Four Letters Later, Walk-on Wesch Has Another Goal: Director of Operations
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Jake Wesch has seen college football from so many different angles, he could probably write a fairly interesting book, but he would never have time to do it.
Four varsity letters after walking on at Nebraska, Wesch is zeroed in on the only two goals that matter right now.
First, he won't come up for air until he gets his master's degree next spring in Education and Athletic Administration at the University of Nebraska.
Secondly, he's enjoying his role as a football sponge, so the first-year intern on Bo Pelini's staff can learn everything possible to become what he now knows he wants to be - a director of football operations at a Division I school.
"You have to juggle a lot of balls and be really organized, but I like the idea of being behind the scenes and making sure everything runs smoothly, so the head coach doesn't have to worry about things he shouldn't have to worry about," Wesch said. "It's a great experience being able to work with Jeff Jamrog in football operations."
Wesch, who addressed nearly 200 Husker fans at the season's first Nebraska Walk-On Club Luncheon Thursday in Lincoln, knows that "If you want to have a big impact on a student-athlete and want to learn what I've learned since I've been here, you have to be focused on total-person development," he said. "Being an intern in both operations and recruiting, I got to assist in areas like team travel - something you always took for granted as a player, but learned to appreciate when you saw how much was involved."
Wesch was more than willing to volunteer whenever Nebraska Life Skills Associate Athletic Director Keith Zimmer asked for players to reach out to the community.
As he waited patiently for the kicking job he always sought but never got, Wesch still contributed to the team, doing whatever he was asked to do while earning the trust of the coaches he played for and the respect of the administrators he served.
He wanted to get on the field and make an impact
"From an athletic standpoint, my goal coming in was to get on the field and make an impact," said Wesch, a North Bend, Neb., native who was a quarterback and a safety in high school in addition to a two-time all-state kicker and an all-state punter.
Recruited in 2003 to walk on at Nebraska, Wesch thought his dream would end when Frank Solich was replaced as the Huskers' head coach.
"I had done well in Nebraska's football camp and thought everything would be all set," he said. "But I didn't hear from Nebraska for two or three months after the coaching change, so I thought I was out of the picture."
He wasn't bitter or surprised. "I just kept thinking there was no way a new coaching staff would be interested in a walk-on kicker from the small town of North Bend, Nebraska," he said, "so in the back of my mind, I started thinking about walking on at Iowa. That's where I thought I would end up."
But a fortunate thing happened for Wesch. Scott Downing was retained as recruiting coordinator and handled Nebraska's kickers and punters, so the new staff hung out the welcome sign to walk-ons.
Wesch redshirted in 2004. In 2005, he handled Nebraska's kickoffs beginning with the Texas game and helped the Huskers rank 16th nationally in kickoff coverage. He became familiar to Nebraska fans that season when he threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Hunter Teafatiller to give the Huskers a 7-0 lead on a fake field goal attempt in a 21-3 win at Kansas State.
After backing up Jordan Congdan as a placekicker in 2006, Wesch spent his last two seasons backing up Alex Henery in '07 and '08. Actually, he backed up Henery on field goals and extra points, backed up Adi Kunalic on kickoffs and backed up Dan Titchener as the punter.
He was the holder for Henery's historic field goal
So what does a talented backup do when three spots close for him all at once? He becomes a flawless holder for three consecutive years, makes every road trip and helps Nebraska post its first perfect season in school history with 46-of-46 extra points on a team that lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Conference Championship, not to mention holding for Henery's 57-yard field goal against Colorado - the longest in Nebraska history.
"Being a holder wasn't the role I had in mind when I walked on," Wesch said, "but just being here gave me all kinds of other opportunities to help in the football office. I had two internships (with Chris Anderson) and got to work with two Directors of Operations (Tim Cassidy and Jamrog). I got to work with an unbelievable staff on such projects as the Husker Power Booster Club and the Junior Varsity Kids Club."
Wesch became a member of the Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll and a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. He was a HERO Leadership Award recipient and earned his selection to the Brook Berringer Citizenship Team through extensive community outreach, including volunteering with School is Cool Week, Dads of Kinds with Disabilities, Charlie Brown's Good Grief Support network, the Fall Break Tour of Excellence and visits to several local hospitals.
Wesch embraced Pelini's hard-nosed, team-oriented philosophy and marveled how his head coach was able to "help us lift the weight of the world off our shoulders" in his first season.
"He's a brilliant guy, and he was able to bring us all together as a family," Wesch said of Pelini. "The atmosphere was incredible. He knows that every single player on the team has his own story to tell, and everyone saw how the staff wanted to hear what made everyone tick."
Playing for Coach Pelini "is so much more fun than actual football itself," Wesch said. "He's all about being a complete person. If you're not willing to do stuff that he and his staff expect you to do - stuff that goes beyond what so many other programs ask you to do - you won't be in the mix. Bo believes that if you won't do the right thing in the classroom, why would he expect you to do the right thing on the field?"
The farm is the source of his accountability
It's a fair question and one that Wesch never had any trouble dealing with because he grew up on a 1,300-acre farm that his grandfather, Herbert, and his dad, Jim, worked near North Bend.
"We grew corn and soybeans, and we grew up with a strong work ethic," Wesch said. "There were certain expectations for the whole family, and the labor often would be very difficult, especially in extremely hot or extremely cold conditions."
Growing up in that environment, young, hard-working kids tend to development dreams, and Wesch remembers the first real vision of success he had when he was about 9 years old. "Matt Turman was a third-strong walk-on quarterback who helped Nebraska win a national championship," Wesch said. "My dad pointed out how he came from just down the road at Wahoo Neumann, and you start to think to yourself: 'If he can do it, why can't I?'"
Wesch did indeed contribute at the highest level. Even though the reality didn't exactly match his original vision, he's proud that he had a role and that he filled it just like he, his older brother and younger sister fulfilled their roles on the family farm. "We learned at an early age," Wesch said, "that when we were told to do something, we did it. It was a team effort, and accountability was expected."
Just like it is in football.
Walk-ons fill an important role in the grand scheme
"Brandon Rigoni was another role model walk-on for me, and he told me something interesting the other day," Wesch said. "Brandon said: 'Jake, have you ever thought that you and I got to do something because someone else wasn't willing to give the maximum effort that you and I gave?"
Wesch thought about the pearl of wisdom and quickly agreed. "You're right," he told Rigoni, now a member of Nebraska's strength and conditioning staff. "Walk-ons are an important part of this program's equilibrium. We help the team never get too high when we win and never get too low when we lose. We grew up working hard every single day just hoping we could get one play on that field, even if it took us five years to get there."
Wesch knows what it takes to get there, what it takes to stay there and why a certain work ethic has to be interwoven into every single challenge every single day.
In other words, Jake Wesch sounds like a guy who would make someone a great director of football operations someday.
Voices from Husker Nation
What a great article. Jake sounds like a wonderful young man. Growing up on a farm in Southeast Nebraska myself I understand where he gets his work ethic, and it does carry over to everything you do after you leave the farm. Thanks for another great human interest article. I always enjoy reading them. Keep up the good work. Terri Fisher, Scottsdale, Arizona
Thank you for your article on Jake Wesch. I have known Jake and his family most of my life. He is an outstanding young man and comes from a tremendous family. I certainly wish him all the best. He deserves it. Gary Kracl, Schuyler, Nebraska
Jake is proof that when you're willing to go the extra mile in whatever you do, good things happen. He may have had to adjust his sails along the way, but he never gave up and never stopped putting the team ahead of himself. Players like Jake Wesch are what differentiates Nebraska from almost all other programs. They give up whatever they're asked to give up, but still have certain strengths that benefit the team. Sounds like he came from a family that understood that same principle. Now that the Nebraska football family is back to where it was when our athletic director was head coach, players believe in the staff, the staff believes in the players, and they all believe in each other. That's the way it's been in the past; that's the way it is now; and that's the way it will be well into future. Doug Smith, Overland Park, Kansas
Thanks for the nice article on Jake Wesch. North Bend is proud of all the young people who go out and make their mark in the world. Jake has done so and has received positive recognition for what he has done, not only for himself, but also for his hometown. Thank you Jake! Mary Le Arneal, North Bend, Nebraska