Column: Line Drives — ACAC should be a thrill

[This is my column in the Aug. 21 issue of The Commercial Review.]

I’ve heard people talking and I’ve read the letters in old newspapers.

“Jay County will not be challenged in the ACAC (Allen County Athletic Conference).”

Jay County may be the largest school in the conference — it and Leo are the only 4A schools and JCHS will stand alone in that regard next season — but that doesn’t automatically mean it should roll over its conference foes.

The number of students at a school makes no difference. The quality of athletes does.

Just ask Nick Clemens.

“Size shouldn’t matter,” said Clemens, the senior captain of the football team. “If you work hard and you’re a small school, you should still be pretty good. For us, we have to work just as hard as them.

“There’s no difference in people. As long as you work hard you’ll be good.”

And in football, there is no clear dominance by Jay County over schools in Class 3A and lower.

Over the last 10 years, the Patriots are 27-24 against schools in classes lower than 4A. Eight of those losses are to Delta, a team the Patriots play Friday and have not beaten since 1993.

While Leo is the only other 4A school in the conference, three other schools have won a sectional championship in the last four years. South Adams (1A), Adams Central (1A) and Heritage (3A) all won sectional titles since 2011.

“It’s very competitive,” Hunter Prescott said of the conference. “I think it’s improved our schedule by quite a darn bit because there’s a lot more competition. Even though most of the schools are smaller than us, they’re all high-quality teams.”

The Patriots snapped a three-game losing streak against Heritage with a 32-27 win in 2013, but have been outscored 130-53 in the series over the last four years.

Jay County is also 1-0 against Southern Wells since 2004. The Patriots won 13-7 that year, but lost to the Raiders 47-26 in 2003.

Not exactly a cake walk after all.

But being in a conference again is something players and fans alike should be thrilled with.

Some of the athletes are relishing the opportunity to play for a conference title.

“It’s exciting,” fullback Drew Huffman said. “We have a great senior class this year, but as a junior I’m going to do the best I can to fulfill my role and do it for them. It’s exciting to be in a conference.”

Prescott says the chance to be part of the first team to win an ACAC title gives his squad a little more of a chip on its shoulder.

“I’d say it has a lot of pressure and makes everybody fight a little harder to say we were the first,” he said.

Jared Schlosser, a senior on the JCHS boys soccer team, said playing teams like South Adams and Heritage now has more meaning.

The Starfires and Patriots are two of Jay County’s biggest rivals on the pitch, and he said the intensity will be increased since the game will now have conference implications.

The ACAC also gives Jay County a chance to form new rivalries.

“Because of the close proximity of our schools I feel like the rivalry will develop quickly, which I think will be cool,” JCHS football coach Tim Millspaugh said.

Overall, the thoughts among Jay County coaches and players are favorable ones — from the anticipation of playing new opponents to the thrill of being part of something new.

Just as I was excited to be new to Jay County, I’m excited to chronicle the first of many years for the Patriots in the ACAC.

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