Ohio State commit Jaelen Gill has gone through quite a bit in the last year.
In addition to suffering a season-ending ankle injury in the second game of his junior season, Gill had to go through a second coaching change and make his college decision all within the span of a few months.
Now, the Westerville South product is healthy, committed to his hometown team and preparing to make a return to the football field for the first time since Sept. 2, 2016.
With everything that has happened in the last year, Gill told Eleven Warriors that the hardest thing to overcome was the injury that kept him off the field for South’s final eight games of the season.
“I am just used to being active, and I just had to sit around for four months,” Gill said. “It sucked. Having to rebuild my strength back in my ankle, my leg and everything, that was the toughest part.”
The next hurdle for Gill came in January when South head coach Kyle Stout announced his resignation after a 1-9 season. One month later, Gill was introduced to his third head coach in four seasons, Matt Christ.
Gill played his freshman season under Rocky Pentello, who resigned midway through the 2014 season amid allegations of player abuse. Despite the adversity surrounding the coaching changes, Gill said he views the situation as an opportunity to further his football knowledge.
“The hardest part is learning new playbooks and adjusting, but at the same time, it makes you a better player,” Gill said. “In the future, you might have a new coaching staff in college or in the pros and you will have to adapt. I’d say honestly, it made me stronger as a player.”
Christ comes to South from nearby Grandview High School and said Gill didn’t directly express any concerns, but Christ added he could tell Gill wants to be pushed in his final high school season.
“He knows he is a very good football player, everybody in the state of Ohio and the country knows he is a very good football player,” Christ said. “I think he is just looking for somebody who is going to challenge him a little bit.”
While there has been constant change on South’s coaching staff, there is one coach who was kept by Christ from the previous regime. Eric Calland, a former Wildcat and holdover from Stout’s staff, has coached Gill since his sophomore season and is currently South’s cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator.
Calland told Eleven Warriors that he has seen Gill grow in multiple areas over the last three years, but what has impressed him most is Gill’s growth in a leadership role.
“The field stuff comes natural to him. He can learn a new system and that’s not going to be a problem,” Calland said. “He has grown immensely (off the field). In his case, and really the whole senior class, they want to win so bad. They have been through a lot and some down seasons. Jaelen is constantly talking about playoffs and succeeding and that drive is bringing out his leadership.”
Even though he has been around Gill for three years, Calland said he is still amazed by what Gill can do on the field, no matter what position he is playing.
“The most impressive thing about him, whether it is offense or defense, is his ability to be at top speed almost instantaneously (out of a cut),” he said. “That is really what sets him apart. His take-off and being able to cut, even with the injury, there has been no slow-down.”
As he continues to take steps as a leader off the field, Gill is preparing for a senior season for which he has set high expectations. Despite going 1-9 in 2016 and 4-6 in 2015, Gill said he expects the Wildcats to make the state playoffs in 2017.
“Playoffs. That is on the top of my list before anything else,” Gill said. “There are no individual goals, it is all about the team. I just have to stay healthy, do what I do, and hopefully I can be the best teammate I can be to help lead this team to the playoffs.”
Gill has partnered with Eleven Warriors recruiting analyst Andrew Lind to do a weekly notebook following each one of his games at Westerville South this season. The 2018 prospect said he hopes to one day look back on his senior season with fond memories through the 11W lens.
“I agreed to do this because years down the line, it is going to be something really cool where I can look back,” Gill said. “One thing that Buckeye Nation will see is that I am devoted to whatever I do. When I start something, I finish it and I am excited to be a part of Buckeye Nation, but for now, I am a part of Wildcat Nation so I have to take care of business here first.”
Gill and the Wildcats are set to open the 2017 season against Dublin Scioto on the road. In addition to Gill, South returns a handful of experienced seniors including quarterback Max Barber and defensive lineman Antonio Smith, a Bowling Green commit.