All-Empire small schools football offensive player of the year: Jack Preston

2014-15 All-Empire small schools football offensive player of the year Jack Preston of St. Helena High School. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

2014-15 All-Empire small schools football offensive player of the year Jack Preston of St. Helena High School. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

By TED SILLANPAA
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Saint Helena High quarterback Jack Preston summed up his magical senior football season in a way every kid would like to describe his final season of any sport.

“It was the best time of my life,” said The Press Democrat’s small-school Offensive Player of the Year. “It was pretty much everything I could’ve asked for. My goal was to win the North Coast Section championship and we got to the final game. We set a school wins record. It was just lots of fun.”

Preston was a throwback, a two-way offensive threat. In an era when teams are spreading receivers across the field and passing, passing and passing more, Preston ran a veer option offense from under center. He led the Saints in passing and rushing.

A 6-foot-1, 180-pounder, Preston completed 86 of 157 passes for 1,590 yards and 16 touchdowns. Preston assaulted opposing defenses, who see the run-oriented option attack less frequently these days, with 174 rushes for 1,263 yards and 17 scores.

Preston accounted for an average of 219.5 yards of offense per game for the 12-2 NCS runner-ups, who won the North Central League I championship.

He credits head coach Brandon Farrell for using the talent at hand and running an offense that suits that talent.

“We went into the season planning to use the Pistol offense and we did want to run it more than we did,” Preston said of the formation where the quarterback lines up yards behind center. “The veer option just worked for us. Our offensive line was just amazing all year. We started running the veer with me under center. There was no reason to change what was working.”

Preston ended the season earning all-California honors, ranking him among the top small-school quarterbacks in the state. Nice little reward for a guy who knew he was done with football the minute the NCS title game loss to Salesian ended.

Heck, he knew his senior year would be his farewell to football before the season started.

“I went to camps and worked with a quarterback coach all summer,” Preston said. “They talk a lot about playing in colleges. I just thought that if I played in college, OK. It would be cool. I knew I’d go to college for academics. My football goal was to win the section title.”

It’s just a coincidence that Preston’s dream college is historically one of the most prestigious football schools in the country.
“My mom and dad went to the University of Southern California. My sister goes there,” Preston said. “I’d love to go there, too. I see college as preparing me for a career. If I was going to be a coach or something, then football would maybe play a role. Someone who graduates from USC can get a job almost anywhere in their field.”

Don’t think Preston really wasn’t thinking about college football? He applied and has been accepted at Tulane University in New Orleans and applied at Fordham University.

Wherever he goes to college, he’ll carry memories of a thrilling senior football season.

“We front-loaded our schedule with Healdsburg and Winters. When we scored 30 points in the second half and beat Winters, we knew what we were capable of,” Preston said. “Then, when we beat Middletown, we really came together as a team.”

Preston admits the 14-7 loss to Salesian in the final game of the season will bother him a little longer than most losses. He has an enlightened view of the game and the outcome.

“Salesian is just so fast, but our defense was equally fast getting there to make the tackle,” he said. “I felt like we played our best game of the season. It was an amazing game.

“I thought I made some of my best throws of the season, but I also made two or three really bad throws. Our defense stepped up and played great. It was frustrating for us offensively, but I know we put everything we had into that game and that’s really all you can hope for.”

Preston did embrace the responsibility that comes with playing quarterback. He also sought it off the field.

“I enjoy being in a leadership position,” he said. “It’s just something I like. The quarterback has more responsibility, but it’s not like I planned on being a team leader. I’m also involved as our school’s representative to the school board. I took the opportunity to change how that job works so that it’s more interactive. The superintendent of the school board meets with me twice a month. I go out and meet with students from other schools.

“I learned what I know about leadership from playing football. And, my coach (Brandon Farrell) always told me that a leader has to be willing to put himself out there … take a risk. That’s the only way you make an impact as a leader.”