Nov. 9—WISHEK, N.D. — Prior to this season, the best run the South Border Mustangs football team ever went on was getting to the state quarterfinals. This season, the Mustangs are playing for the state title behind a mentally tough team which includes senior offensive lineman and defensive lineman Clay Jacob.
"Clay Jacob, he's a good story," Mustangs head coach Evan Mellmer said. "(A) kid that just shows what hard work can get you, stuck it out all four years in the program, didn't see a lot of playing time when he was younger and just kept grinding away, all summer in the weight room he got after it. Even though, we didn't know if he'd be playing this year, he took that personal, and he put the work in because he wanted to be playing. That's just a testament to what the work can get you."
During the summer before his eighth-grade year, Jacob suffered an accident on his family's farm that left him permanently blind in his left eye. Despite what some might think, Jacob said it has not impacted his life on and off the field tremendously.
"I just go about it day by day," Jacob said. "I don't think it's affected me too much. On the field, I think the only thing it's really affected is where I line up on the ball. But other than that, I feel the coaches know about it and they put me in the right spots."
On the field, Jacob said he has had to move his head to look where opponents are more than other people on the field as a result of his injury.
"My eighth grade year I didn't join football because I didn't think I'd be able to but somebody else in my area lost their eye when they were in high school too and he still played," Jacob said. "He told me that it's just a little more challenging, and I decided to keep trying it and I really enjoyed it. I don't think it's too much of a struggle."
Jacob has lined up at right guard on offense and nose guard. As a nose guard, he has 25 total tackles, four tackles for loss and four sacks. Mellmer said Jacob took on a tremendous responsibility as a nose guard helping the team put more emphasis on their linebacking corps and play only three players on the defensive line. Jacob said it feels good when he blocks a person who has eyesight in both eyes because it feels like he has dealt with more challenges than the opponent and still found a way to succeed. Mellmer said he believes Jacob is better on the offensive side of the ball than the defensive side. Jacob doesn't succeed alone though as he said he gets help from his teammates.
"Our center for sure, he yells out every blitz," Jacob said. "He makes sure I hear every line call. It means a lot. This whole season since week one I feel like we're family. Them helping me out as much as they possibly can it's really shown that yeah these are my brothers and I'm willing to do anything for these guys."
When the Mustangs take on North Prairie at 9:10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 11, Jacob said he and his parents will be making their first-ever trip to the Fargodome for any event.
"All I know is it's gonna be loud," Jacob said. "Our semifinal game, that was crazy, you couldn't hear our QB, you couldn't hear their QB and now we're in a building. I know how loud our fans can get and I know their fans are gonna be loud too. You're not gonna be able to hear anything. I'm excited for that. I love all that loud noise."
Jacob is not the only player to have fought back from injuries to make an impact on this team as running back Cole Stock suffered a serious elbow injury his freshman year and wide receiver Connor Kosiak suffered a serious shoulder injury last year. Mellmer said his team's ability to fight through adversity and still make a big impact comes from the love that they share for each other and the want to do well for their teammates that exists.
Mellmer said his team needs to stay mentally sharp the entire game and fight through every challenge the Cougars present to them, which shouldn't be a problem for Jacob.
"I just think keep thinking in my head, our community's dreamed of this, I've dreamed of this, just so excited," Jacob excitedly stammered. "I'm so ready to go for this. I think my main driving point is this is my senior year, last ever time putting on pads for a game and it's in the state championship. I know this is my last game, the nerves, the feelings of let's get this done. Win or lose, I think that I'm gonna have fun no matter what."