Team bonding brings new standard to defense
While, in most years, the Bellevue West offense gets all the praise for their playmaking and scoring ability. But this season, even with having that offense, the Thunderbird defense was an unstoppable force causing havoc for opposing offenses.
Bellevue West linebacker Jack McDonnell said the process to become elite started in the summer.
“All through the season and summer, the biggest thing we wanted to do was have team bonding. We needed to be close,” McDonnell said. “These guys are my brothers. They really are my second family.”
“Every weekend we are hanging out. We got each others back,” McDonnell said.
That led to the Bellevue West defense shutting out seven of 13 opponents this season. The defense accumulated 36 sacks, 18 interceptions, nine fumbles forced and combined seven blocked field goals and punts through 13 games.
The defense kept that going in a 35-0 win over Omaha Westside in the Class A State Championship, where they totaled 11 tackles for loss, five sacks and a fumble recovery.
“I think we came into this game knowing we were going to be the toughest mentally and physically team. We weren’t going to let that 73-62 or whatever (score from 2017 against Omaha Westside) that was happen.”
Enjoying title before turning to the mat
Bellevue West linebacker Jack McDonnell had quite the game against the Warriors in the Class A State Championship.
He opened the game with a dropped interception. A play he will live with but wanted back.
“I really do,” McDonnell said with emotion. “But that’s still a pass breakup in the stats. I’ll take it.”
Then to open the second half, McDonnell notched a sack to shatter any glimmer of hope.
“It felt great. Especially looking at this crowd and being in this huge stadium. It felt great,” McDonnell said.
The junior totaled 94 tackles, 12 sacks, four interceptions and fumble recovery this season. He will be looked upon to keep the momentum of the defense going into the offseason and into next season.
But first, McDonnell will head into wrestling season, where he’s pretty good on the mat too. He was 31-8 last season in the 160-pound division.
The Thunderbirds may need to wait a few weeks though.
“I am going to enjoy this for a few weeks,” McDonnell said. “I am going to take my break.”
From kicker to stardom through career
Not many in high school have gone from kicker to playmaker. Usually, the scenario plays out where a playmaker needs to be the kicker cause they don’t have one.
For Cruz Jurado, he took the unusual path. The senior didn’t start playing football until seventh grade and that was because his sibling was having a good time on the gridiron.
“I started to play football because of my brother, Roger Jurado,” Jurado said. “He went to Bellevue East. I played football because he was having fun and you always want to live up to your older brothers expectations.”
“I love him. He taught me almost everything I know.”
From there, he entered Bellevue West as a freshman looking to find a spot on the football team. That moment came fast as he was the special teams starter right away.
“I’m going to be honest, I was scared to play. I only played soccer. Just to be welcomed by most of these guys and then earning their respect freshman year being the starting kicker and then sophomore being the starting kicker again.”
Then junior year everything changed. Once thought he might be able to play offense, Jurado was asked to make a change by Bellevue West coaches that changed his next two seasons and made him a catalyst for the 2019 state champions.
“I always believed I wasn’t just going to be a kicker,” Jurado said. “I thought I was going to be a receiver. They just asked me to try (defensive back) out because we needed corners and I worked as hard as I could all summer long and then extra time in film asking coaches every question. It’s been so rewarding for me.”
In his career, tallied 99 tackles, seven tackles for loss and five interceptions, while converting 172-of-188 extra-point attempts and six-of-eight field goal attempts. He accounted for 190 of Bellevue West’s points through his career.
“It’s phenomenal. I recommend playing football,” Jurado said. “I am not going to lie though, it’s hard.
“It’s just indescribable how amazing this is, especially if you work hard. That’s all you really need.”
Ducker ends career with a bang
Bellevue West running back Jay Ducker has had quite the year. He committed to play Division-I football at Northern Illinois, broke the career touchdown record for 11-man and won a state title.
“It feels really good. A lot of emotions,” Ducker said. “Some sad emotions because I’m done playing with all the seniors and my best friends, but at the same time, we won and ended on those terms. That’s the only thing that matters.”
Looking back on Ducker’s story last month, his only thing left to accomplish was a state title. A moment he had no words for.
“This just topped it all off. Words can’t even describe what is going on right now,” Ducker said.
On top of that, the senior rushed for 214 yards and three touchdowns against Omaha Westside in the Class A State Championship. The cold, snowy weather that night in Memorial Stadium played right into his hands.
“I knew I would get more carries and we couldn’t throw the ball deep, so we had to rely a little more on the run game, which was perfectly fine by our linemen,” Ducker said.
Ducker also finished two points shy of tying to All-Class record for points scored in a career. The record would’ve been the cherry on top to a great career, but Ducker likes gold over fruit.
“I was just worried about getting this gold (championship medal) right here and we did that,” Ducker said.