill level that he has is a good thing to come into," Girardi said.

Girardi knew what he was getting in Jett when he took the job. Living just a few blocks away from the Golden Rams Stadium, Girardi frequently made the short walk and took in a few games during the past few years while serving as the quarterbacks coach at Geneva.

"You can tell that he cares and wants to do things right," Girardi said. "His hands are pretty good, and I think that it's something that has improved over the summer."

Jett isn't taking anything for granted during his final season. He reflected back to when he was a freshman and recalled the things he has learned by watching from the sidelines. Jett said he learning how to juke and make jump cuts from Jackson and the ability to persevere through tough times by keeping a positive mindset from Martinka.

"(My senior year) is everything that I thought it was going to be," Jett said. "Everything in life, you don't get it when you want it. You have to work for it and achieve it."

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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