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Seasoned seniors ready to lead Freeport

Paying Off
Freeport’s Jacksen Reiser makes a tackle during a game against Deer Lakes in 2020. He returns as a starting linebacker this go-round. Butler Eagle File Photo

BUFFALO TWP — Desperate times have called for desperate measures, but necessity has evolved into a luxury for Freeport.

“All of our starters have played,” Yellowjackets coach John Gaillot said. “We had quite a few injuries early (last year). They went in, they got banged up and stuff, but they learned very quickly that you need to be tougher than the person across from you.”

Half of Freeport’s seniors have been two-way starters since they were freshmen. Gaillot knows he can count on them to guide the team, hopefully to another effort in the postseason.

“We’ve put a lot of time in,” Gaillot said. “It’s a good group with good leadership the whole way through. The intensity is there all the time.”

The Yellowjackets have been bounced from the WPIAL playoffs in the quarterfinal round each of the past two go-rounds, with both losses coming to Elizabeth Forward. With another year of experience under their belts, the set of veterans will look to get over the hump.

“We’ve been playing sports together since we were five, six years old,” said tailback-defensive back Zach Clark. “That chemistry has always been there. We bond together really well, especially on the field.”

Freeport senior Zach Clark will see his fair share of carries for the Yellowjackets this season. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle

Having been competing alongside one another for over a decade, the group of 13 seniors has formed a special bond. The crew turns to Clark, Ben Lane, and Jacksen Reiser for leadership.

“We’re like a brotherhood,” Lane said. “The way we act around each other, the way we love each other, you won’t see that on any other football team … We’re close.”

Lane shouldered a good deal of the Yellowjackets’ offensive workload in 2021. He piled up 867 total yards. He’ll be featured again this time around.

“He’ll play every offensive position except for line,” Gaillot said. “We’re going to utilize him in different places.”

As a sophomore, he stepped in at quarterback. He wasn’t the only underclassman to see a lot of time during that pandemic-shortened campaign.

“Us getting that experience, especially as sophomores, built us last year,” Clark said. “Us getting that experience last year is going to add on for this year. It’s going to help us out a lot.”

“I think we all got our fair share (of playing time) in our younger years, where we’ve all been in varsity games,” Reiser said. “We’ve all been here before and we know what we need to do.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the versatile Lane knows all of the moving parts. As a defensive back, too, he’s learned how to react quicker based on what he sees before the snap. He provides a helping hand to his teammates, answering any and all questions.

Both Clark and Brady Stivenson will also play key roles. Offensive tackle Jackson Buterbaugh will be on the field again, back from a knee injury. Jack Smetak recently joined the team and will line up at either center or tackle, along with playing defensive line.

Freeport’s Ben Lane rumbles for a touchdown against Knoch last season. He’ll be used in multiple different roles on offense this year. Butler Eagle File Photo

Reiser will be the team’s leader on the defensive side of the ball. He fought through a dislocated shoulder over the final four games of last season, opting to save the surgery for when football was over. Because of that, he had to sit out the Yellowjackets’ basketball campaign.

“He’s tough as nails,” Gaillot said. “You talk about a linebacker that goes from sideline to sideline, I’m really excited to watch him this year … He’s an old-school football player.”

Other seniors on the roster include Gavin Croney, Jaxson Ford, Isaac Wetzel, Parker Lucas, Dean Furer, Jacob Bollinger, and Payton Westendorf.

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