The opponent was Creighton Prep. Lincoln Southeast needed a replacement for a starting wideout who was out with an injury.
The Knights’ coaching staff turned to someone it knew it could trust. Someone it knew could handle playing a different position. So, Jake Appleget was called on.
“Jake, being the intelligent kid he is, we threw him in there and he lined up at that spot we were missing,” Southeast head coach Ryan Gottula said. “He winds up catching the ball at the 15-yard line one-handed, kind of between a couple linebackers, then proceeds to run through two or three defenders into the end zone. That showed his athleticism and toughness. He’s a very tough kid.”
Southeast went on to win 24-21. Appleget caught a touchdown and led the defense with seven tackles.
Above all else, versatility might be what Appleget brings to the football field the most. He starred for the Knights this past season as a 6-foot-4, 213-pound strong-side linebacker in Southeast’s 4-2-5 defense after starting at outside ‘backer as a sophomore. He racked up 67 tackles in his junior campaign while hauling in 17 catches for 280 yards and five touchdowns.
“He can fit a lot of different positions for you,” Gottula, who’s been the head coach at Southeast since 2011, said. “He’s just a great athlete, and I think schools just want to get him on campus and plug him in where he’d best fit with them.”
Appleget doesn’t care where he lines up on a given play. He just wants to be out there, tackling the ball carrier, catching a pass or throwing a key block for a teammate.
“Stick me at tight end, wide receiver, running back, quarterback, inside linebacker, safety, whatever — I’ve got the smarts and the ability to play wherever they want,” Appleget said. “It’s something that’s always been a part of me and I’ve had the ability to do.”
A lot of work has been put in for Appleget to be the player he is today. But it wasn’t always like that. Once Appleget figured out he could have a future as a football player, he started to go about things differently.
Because of that change in mindset, he saw a jump from his sophomore to junior year.
“I took the weight room and training a lot more seriously. It struck me that this could be something I could do at the next level and possibly the level after that,” Appleget said. “Training and weight lifting became more serious, a lot more methodical and thought-through. It became a daily thing where I was in the weight room putting in work and it really made a difference in sophomore-me to the junior-me.”
Appleget’s bench max grew to 300 pounds last summer. His squat turned into 415, with the hang clean up to 285. At Southeast’s own testing day, he clocked in with a 4.52 40-yard dash and owns a 39-inch vertical jump.
College programs started to notice Appleget’s growth and stellar play on the field. He holds football offers from South Dakota State, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Yale, Illinois State and Northern Illinois, his first FBS offer.
Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota State and Iowa State have have also shown interest.
“Northern Illinois has been the one who has been sending me letters and texting me a couple times a week,” Appleget said. “South Dakota State is still high on that list and is communicating with me a lot. For non-offered schools, Barrett Ruud (Nebraska inside linebackers coach) is calling me at least once or twice a week.”
Appleget, who has an older brother, Isaac, on the South Dakota State football team that fell 23-21 to Sam Houston State in the FCS championship, is planning on attending a private workout early in the morning on June 1 with Nebraska coaches Scott Frost, Ruud, Erik Chinander and Mike Dawson. He’s also planning on attending an invite-only camp at Minnesota on June 2, as well as the camp at Lindenwood University on June 4.
June is going to be a busy time for a lot of recruits, who never got the opportunity to show coaches what they can do in a camp setting due to Covid last year.
“June’s a business trip. I’m going to be mentally locked in,” Appleget said. “Especially this year with having missed everything and all the opportunities from last year, to get out and show what I’m capable of — that’s what a lot of coaches are uncertain of right now.
“They want to see me in person, see my actual size and what I’m capable of doing. It’s a business trip, I’m locked in and I want to hopefully expand the offers I have.”
What position does Appleget want to play at the next level? That’s a great question, and one he gets often.
“That’s the question every coach asks me when they call,” Appleget said with a laugh. “I tell them, in my case, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m in a play-making position on both sides of the ball. I can make game-changing tackles, and I can also go up and catch the ball in the end zone.
“I just want to make plays, and in my positions I can do that at both spots. So wherever I find a home, the school that’s right for me, whatever side of the ball they want me I’m going to play for them.”