The first official day of practice for the 2021 fall sports season was Monday.
Omaha Burke, like the other Omaha Public Schools football teams, didn’t have a season in 2020. That meant the anticipation and energy was at a high level for a hot, mid-afternoon practice.
Here are notes and observations from the Bulldogs’ first practice.
The linebacker position, if you can call it that, is in good hands. Four-star prospect Devon Jackson will, according to Bulldog defensive coordinator Ben Ryan, “be wherever the ball will be.” On Monday, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Jackson primarily lined up at outside linebacker, a difference from less formal June workouts when he was lining up more as a rover and sometimes even with the look of a free safety. Jackson isn’t the only Burke linebacker who could have a huge year. On Monday, middle linebacker Alec Cook was clearly a leader both verbally and with his actions on the field. Cook, at 6-3, 230 pounds, will get a chance to make his fair share of plays. He’s a high-motor player who should be stout in the run game, and he could even make a few plays on offense as a tight end. Another new name to keep an eye on is freshman Christian Jones.
The receiver position is in good hands with Jackson able to use his speed on the outside and his leaping ability in the red zone. He will be joined by senior Donovan Moody, more of a utility back. You could see him in the slot, the backfield or on the outside. It appears the staff will find creative ways to get him touches. It’s not just Moody and Jackson who should be threats in the passing game. Senior Trae Starks is a long and rangy athlete who should be able to make plays over the top and in third-and-medium situations.
The secondary is a strength. Moody and Starks will likely be the starting corners. Both have experience at the varsity level even though they didn’t have a season in 2020.
How quickly the new face at quarterback adjusts is a question. Senior Cooper Katskee moved in from Cherry Creek High School in Colorado and will be the starter in 2021. A strong, smart quarterback with a good arm, Katskee will need to get up to speed quickly after not throwing a varsity pass last season.
The interior of both the offensive and defensive lines are inexperienced. Junior Michael McGovern looks to be the anchor and leader and will likely need to play on both sides of the ball. Junior’s Griffin Johnson and Payton McDonald will be key pieces on the line. It’s not every day you see a freshman lineman start on the line for a Class A team. One name to watch who looks like he will start at one of the offensive guard positions is freshman Cameron Bell.
The question for all OPS teams is how much they fell behind by not playing last season. Will they be slow to catch up with the rest of the Class A teams that had a season? How much will it affect the team if they get off to a slow start?
The Bulldogs have a good freshman class with talent including Jones, Bell and quarterback Sebastian Circo. The hope for Burke this season is that they are good enough to bring most of the newcomers along slowly and develop them for their sophomore years. Should they need to rely heavily on the young group there could be some growing pains this season.