ALGONQUIN – After suffering through a frustrating, injury-riddled season, Jacobs already received what could be considered a good omen.
Quarterback Cole Bhardwaj, on whom the Golden Eagles will rely heavily, felt a pop in his right elbow while pitching with his Pro Player Canes travel baseball team last month. On his way to the emergency room, Bhardwaj could not help but fear the worst – that his senior football season might be over before the first day of real practice.
Bhardwaj was relieved after X-rays and an examination provided a favorable diagnosis. The injury was termed as a strained UCL, something for which ice and Advil would provide relief.
When practice started on Monday, Bhardwaj was firing passes to receivers Max Stec, R.J. Anderson and other receivers, leading an offense that the Eagles feel can really take off.
“We have three backs running the ball, (Bhardwaj) throws the ball well, we have some skilled receivers,” Jacobs coach Bill Mitz said. “The question is going to be how our offensive line can protect him and our run blocking. We have some great, great talented kids.”
Bhardwaj started the last few games of 2018 after Anthony Wilson suffered a torn ACL. The Eagles, who lost several other key players with injuries, struggled at 3-6 and missed the playoffs for only the second time in Mitz’s nine seasons at the school.
“Last year helped a lot with experience and getting the speed of the game down,” Bhardwaj said. “We have six good backs and six good receivers. We have a very good offense.”
While Mitz likes to lean on the running game, where backs Jacob Mobeck and Nasir Canty can grind out yards, he thinks Bhardwaj and Stec, a junior who started at safety last season, could be one of the area’s top passing combos.
“If there’s any play where I have any doubt, I can go to Max,” Bhardwaj said. “I’ll put my money on Max going up and catching the ball. He’s one of those guys, wherever I put the ball, he’s going to come down with it.”
Stec, who is 6-foot-4, will play some defense in the Eagles’ nickel package, but will be used more on offense.
“It’s a lot of fun with Cole,” Stec said. “I want to be a big producer on the offensive side. I hope we rack up a lot of points this year. We’re learning and getting better each day, just on the same wavelength. He puts the ball where I want it and I’ll come down with it.”
Bhardwaj threw for 610 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions last season. His 38.3 completion percentage should take a huge jump now that he’s had games to learn and another offseason working with coach Steve Gregory at QB Farm.
“Now he’s coming into it as (the starter) and he got some experience against some good teams last year,” Mitz said.
Mitz likens Stec’s physical size and ability to former Cary-Grove receiver Quinn Priester, who was such a tough matchup for defensive backs last season.
“He’s tough to cover and he’s a good athlete,” Mitz said. “We’re excited. Just get through these next couple weeks and don’t have the injury bug we had last year. I feel pretty good about our kids.”