PHOENIX — It didn’t seem right for all parties involved last summer to have Javan Gail join his father Jered after the latter was a late choice to become Phoenix High’s head coach in football.
Given time to establish roots in a new community, though, the opening for a reunion was there and the younger Gail was happy to take it at the end of the 2016-17 school year.
And even though Javan misses being with his teammates and friends at North Medford High on a daily basis, the 17-year-old quarterback and safety has felt completely at home with the Pirates, many of whom he’s known since his first days in Pop Warner football.
“I’m liking it a lot, it’s been pretty fun,” Javan said of his time at Phoenix. “The energy is just a little different with it being a smaller school but I think it’s a lot of fun, and playing with this new group of guys has been pretty good.”
“It was actually a lot easier than I thought it was going to be,” he added of the transition. “I’ve known a lot of these kids since I was little playing in my first years of football with the Phoenix-Talent Titans, and I’ve made a lot of good friends since I’ve been here.”
He has also made an immediate impact on a Phoenix football team that is vying for a Class 4A state playoff berth. The Pirates are 3-2 overall, with their lone losses to No. 4 Marshfield and No. 5 Mazama, and 1-1 in Skyline Conference play heading into Friday’s homecoming game against North Valley at Jack Woodward Stadium.
“He’s a well-rounded kid and it’s fun for me, as his dad and as his coach, to watch him excel and play with his friends and have fun like he’s been doing,” said Jered, who was a longtime assistant coach at North Medford and Grants Pass before joining Phoenix. “He’s taking it to heart to be a leader on this team, along with a great senior class that we have.”
A year after completing 91-of-78 passes for 1,236 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions while splitting time at North Medford with Josh Robbins, Javan has connected on 73 of 131 passes thus far for the Pirates for 969 yards, nine TDs and four interceptions. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder has also rushed 37 times for 179 yards and four TDs, and is among the top tacklers this season.
“He’s been able to distribute the ball well, which has been really big for us,” added Jered. “On defense, he’s got an instinct for the football and has been around enough that he knows where the ball is going to end up going and play downhill to it.”
Seniors Chase Courtney (23 catches, 448 yards, five TDs) and Dylan Knudson (28 catches, 295 yards, one TD) have been Phoenix’s primary playmakers, along with senior tight end Jonathan Halligan, behind an offensive line that has been solid all season.
“We’ve had a couple bumps with Mazama and Marshfield — those are two good teams — but I still think we’re a good team,” said Javan, who holds a 3.89 grade-point average. “I think there’s been a lot of improvement every single game and moving forward every week we get better. Hopefully we can just keep trucking on and make a run in the playoffs.”
Besides a few new venues to play in and no prior experiences against opponents to build off, switching from the 6A to the 4A level hasn’t been a big deal thus far for Javan, who keeps in regular contact with his North Medford friends.
“The competition has been relatively similar,” he said. “Just because it’s a smaller school doesn’t mean there’s less talent, just less guys. There might be some areas where a team might be weaker but it’s pretty much the same, there’s a tough game each week, no doubt about it.”
A positive change, however, has come in bringing his family unit back together. Freshman brother Theran plays for the Phoenix JV football team, while sister Raegan is a junior on the cross country team.
And then, of course, there’s a matter for playing for his father again.
“The relationship between player-coach is a lot different this year,” adds Javan. “Just knowing each other’s personality and how we work has been helpful. He knows he can correct me on stuff and how to do it because he knows me more, and we’re working on stuff even when we’re at home watching film.”
There’s no doubt it’s also been a blessing for Jered, who was encouraged to vie for the Phoenix job a year ago by Javan and the rest of his family.
“It was rough last year coaching away and not being able to be around my own kids and watching my own kids play,” said Jered. “But I would’ve never taken the job if my family didn’t support that decision. Last year, timing-wise, it didn’t work out for us but it’s the right thing for our family now and I think it’s kind of been a no-brainer.”
It’s also been seamless for both Gails given their player-coach history, which does bring about a break from the family dynamic while on the field.
“On the field, he’s No. 13 and I’m coach,” said Jered. “At home, he’s Javan and I’m dad. That’s just the way we do it. We talk a little bit of football at home but not a lot. It’s a good dynamic because football is sometimes a big part of our lives — and we want to have a great experience with that — but there has to be time away from football, too. It can’t just always be on the grind.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry