Jagger Cain wants everyone to know that he’s “built different.”
In the sophomore’s first year as a key player for Alexander, he, along with freshman Logan Jenkins, have shown themselves to be core pieces for the Spartans’ future.
Coach Earich Dean has discussed his big plans for both Cain and Jenkins, and he’s shown his belief in the two underclassmen with how much playing time they’ve gotten this season.
The amount of pressure that comes with knowing your coach wants to build his program around you could break some players, but as Cain said, he and Jenkins are “just built different.”
“It’s nothing new to me,” Cain said. “(Jenkins and I) kinda had the same thing when we played in junior high together.”
It’s true: in junior high, Jenkins and Cain proved themselves to be stand-out players before they got to high school, making Dean all the more excited to coach them once he got his chance.
In a season where he has emphasized the importance of everyone being able to step up and contribute to the team whenever necessary, Dean knew that it wasn’t enough just to rely on the juniors and seniors to carry the team; he needed guys like Cain and Jenkins to step up.
Dean has been especially impressed with their versatility. Losing a number of seniors last season meant the roster became thinner. When the depth goes, key players have to start getting snaps at multiple positions, and that includes Jenkins and Cain.
Dean had no worries about them getting a large volume of snaps because he trusted in their athletic ability and pension for learning quickly to allow them to make the impact he expected.
“They’ve excelled everywhere we’ve put them,” Dean said. “We’ve leaned on them, and even the older kids, the upperclassmen, they know it, and they feel very confident when we put them in positions to make plays.”
The confidence has been proven to be well-placed based on their performance this season.
Cain has three rushing touchdowns on the season, and both he and Jenkins have shown the ability to hit the big play with multiple long rushes this season. The big-play ability also showed itself in the kickoff game, as both Jenkins and Cain had the ability to set up Alexander with good field position with their returns.
On defense, Cain is part of an impressive Alexander secondary that includes Michael Lash and Xander Karagosian. Even with those two standouts, Cain has shown himself to have a nose for the ball as a defensive back, recording two picks on the season.
Meanwhile, Jenkins has found himself taking snaps at outside linebacker this season, learning from senior Logan Neal, and finding ways to contribute. Whether it be making plays in the running game, working within the defense to force fumbles or helping in pass coverage when needed, Jenkins has shown himself to have a do-it-all ability as linebacker.
Neal, the lead running back, inside linebacker and one of the team leaders, has passed on as much knowledge as he can to both Jenkins and Cain and has helped to make sure that their jump from junior high to high school went as smoothly as possible.
With an increase in both talent and speed of the game at the high school level, the underclassmen duo appreciates Neal for stepping in as a leader whenever they’ve needed him. And they admit to needing him a lot while they’ve been learning.
With he and Neal both playing linebacker, Jenkins has found himself making sure to watch out for any callouts and orders Neal may have on the field. The freshman has been watching Neal’s tendencies intently this season, as he may be set to replace Neal when the senior graduates.
“He’s always pulling us to the side and showing us what we need to do,” Jenkins said. “Even during games, he helps me.”
As both the Jenkins and Cain duo and Alexander as a whole matures, the expectations for the Spartans grows. They want to play winning football and they want to do it soon.
Despite the struggles the team has faced this year, Dean thinks that Alexander can be a playoff team next year. He sees the talent that is on his team and believes in their ability to take the step up next season.
And he’s gotten his team to buy in as well.
“We’re going all the way,” Cain said.
Jenkins and Cain are confident about what they bring to the team and about the future of Alexander.
And when you’re built different, you can be confident.