In a day and age where a lot of focus get puts on commitments, offers and individual accolades, Jay Ducker only has one thing on his mind.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about that ring”
If you have watched one possession of the Bellevue West Thunderbirds this season, the name Jay Ducker likely rings a bell.
Ducker is a senior running back for Bellevue West who is closing in or has already broken most Nebraska state rushing records. The Northern Illinois commit continues to impress, as he already has 10 total touchdowns in the Thunderbirds two playoff games.
Throughout their eleven games thus far this season, Ducker has 166 carries, 1,709 yards and 33 touchdowns. He also has 22 catches for 305 yards and six touchdowns through the air. He is averaging 10.3 yards per rush and 13.9 yards per catch.
As for records though, Ducker isn’t worried about the individual accolades.
“Obviously, it will be on your mind a little bit but at the end of the day once the game gets going, you don’t think about that stuff,” Ducker said. “All you think about is winning the next game and I think honestly us winning it’ll eventually lead to (records), so you don’t really think about it.”
This season, Ducker ranks second in the state in rushing, first in the state in total points (234) and first in the state in total touchdowns (39).
Coming into the season, Bellevue West knew they were talented, but they wanted to prove it on the field. After starting 11-0 and out-scoring opponents 590-35, it is safe to say they have done that.
The Thunderbirds made it to the Class A semi finals last season. After losing to Grand Island 37-30, Ducker had some very specific goals heading into his final season.
“Blocking, becoming a team leader and just hitting the weight room in general.”
A lot of people have noticed his speed has improved and he is hitting holes faster. Ducker gives all that credit to the five guys up front.
“I can give a lot credit to my lineman on that. Previous years, don’t get me wrong they were still super good, but we have advanced so much on the line this year to the point that they will make a hole and I will see no one there and I can just blast it instead of looking for a cut back.”
He added “This year the holes are super clean.”
Bellevue West head coach Michael Huffman has never doubted his running back’s speed, but he agrees he is quicker.
“He seems to me that he is faster. I don’t know that he is because I haven’t doubted his speed for three years but that is what everyone tells me.
“He is just so cerebral, he understands what we are trying to do, he sets up his blocks, and he knows what guys are pulling and certain looks.”
Ducker also gives credit to the teams success to the addition of Nate Glantz. Glantz is the quarterback for the Thunderbirds, after transferring from Millard West to Bellevue West for his senior season.
“He’s a good dude in general and he’s a personable person. He came in and if someone who didn’t watch the team saw him, they wouldn’t know he just transferred in. He fit in perfectly and not just personality wise but athletic wise. He can scramble around and make all the concepts easy and he actually did a lot of extra work to fit in at the start.”
This is a trend when you talk to Ducker. As talented as he is in his own right, he is quick to give the credit to his teammates and coaching staff, which goes back to his off season goal of becoming a team leader.
As for the team, Ducker knows that they all have one thing on their minds.
“We are all focused on the same goal, just win the whole thing. We play a lot of good on good. Our offense knew our defense was good and our defense knew our offense was good.
“We got the little things down. The mental aspects and team bonding and we are putting it all together.”
Another thing that Ducker credits to the teams success is the Bellevue West atmosphere. The energy stays high and the students stay into the game no matter what the score is.
“It just shows that Bellevue West loves football,” Ducker said. “I think it helps us because everyone on our team loves football. If you watch us, we are doing celebrations, we are doing all the fun stuff, we are yelling and getting rowdy and when the student section gets involved it just shows the whole Bellevue West atmosphere when it comes to football.”
Coach Huffman echoed the same sentiments when talking about his teams focuses.
“We talk about the same things every week. We want to play fast, use our speed to our advantage on both sides of the ball, we want to play physical, we want to out hit people, we want to be mentally tough and we want to have fun. As you see, we have a lot of fun out here and I am hard on them.”
Huffman added “When you do that with talented kids this can be the result.”
Ducker will be continuing his football career next season at Northern Illinois University and compete in the Mid-American Conference. Northern Illinois has a great program and history of athletes to go through the program.
As for whether or not they have hit expectations for the season thus far or not, Ducker answered with a familiar mindset.
“We haven’t hit our expectation because I think our expectations will be determined at the end of the season. I think everyone’s expectation for our team and our coaching staff will be to win the whole thing. I think that’s what it’s been the last four years and that’s what we strive for.”
So far in the playoffs, Ducker has 394 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He also has five catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
As talented as he is, Huffman and the coaching staff do not have a touch requirement for him. They just let the offense roll with it’s multiple play makers.
“We consider those screen passes runs. We throw him the ball and he is amazing out of the backfield,” Huffman said.
For his career, Ducker has 5,344 rushing yards and 90 touchdowns. He also has 927 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns. He is currently tied for the Class A career touchdown record with 104 and is just one away from the 11 man record of 105.
He has already broken the record for Class A career points scored with 634.
Despite outscoring opponents 500-35 in the regular season and finishing 9-0, the Thunderbirds received the four seed in the Class A state playoffs. This is not something that Ducker nor the team focuses on.
“Honestly, we were kind of hoping to get, not necessarily the fourth seed, but just our side of the bracket because we want to show to everyone that we are the best. If we are going up against Burke and Millard West just to get to the finals, then they have no doubt as to why we are the best team this year.”
The Thunderbirds will take on Millard West in the Class A state semifinal game Friday at Buell Stadium and hope to advance to Memorial Stadium for the Class A state championship game on Tuesday, November 26th.