Jakes named WKU’s starting quarterback

Sophomore Kawaun Jakes will earn the nod as starting quarterback when Western travels to Nebraska Sept. 4. Jakes came into fall camp as the Toppers’ No. 2 option behind junior college transfer Matt Pelesasa but earned the job this past week with Pelesasa nursing a sore throwing arm.

Zach Greenwell

This story was originally published Aug. 23, 2010.

Sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes worked himself deep into Western Head Coach Willie Taggart’s doghouse this past spring.

He busted out of it as the top dog Monday.

Jakes was officially named Western’s starting quarterback by Taggart following Monday morning’s practice, redeeming himself after injuring his ankle playing pickup basketball in the spring.

“It’s one decision we wanted to get solidified so that we can start putting our offense and defense together and get some continuity with each other,” Taggart said. “Kawaun did the things that we were looking for — being consistent, making plays and becoming a leader — and he did it more consistently than the other guys.”

Jakes, who started the Toppers’ final eight games last season, said it was satisfying to work his way back into the coaching staff’s favor.

“I was just thankful coach (Taggart) had confidence in me,” Jakes said. “After my injury, I had to come back and work even harder. But to me it’s never a relief because I feel like I can get better every day.”

Jakes entered fall camp as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart behind junior Matt Pelesasa, a transfer from the College of San Mateo.

Pelesasa got the early nod after receiving nearly all of the reps during spring practice, throwing for 183 yards and two touchdowns during Western’s annual spring game.

But he missed several practices over the past week with what Taggart called a sore throwing arm, which allowed Jakes to gradually work more and more with the first-team offense.

“Inside as a competitor, I was disappointed, because I feel like I could start for this team,” Pelesasa said. “But I respect the decision that was made. I have all the respect for Kawaun and his ability to lead this team, and I feel they made the right decision. I wasn’t able to compete the last week, and you can’t make a decision like that off of my injury. I’m ready to roll and still compete.”

Jakes said Taggart and the rest of the coaching staff made it clear to him after the spring that he had a long way to go to mend trust that was broken by his injury.

That’s when a new Kawaun Jakes emerged.

Suddenly, no one could keep Jakes out of the film room. Jakes became a leader and was at the forefront of meetings, trying to prove that he wasn’t a “bad kid,” Taggart said.

“I figured if he was going to be our guy, he was going to do those things,” Taggart said. “I felt like if he could do those things, he’d be our guy.”

Jakes threw for 1,516 yards and nine touchdown and ran for 366 yards and five scores in former coach David Elson’s spread offense last season.

Taggart said Jakes’ running ability suits such an offense, but that his speed can also be a weapon in the Toppers’ new West Coast scheme.

“I didn’t get to see him much in the spring, but he came out this fall and really threw the ball well — threw the ball better than I thought he could,” Taggart said. “I really think he’s got a chance to be really good in this offense once he learns it like he needs to learn it. Especially with his athletic ability — being able to get some first downs with his feet.

“He’s been blessed with the ability to be able to run, but we’re not going to ask him to run all the time. But if he doesn’t have a throw, I’ll take a first down with you running. You don’t have to throw the ball all the time, so I think that’s a plus having that at that position.”

Pelesasa and true freshman quarterback Brandon Doughty may arguably have the better arm for a deep ball, but Jakes said he can air it out when needed.

He said he’s been much more concerned with making crisp passes in front of the secondary, a staple of a traditional West Coast attack.

“I always had confidence in my arm,” Jakes said. “I just had to show (Taggart). We’d do 7-on-7 in the summer, and the players would be like, ‘Go deep, Kawaun, go deep today.’ I just tried to work on the little things like checking down to the running backs and little short individual routes to work on my accuracy.”

Taggart said Pelesasa will move to No. 2 on the depth chart, and he gave every indication that Doughty will not earn a redshirt off the bat this season. Taggart said Doughty will travel with the team and could be used in “emergency situations” with just three quarterbacks on roster.

Pelesasa said it’s frustrating to lose the starting job, especially since he has just two years remaining after his transfer. But he said his approach won’t shift at all, because his job now is to push Jakes and be ready if he’s called upon.

“I don’t plan on changing anything,” Pelesasa said. “The competition’s still there, and I’m going to continue to compete every day to make myself better, the team better and Kawaun better. When it comes to Saturday, if Kawaun’s the better guy or Brandon’s the better guy, they’re going to play and I’m going to be behind that 100 percent.

“I’m not going to have bad feelings or animosity toward anybody or anything like that. I’ll just continue to compete.”

This is the fifth straight year that Western has had a different starting quarterback to begin the season — Justin Haddix in 2006, David Wolke in 2007, K.J. Black in 2008, Brandon Smith in 2009 and Jakes this season.

But with Taggart, a former standout Western quarterback himself, at the helm, the Toppers might start seeing a little more consistency at the position.

Taggart said the team wouldn’t waver on the decision to start Jakes because of one bad game down the road, but at the same time, he’s happy to have competent reserves in place.

“If Matt was in there, I wouldn’t lose sleep over it,” Taggart said.

It’s the quality of his replacements that Jakes said keeps him hungry.

The Toppers will begin their prep work later this week for their first game at Nebraska on Sept. 4, and Jakes said he still has plenty to do if he wants to remain No. 1 on the depth chart for longer than his most recent predecessors.

“We’re not trying to build for the future — we’re trying to do it right now,” Jakes said. “I’m just trying to lead. Coach said we need a leader, so that’s what I’m working on right now. I’m never satisfied. I’ve got two more weeks to prepare, so that’s what I’m going to do — get in the playbook, watch film and just talk to my teammates.”