Cats’ new persona starts with PersohnSeptember 21, 2017
By COLIN LIKAS
Justin Persohn makes his job on the football field sound an easy as changing a light bulb. Perhaps it’s apt, then, that Jasper offensive coordinator Geoff Mauck uses the word “conduit” — in electricity, a tube used to route wiring — to describe his senior starting quarterback.
Persohn’s duty is to deliver the ball to everyone else in the Jasper offense. If that seems like an obvious quarterback description, consider the major changes the Wildcat offense has undergone since Persohn started taking varsity snaps as a sophomore.
Jasper is almost exclusively utilizing a spread attack these days, as opposed to the “I-back, two tight end, 5 yards and a cloud of dust” setup Mauck said has characterized more of his groups over the last 14 seasons. The alteration was made based on personnel available to the Wildcats, specifically having more talented offensive options. It means Persohn is frequently working out of a shotgun formation, so even on running plays he must be prepared for everything the opposition might throw at Jasper — or the Cats will stall.
Ask Persohn about directing this offense, though, and he makes it simple enough for anyone to understand.
“If you start with the run, you can open up the pass a lot. Sometimes you have to start with the pass so you can run,” Persohn said. “We have weapons all around, and we spread out. We just like to take what defenses give us and kind of adapt to what has to be run.”
Persohn has clearly grown in his role, with this being the first season in which he’s not sharing passing duties. Teammates like Justin Goebel and Jacob Ahlbrand were other quarterback options alongside Persohn the previous two seasons. In 2017, Persohn all but one of Jasper’s 99 throwing bids.
“He’s taken a lot of ownership as far as at the line of scrimmage. He’s getting us into good plays, or maybe simply just changing from a left-side play to a right-side play,” Mauck said. “You kind of see that maturity where a young quarterback gets more comfortable being around and has gained more experience. He’s more of a coach on the field.”
Those aren’t the only numbers that show Persohn’s progression under center. His pass completion percentage bumped from 47 in 2015 to 52 in 2016. He currently sits on a 54 percent success rate this season.
“When you’re out there as a sophomore, the game goes fast,” Persohn said. “Then, when you get older, junior and senior year, the game slows down.”
But there are other metrics that reveal just how important Persohn is to Jasper establishing its offense right now.
In the team’s three victories this season, he has three touchdown passes and a scoring run — and more importantly, no interceptions. In the Cats’ two losses, Persohn managed two touchdown tosses but also threw all four of his picks.
“If he’s on and delivering the ball, we’re going to look really good,” Mauck said, “and if he’s off and we’re making bad reads or bad calls, he’s not going to look as good. But overall, he’s definitely going to be the trigger man for our offense.”
When things have gone well for Persohn, receivers Eric Nordhoff and Reece Milligan have typically been involved. Nordhoff has caught Persohn’s two most recent scoring passes, while Milligan had one in Week 1.
“I can see from his sophomore year to now, he does a better job of keeping everybody accountable of what they do,” said Nordhoff, a senior. “A lot of times you don’t see it, but he does a great job of zipping off plays and reading the defense better than what he did his sophomore year.”
Milligan said there’s a reason he and Persohn are able to connect so well, despite the junior dealing with a broken right pinky finger throughout the season.
“This summer, we had several sessions of 7-on-7, and all three of us (Persohn, Nordhoff and Milligan) were on the same team for that,” Milligan said. “I feel like we built a better connection through that, and really calmed us down and helped out on the field this season.”
Persohn said Jasper aims for a balanced offense, which is indicated in leading rusher Ryan Ewing carrying the ball 82 times to Persohn’s 98 attempted passes this season. But it’s clear the Cats' long-term prognosis will depend heavily on Persohn’s ability to keep the offense marching.
“When you have something like (the spread formation), Justin’s probably throwing more, having more control over the offense than he ever has in the past,” Mauck said. “He’s done a nice job of putting our offense in good positions.”
The solution to efficiency is even more straightforward to Persohn. And it’s not entirely grounded in what he accomplishes on Friday nights.
“We have a lot of talent on this team, and we have a lot of good guys who work hard,” Persohn said. “If we put everything together like we’ve shown we’re capable of — we just haven’t done it for four quarters — we can make it to state.”
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