North Medford’s football program has certainly enjoyed its share of versatile, physical phenoms over the years.
In recent seasons, that 6-foot-4 playmaker role has been passed on from A.J. Raye to Eli Spence and now to Jett Carpenter, and the latter has been doing everything he can this year to live up to that legacy.
“It’s my last season in high school and my last time here with a Black Tornado jersey on,” said the 17-year-old Carpenter, “so I’m just kind of putting everything out there on the line and trying to make every moment count.”
Raye was one of North Medford’s leading pass rushers and transitioned to its top pass catcher, tying a Black and Blue Game record with nine receptions as a senior in 2016.
Spence proved to be one of the Black Tornado’s most versatile players in his career, running the gamut from bullish linebacker to pass rushing end on defense to an offensive role as top receiving threat and then, ultimately, the program’s single-season rushing leader as a senior in 2018.
In the 210-pound Carpenter, North Medford remains in good hands on both sides of the ball.
With six catches for 143 yards and three touchdowns last week against Aloha, Carpenter assumed the No. 1 spot among Southwest Conference receivers with 728 yards and nine TDs on 37 receptions heading into Friday’s regular season finale against South Medford at Spiegelberg Stadium.
Defensively, Carpenter has also been a magnet for the football, tracking down quarterbacks, running backs and anyone else who dares carry the ball in his vicinity.
“He’s very versatile in what we can do with him, which most people don’t have the luxury of having versatile players like him,” said Black Tornado head coach Steve Turner. “He allows us to do a lot of things.”
Carpenter’s impact definitely has not gone unnoticed outside the North Medford camp, and recently drew high praise from Grants Pass head coach John Musser.
“I think he’s the best player in the conference,” said Musser. “He’s a tough matchup. What he does (offensively) is even if those balls aren’t to him, he forces your coverage because you always have to be aware of him. So when you’ve got to keep a couple guys over him at all times, obviously it’s going to open other things.”
Whatever role Carpenter has been playing at tight end, it certainly has served his team well.
North Medford (6-2, 2-1 SWC), which also boasts the SWC’s leading rusher in junior Devin Bradd, is averaging nearly 483 yards and 43 points per game behind a diverse attack that’s difficult to pin down.
“What Jett does provide offensively for us are matchup nightmares for other teams,” said Turner. “He’s a really good in-line blocker, he can run with the ball, you can spread him out and he catches the ball as a receiver and you can put him in motion. There’s so many things that he does and people have been generating their defense to try and stop him, which leaves one-on-ones with other pretty darn good kids, and you’ve seen the results of that, too.”
For his part, Carpenter simply tries to give 100 percent to his team on each play, regardless of what that means in terms of being a primary target or complementary figure.
“I’m just there to help out my team in whichever way they need me,” he said. “If they’ve got my back then I’m there to have their back no matter what.”
Carpenter admits that he’s not the prototypical speed merchant on the perimeter, able to carve up defenses with blinding agility. What he does have are great hands and a tremendous understanding of how to make himself a viable receiving threat.
“I just really focus on route running,” he said. “I may not be the fastest or quickest guy but if you run your routes crisp and use your body to separate the defender from the ball, you can be successful. I just try and use my length to go up and make sure that I’m the one getting it.”
On defense, it’s a little more about determination, will-power and an innate knowledge of where to be in order to make an impact.
“They’ve been playing me at defensive end this year, which I’ve really been enjoying,” said Carpenter, who boasts a 3.7 GPA. “It’s fun to line up and just bull-rush the quarterback every time. But I’ve grown up playing linebacker, too, so I feel pretty comfortable playing wherever they need me.”
That comfortability is a plus because North Medford, which is allowing only 301 yards and 20 points per game, adjusts Carpenter’s defensive role on any given series almost as much as it does offensively.
“Defensively we do things with him that other teams can’t,” Turner said. “We can put him in spots to take advantage of what he can do well. He’s a really good pass rusher and he’s good against the run so we try to put him in spots where he can have as much success as he can and help us.”
The foundation to be such a versatile weapon as a senior relates back to Carpenter’s early days in football. He began playing in third grade, most notably as a quarterback at first, and has yet to find a role on the field to his disliking.
“I’ve played all over the field,” he said, “so I’ve become familiar with all different positions and I think that’s kind of helped me out through my years, just understanding a little bit more of the game.”
Carpenter is also an accomplished basketball and baseball player, but football has always been his first love and will be his sole pursuit in college after he verbally committed to Eastern Washington University earlier this fall to play tight end.
“The love for the game just started right then in third grade,” said Carpenter. “There’s just nothing like it. There’s a family bond between your guys, and you can go out and hit people and get away with it. I love football. It just shows what character you have and tests what you can truly do through this amazing sport.”
And when it comes to Carpenter, the only true test is deciphering where he makes the biggest impact.
“It’s hard to say that he’s more impactful on one side than the other, it really is,” said Turner, “because he does have a huge impact on both sides.”
“He’s everywhere on that field,” adds the coach, noting Carpenter’s role on special teams as well. “We try to take him out and give him a break and he doesn’t want it, but we still have to do it. It’s hard to keep that pace up all the time, but he finds a way.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry