By: John Raffel
Jackson Gross off to sizzling start for Clare
Jackson Gross has been off to a solid start for Clare's football team and has lived up to some lofty preseason expectations.
In the first game of the season against Freeland, Gross rushed 19 times for 154 yards and one touchdown. He also caught a TD pass.
“Hopefully, I'll get some more catches,” he said.
The following week against Beal City, Gross had two touchdown runs of 74 and 49 yards in the second half to lift the Pioneers. Gross gained 217 yards on 23 carries.
“Our offense came clicking and was able to move the ball against Freeland,” Gross said prior to the Beal City game. “Our defense needs to step up and be able to make big plays.”
Standout running back Travis Smith graduated from the 2010 team, and Gross acknowledged that he's anticipating running the ball more this season.
“I'm looking forward to that,” he said. “I'm a lot faster than I was last year. I ran the 100 meters in track. That helped me a lot with my sprints as far being fast. I'm trying to be able to read plays and know what my linemen are doing and understanding plays.”
“Jackson had a great night,” said Clare coach Kelly Luplow after the Beal City game. “Our defense improved. We were very pleased with the improvement from last week. From week one, they showed a lot of improvement.”
Jackson was disappointed about two aspects of the 2010 season―losing to Harrison during the regular season to spoil the chances of another 9-0 run, and falling to Farwell in the first round of the playoffs to fall short of the Pioneers' bid to make another appearance at the football state finals.
While the offense is showing signs of being extremely productive, Gross is hoping to help the defense play top notch football.
“We need to be quicker,” he said. “We need to make our reads and get there quicker than we did [against Freeland].”
In the recent victory over Gladwin, Gross may have outdone himself. He gained 222 rushing yards at running back, giving him over 200 yards in back-to-back games - the first time a Clare player has done that in coach Kelly Luplow's memory.
Gross “is on top of his game right now," Luplow noted. "The guys up front are giving him the seams and he's reading things well right now. He's a hard-nosed kid. He's played hard. What's happening is that he's running the ball so well. [Aaron] Haynak has 27 catches in three games [from quarterback Brent Luplow]. Those guys are big playmakers which opens it up for other guys.
“At some point, other teams will be able to slow down those guys. That's where other guys have to understand they have to step up at that point. Right now, our offensive line is doing a nice job and gets better every week. Our defensive side of the ball is getting a lot better.”
Gross had a 65-yard touchdown run and followed that with a 5-yard scamper later in the opening quarter.
It's a long season, but Gross is hoping that the Pioneers can accomplish plenty.
“We still have a conference championship and playoffs to play for,” he said. “We're looking forward to it.
“We need to have more intense practices. We'll have practices [that are intense] and then we'll have one that's not intense. We need to have every practice as intense as possible.”
Kelly Luplow has been impressed with Gross' work ethic.
“He doesn't miss a beat,” Luplow said.
His son, Brent, agrees.
“He's so strong and he's so quick,” Brent Luplow said. “He has really stepped up the way we need him to.”