Up front: Joliet Catholic’s Jake Jakovich leads experienced offensive line

Jakovich is one of four starters on O-line returning for JCA

Joliet Catholic’s HJ Grigsby follow the lead block of Jake Jakovich against Leo on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023 in Joliet.

It all starts up front.

If you’ve ever seen a news conference or listened to a football coach speak, there’s no doubt you’ve heard that phrase at some point. They say things become cliche because they’re true, and that one often is.

For Joliet Catholic, one of the most decorated prep football programs in state history, strong offensive line play is what allows its offense to dominate the way it has for decades.

This season, the line will continue to lead the way with four starters back. It’s a group effort that coach Jake Jaworski always emphasizes. However, even he has to admit, it’s a lot easier when one of those group members is Jake Jakovich.

Jakovich, a rising senior, has been a fixture at right guard for some time now with the Hilltoppers. Along with Cameron Juricich, Michael Lynch and Elijah Watt, he’ll look to continue the JCA tradition of strong play in the trenches.

Joliet Catholic's Jake Jakovich

“Our program success over the year all starts with the guys up front,” Jaworski said. “We’re very fortunate this year to have four starters back, with Jake being one of them. Jake is a feisty competitor. He’s a guy that goes 100 miles an hour. He’s ultra competitive, and he’s got a mean streak. He’s very intelligent, and that translates to the game of football. He’s developed into a leader, too.”

That intelligence shows by Jakovich’s grades and test scores. He holds a staggering 4.70 GPA and recently scored a 30 on his ACT. That mental capability is matched by his physical capability. At 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, Jakovich bench presses 300 pounds and squats 530. He’s also using this offseason to try to get even stronger and sharpen his blocking skills.

“I think all of us as a team are really going headfirst into this season,” Jakovich said. “Everyone is showing up to the gym, and we’re having really good intense practices. We’re really just putting all we have into our senior season.”

Perhaps more impressive than his raw size and strength is that he still manages to move as well as he does.

“He’s very athletic,” Jaworski said. “We ask our guards to get out and run around a lot. He’s very physical and spent a lot of time in the weight room. He’s really developed into a strong player thanks largely to his athleticism and physicality.”

“Jake is a feisty competitor. He’s a guy that goes 100 miles an hour. He’s ultra competitive, and he’s got a mean streak.”

—  Jake Jaworski, Joliet Catholic head coach

It’s that physicality, athleticism and intelligence that have helped Jakovich earn some of the attention he has. A regular at the recruiting camps around the country, Jakovich holds NCAA Division I offers from Butler, Valparaiso, Army and Air Force. He’ll likely earn several more.

Ask him or Jaworski, however, and they’ll continue to promote that team-first mentality and highlight the continuity on the offensive line. Jakovich believes the experience they’ve racked up together allows them to work better together.

“It helps that we’re all multi-year starters,” Jakovich said. “We’re all really working together as a unit. There were times last year where obviously our youth showed, but this year that’s not going to happen. We’re just going to dominate as an offensive line.”

Jakovich highlights his consistency and work ethic as outstanding attributes that he brings to the table. He says he shows up every day working hard and setting an example for others.

Of course, in life, everyone is always capable of getting better. Jaworski said Jakovich has a habit of “playing with his hair on fire” at times. He’s likely to see more consistency in that department his senior year, but he does say he’s excited and pleased with where Jakovich is at.

Jakovich is focused on improving as much as possible.

“I’m working on staying low and playing with a motor,” he said. “I’m trying not to be tired in the fourth quarter and going 100% on every play.”

Expectations are high for the Hilltoppers entering the season. They finished as state runner-ups for the fifth time in program history and will look to add to their state record for football state championships. They’re in a strong position to do it, too. Jaworski estimates JCA will have 13 to 14 starters back and 16 to 17 regular contributors.

The goal at Joliet Catholic is always to bring home a title in football. Before he heads on to the next level, Jakovich is hoping to add another one to the trophy case.

“We went to state and lost last year, but this year we’re trying to be No. 1,” Jakovich said. “We want to be the best team we can be and bring home the 16th state championship in school history.”