Jake Kassulker maximized his time and the Brainerd Warriors maximized his talents.
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound senior played offensive tackle and inside linebacker for the 7-3 Warriors this season. If that wasn’t pressure enough, the three-year varsity veteran moved from guard, where he started the last two years, to tackle.
“At first it was a little awkward,” said Kassulker. “Being on the line I just had to adjust and do as best as I could. The offensive line really stepped it up. We got low and stayed on our blocks and opened up some big holes so our backs could run through them.”
More often than not, those big holes were where Kassulker was. He and Caleb Tautges formed the starting left side of the offensive line. But if Brainerd wanted to run right, those two simply slid to the right side.
“There was no doubt if we needed a tough two yards we were going behind those two,” said Warriors offensive line coach Chet Stevenson. “You have Jake, who can power clean 330 pounds, and Caleb, who can power clean 310, lining up side-by-side, of course you’re going to run that way.
“The old football saying is you take your best back and run him behind your best lineman. Jake was our best lineman. Caleb was our second-best lineman. Those two were the horses. We were going to run behind them.”
Stevenson raved about Kassulker’s work ethic. For the last three years, those two have spent almost every day together between football season, winter weight room training and track and field. That time was limited this year because of Kassulker’s added responsibilities.
“It made it difficult at times for communication,” said Stevenson. “Plus, those aren’t easy positions to play both ways. Offensively was probably a little easier for him in the respect that we’ve been training him for three years to be an offensive lineman. The last two years he’s played linebacker, which is a different read and a little different footwork.
“We didn’t have a lot of time on the sidelines for adjustments. But again, he’s one of those kids who absorbs things better than most. He’s got what we refer to as football sense. Plus, he had three years of varsity experience to draw from.”
Kassulker and the rest of the Warriors’ line helped Brainerd rush for 2,650 yards and pass for 707. Brainerd advanced to the Section 8-5A final all three of Kassulker’s seasons. He was also an integral part of two state semifinal teams.
Defensively, the linebacker finished with 115 tackles (third on the team), four sacks, one blocked kick, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
“The coaches set the practices up around the guys that did play both sides of the ball,” said Kassulker, who is still undecided about where he will play next season. “We would practice working on what we would do in the game and not really the technique. They figured we would know that by now. Time management wasn’t a problem for me.
“I mainly just listened to what the coaches told me. On offense, I already knew what I needed to do. Actually, playing on the offensive line helped me on defense. Mainly, though, I just listened.”
Listened and withstood a constant beating. Along with the mental pressure of playing both sides of the football, Kassulker’s body also took a beating by playing two physical positions. He admitted the first few weeks of the season took its toll. After a while, it became second-nature. And, more time than not it was Kassulker who was dishing out the punishment.
“We needed Jake to bring that physical presence to our defense,” said Warriors defensive coordinator Jason Freed. “We needed him to be one of those leaders in our linebacker corps. He was a physical strong, maybe the strongest guy on our football team, kind of player. He brought that physical mentality and emotion to our defense.”
But then Kassulker wasn’t just playing for himself and that is one thing he’ll miss next season, no matter where he ends up playing.
“It’s a big deal trusting the guy right next to you,” said Kassulker. “Caleb is my best friend so it’s not that hard to trust him. We played well together. I will miss not being next to him. We’ve built up a pretty big bond.”
Freed called Kassulker a true Warrior.
“He lives and breaths Warrior football,” Freed said. “He bleeds blue. He loves the game. He loves this program and he loves what it’s all about. That shows in the way he plays and leads.”
Stevenson couldn’t agree more.
“He’s a great kid who comes from a very good family,” Stevenson said. “There is going to be a big hole to fill next year, but he’s more than that to me. I’ve seen this kid pretty much year round. He’s pretty special to me.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.