Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
There's just something refreshing about a football player like North Medford's Nick Janakes.
Being a sophomore can bring some of that on, but not entirely. When you find someone who lights up the way Janakes does when asked what about football brings him the most joy, you know you're in the midst of something special.
"Before the game even starts, I love the enthusiasm of the guys," Janakes says with a smile, "and then, of course, out on the field's an amazing feeling when you're standing across a guy in front of you and he's a junior or senior and you never got a chance to go after him and show what you can do."
"Then there's the enthusiasm of the coaches on the sideline, and halftime's a lot of fun," Janakes continues as only a 15-year-old might. "The fourth quarter may be the most fun out of every game, though, especially when it's close and comes down to the wire. The best feeling would be probably getting in that victory formation and seeing (quarterback Troy Fowler) knee the ball as the seconds are running off that clock."
As you can tell, that leaves little else about football that Janakes doesn't love. And that's one great reason to love him as a football player.
"Nick's one of those guys that's a real high school football player," says North Medford head coach Mike Mitchell. "He plays hard at practice and plays hard both ways on the field. I've had sophomores like him but not many, he's going to be a real player with a bright future. He's the real deal."
The 5-foot-11, 182-pounder wasn't available for the football team through most of the summer and that likely led to a lesser role once the season began. Janakes seemingly made every tackle on special teams during North Medford's season-opening comeback win over McNary, and his fire and determination over ensuing weeks brought about an increased workload.
Heading into Friday's Black and Blue Game against South Medford, Janakes has developed into a real weapon on offense at the fullback position and a dependable defensive player at free safety.
Janakes currently ranks 11th in the Southwest Conference in receiving yards (13 catches for 260 yards and three TDs) and 15th in rushing yards (36 carries for 216 yards and one TD).
"The neat thing about Nick is he's one of those players where he doesn't even know what fatigue is," says Mitchell. "He doesn't get tired; he plays hard all the time. You get about eight or nine of those guys and you can play ball."
Janakes credits his senior classmates for making the transition to the varsity level more seamless than even he could've hoped for. Evan Hisey, Tyler Baird, Fou Polataivao, Brody Zoller, Joey Walker, Dominique Barnett, Riley Driscoll, Avion Maloney, Fox Hyrst "… Janakes whimsically ticked off their names as he retraced every step of his fall breakthrough.
"It was all kind of nerve-wracking at first but all the seniors really helped me through it," he says.
The best thing one could say about Janakes this season is he's worked for everything he's accomplished.
"It's been a battle," he says of earning his playing time. "All these guys are really good and a lot of them, to be honest, have a lot more talent than I do. I guess it was more the push by me that you're on varsity now and you really need to step up your game that helped me."
"Like all the seniors are saying," adds Janakes, "once you get a chance out there, don't waste it. If you can just get through it then get through it but get through it with some emphasis. Don't just put a half effort out there, put everything you've got into it and then see what happens afterwards."
While Janakes is a natural with the football in his hands and good in space when he catches the ball out of the backfield, his role as a blocking back for Hisey has been just as instrumental thus far. He hadn't played fullback since his early days of football but hasn't missed a beat in helping Hisey become the SWC's leading rusher at 761 yards on 117 carries.
"I really love running back over everything and fullback has been a little different because I wasn't used to just getting the ball and putting my shoulders down and going through a hole," says Janakes. "I was more the kid that if I needed 4 yards I'd put my shoulders down but otherwise I liked to shift more and put guys on their butts by breaking their ankles."
There's still some of that swagger to what Janakes does on Friday nights, but he's becoming more of a fan of how he can help the team when the ball isn't in his hands.
"There are those times when you slip and fall and you go, 'Wow, I can't believe I just did that,'" he says of being a lead blocker for Hisey, "and then there's times where you get a big blow and he's going for a big run and that can be pretty cool."
Then again, carrying the ball isn't so bad either.
"It's been a lot of fun being able to butt heads with a kid, get a couple yards and then have your teammates pat you on the back when you get that first down," adds Janakes.
Butting heads will likely be a focal point of Friday's game at Spiegelberg Stadium between the crosstown rivals, and Janakes is excited to be taking his first turn in the varsity showdown.
"It's going to be brutal," he says in an excited tone. "Our guys and their guys are going to be butting heads a lot because it is a rivalry game but we're going to have to try to stay smart and play good football through it all."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry