One year ago at the University of Kansas football team camp, Lawrence High quarterback Dante Jackson was learning the position for the first time against opposing defenses.
Those memories were ancient history Monday when the Lions returned for the first day of the two-day camp at Memorial Stadium and the nearby practice fields.
At times, the offense already looked in mid-season form and Jackson showcased his improvements in his second year behind center. It was their first day in pads — helmets and shoulder pads — and they scrimmaged against several teams, including Olathe North, Gardner-Edgerton and Tonganoxie in the afternoon.
During one play, Jackson bobbled a high snap, tipping it up in the air to himself. Those broken plays usually end up with the quarterback falling to the ground. Instead, Jackson took off running and made it 10 yards down the field before he was touched by a defender.
“We’re improving a lot,” Jackson said. “These are just the first days of it and we’re already looking pretty dang good. We’ll just see how the summer goes and we should be pretty good.”
Jackson, a senior, said the biggest difference entering his second season at quarterback is that he knows the strengths of his teammates and he knows the no-huddle offense, which was a new wrinkle last year.
The 5-foot-7, 150-pound Jackson had never played quarterback before last season. He’s spent most of his time in the offseason working on adding zip to his throws.
“He’s come a long ways, wow,” Lawrence coach Dirk Wedd said of Jackson. “No one ever expected him to make the strides that he’s made. It’s exciting to see how far he’s come.”
During the scrimmages, one team remains on defense for several plays while each school rotates its offense for one play.
The offense has an advantage because the defense, only in its basic stages, doesn’t prepare for multiple styles of offense on each play.
But the Lions return most of their starters on the offensive side of the ball and expect it to lead them next fall. They averaged 36.1 points per game last season, ending with a 6-4 record.
“We’re going to have to score a bunch of points,” Wedd said. “We understand that. I don’t like that because that’s not the way I was brought up, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Until we get our defense figured out, our offense is going to have to carry them.”
On offense, the Lions are returning seniors Jacob Mills, Nick Englebert and Kristian Russell on the offensive line, plus Harrison King, Jalen Dudley and Ekow Boye-Doe at receiver.
Senior Hunter Krom has impressed his teammates with a strong start to the summer at running back, while junior receiver Caleb Mondi made a couple of strong receptions Monday.
“Harrison King was outstanding today,” Wedd said. “He had some great blocks and caught the ball. He ran our jet play really well. He’s worked very hard to get better. That’s the key. You can’t stay the same. If our good players are as good as they were last year, we’re in trouble. They have to make a jump.”
Jackson is confident that the Lions can become a more explosive offense, and admitted he’s fueled by ending last season with losses in three of their last four games.
“I think he’s honestly a lot more comfortable,” Dudley said of Jackson. “He seems more relaxed. His throws have got a lot better.”
After playing in pads for the first time this summer, and seeing the results against opposing schools, the Lions are excited about the upcoming season drawing closer.
“We’ve got a long ways to go, but I love the kids,” Wedd said. “They came ready to work.”