First-year Jefferson City coach Ted LePage has rekindled the Jays’ passion for football.
The revitalized team (2-2) will face its biggest challenge yet tonight. Jefferson City plays Class 6 No. 1 Rock Bridge (4-0) at 7 p.m. at Adkins Stadium.
LePage is the 27th coach of the state’s most accomplished high school football team. The Jays have won the most state titles in Missouri, but they haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2001. LePage replaced Tony Grosso, who had a 19-21 record in four seasons.
LePage is familiar with Jays football. He served as assistant for six years during the 1990s when the team won three state titles.
He said he noticed a difference from those winning years when he began his job.
“The kids were here,” LePage said, “but it didn’t seem like they were as attuned to football as when I left.”
The players have begun to respond.
“They follow the lead of the staff,” LePage said. “They’re really starting to pay attention to everything we say.”
Rock Bridge coach A.J. Ofodile said he has observed the Jays’ renewed dedication while scouting the team on film.
“The fun is back in Jeff City football,” Ofodile said.
Ofodile said he expected to see the Jays playing with enthusiasm. He and LePage have known each other for years. LePage was a graduate assistant when Ofodile played for Missouri in the early 1990s.
“He always commanded respect,” Ofodile said. “He’s the type of person you’d never bet against.”
LePage is not solely focused on football. He is a Farmers Insurance agent in Jefferson City and owns a farm in Cole County, where he grows hay.
LePage first earned praise in football as the quarterback at Helias High School. He led the team to a state title in 1984. He switched sides and played defensive back for Missouri from 1986 to 1989.
Then he turned to coaching. After his stint as a graduate assistant, he was the wide receivers coach for a year at Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown, Texas, near Houston.
LePage said it was the best experience of his life even though he and his wife knew no one there.
“You had to establish everything from ground zero,” he said.
LePage also learned a lot from his boss. Coach Dick Olin ran a shotgun-based offense with five wide receivers, which was unorthodox at the time. Olin’s system has sent many quarterbacks to Division-I programs, including Utah’s Brian Johnson and Iowa’s Drew Tate.
LePage then moved back to Missouri to work for the Jays. His success continued as head coach at Blair Oaks High School in Jefferson City. He compiled a 48-13 record in five years, and the team captured the Class-2 state title in 2004.
LePage was named coach last year, and he said he is honored to represent the Jays.
“It’s very exhilarating,” he said, “and I take it very seriously.”
Ofodile said LePage has instilled his work ethic and blue-collar attitude in his players.
“I know he’s sold that to his team,” Ofodile said.
Although the Jays are 2-2, they have fared well against top teams. In their season opener, they lost 24-21 to Springdale, Ark., which was ranked in the Top 10 by USA Today last year. Last week they played another close contest, falling 42-34 to Rockhurst, ranked No. 3 in Class 6.
The Jays will see how they measure up to the team LePage and many others consider the best in the state.
The Bruins defeated Hazelwood West 57-20 last week. Though they dominated on offense and defense, their kickoff coverage was suspect. Hazelwood West returned two kickoffs past midfield, and Rock Bridge ended up deliberately kicking the ball out of bounds during the second half. Ofodile said he has asked some of his experienced offensive and defensive starters to fill in on special teams to rectify the problems.