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Jays looking for Strobel to be catalyst on defense


Jefferson City linebacker Hayden Strobel sets his sights on a ballcarrier during tackling drills in the Jays’ practice Saturday morning at Adkins Stadium.

Jefferson City linebacker Hayden Strobel sets his sights on a ballcarrier during tackling drills in the Jays’ practice Saturday morning at Adkins Stadium. Photo by Kris Wilson.

There was a time last season when Jefferson City football coach Ted LePage wasn’t sure what he had in linebacker Hayden Strobel.

But in the fifth game of the season against DeSmet, LePage saw it all click when Strobel ripped the ball out of the hands of a running back, eventually returning it deep into DeSmet territory.

“After that play, he just (went) into another level,” LePage said.

Strobel wound up leading the team in tackles with more than 90 and became a big part of the defense after linebacker Joey Burkett went down with a season-ending ankle injury in the eighth game of the season.

The Jays are counting on Strobel, now a senior, to be a catalyst in the middle of the field for a young Jefferson City defense that hopes to show improvement after struggling to find consistency throughout last year.

“Last year during the first couple of games I was a little timid, just because it was the first time I’ve ever started,” Strobel said. “I came a long way since my freshman or sophomore year. I credit that to (defensive coordinator Ron) Cole. So this year I can be more aggressive, I know what to expect now. I’ve already started for a year.”

Cole credits some of Strobel’s success last year to a switch in positions. With the defense struggling early on, Burkett went to the outside because of his speed, Jordan Robinson went to the strong side and Strobel moved to the middle.

“Every game he got better and better and better at reading,” Cole said. “It gets pretty complicated inside, reading the scheme and knowing which gap you have and what the blocking scheme is. He just got better every game, every practice. That’s the kind of kid he is.”

This year Strobel will be expected to contribute even more on the field, as well as off the field. He said he’s been working on becoming more of a vocal leader this season. His teammates have seemed to respond.

“I try to help people a lot,” Strobel said. “I know there’s a couple guys that get frustrated at practice, I’m just like, ‘You’re thinking too much. Just, you see a ball up in the air, you’ve got to go get it. You can’t think about where’s the receiver, where am I supposed to be. You’ve just got to go get it.’”

Added Cole: “There’s no question, he is the leader. ... He’s definitely in a leadership role and kids respect him. He’s a great leader.”

It was feast or famine for Jefferson City’s defense at times last year. The Jays hope Strobel’s play on and off the field can help a defense that was susceptible to big plays all year. They allowed 12 touchdowns of 30 or more yards and allowed 4.8 yards per play while intercepting only five passes.

“We talked about it early, the first meeting I had, we can’t have big plays,” LePage said. “Last year, big plays killed us. If you go back and take the big plays out, they didn’t average hardly anything against us yards per play. It seemed like that was our Achilles’ heel.”

Robinson’s return should also help the defense. He had 31⁄2 sacks last season and is the second-leading returning tackler behind Strobel. The other six of the Jays’ eight leading tacklers graduated last season.

“We’ve got to start off fast and aggressive every game and get out there and pop the opponent in the mouth first,” Robinson said.

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