CRETE, NE – It’s been a long three weeks.
You may have forgotten, but Doane played a football game on August 25 and won handily, 57-3, at Friends University.
The Tigers have been dormant the last two weeks, taking Labor Day weekend off and using their bye week early.
It’s okay if you forgot. Doane’s new starting quarterback, junior Jack Kalina, had almost forgotten himself.
“It’s been a long three weeks,” he said. “But, we’re finally down to game week and it feels normal again and we’re just excited to hit someone else other than ourselves. We played that first game, and it almost feels like that was our preseason game. Now, we’re getting started with conference (play) with Dordt, and getting started with a game.”
Before Doane, Kalina hadn’t played quarterback since his senior year of high school 1,401 days ago. The last time was a 49-29 loss at Millard North on Oct. 24, 2014, where he threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns.
Little did he know that less than four years later, he’d replace three-year starter Jack Shadley at Doane in the Tigers’ first game of the Chris Bessler era. On the road, no less.
No pressure. At least, not for Kalina.
He rose to the occasion and led the offense with poise, completing 17-of-32 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns.
“First college game, it was definitely nerve racking,” Kalina said. “I had the pregame jitters, and just wanted to get that first throw out of the way. A lot of people talk about completing the first throw and getting the first drive out of the way. I just wanted to get out there and get playing.”
Kalina got reacquainted with football immediately, getting sacked on Doane’s first play from scrimmage. His first completed college pass went for no gain. His first drive was a three-and-out.
The next drive, he went 2-for-5 for 20 yards and the series ended with a punt.
Eight plays later, Doane’s offense had the ball back, thanks to an interception from sophomore and Western New Mexico transfer Damond Brown.
The pre-game jitters were gone. Kalina settled in, and orchestrated a seven-play, 57-yard drive that ended with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Gannon, giving Doane a 7-0 lead.
“We had a good start to the first quarter, got off to a hot start and our defense picked us up and put us in good field position. That helped us a lot and that helped me as a first-year starter to kind of get my feet wet and not kill a drive if we had a three-and-out or anything.”
A 35-yard pick six by Hershey, NE native and second-team all-GPAC safety Chayton Crow had the Tigers up 14-0 on the road after the first quarter. After awhile, it was halftime and Doane led 38-3.
All three of Kalina’s touchdowns came in the first half. The blowout was also aided by four interceptions, including two pick-sixes, and a blocked punt recovery for a touchdown by sophomore and Wilber native Brice Broz.
Kalina also gave credit to his offensive line, which didn’t allow a single sack after his very first snap.
“I think we made a good connection,” Kalina said. “After our first game against Friends, I bought ‘em some doughnuts. They were all pumped about that. They were saying, ‘We haven’t had a quarterback buy us doughnuts ever!’
“Whatever I have to do to get them to protect me, I will do.”
They only had to protect Kalina for three quarters. Backup and true freshman QB Kyle Smith took over in the 4th quarter after Doane’s lead stretched to 48 points.
Since then, it’s been a long wait. Waiting is nothing new to Kalina. He waited 1,401 days to play football again, and more than 21 years to do it at the college level.
By the time Kalina was Papillion La-Vista’s starting quarterback in the fall of 2014, Kalina had signed to play baseball for coach Bob Herold and the Omaha Mavericks.
“Out of high school, I thought about baseball and football hard and which one to choose,” Kalina said. “That was a really tough decision for me, but with UNO reaching out to me, I thought that’d be a good spot for me, and it was. I had fun there and enjoyed my time there.”
It was most enjoyable in the first two seasons. Playing a variety of positions, from left field to first base, Kalina started 29 games and batted .291 as a freshman in 2016.
For UNO head baseball coach Evan Porter, it’s Kalina’s contributions off the playing surface that he’ll remember the longest.
“Jack’s a guy, whenever he enters the room, he brings a good energy and really lights everything up,” Porter said. “He’s really a super guy that can have a lot of fun with his teammates. That makes them enjoy what they’re doing more so when he’s around them.”
Kalina’s average dipped to .200 in 2017, but he started 35 games and ranked second on the team with 11 doubles.
In 2018, he went from 35 starts to just three, and appeared in a career-low 10 games. The Mavs finished 15-35; their lowest win total since 2012.
“That year, we just had a couple of guys ahead of (Jack) on the depth chart, and the guys ahead of him with their opportunities, and that’s the role Jack fell into,” Porter said.
This forced Kalina to reevaluate.
“I was talking to my parents and I was just like, ‘You know, I think I have some eligibility left. I’m only a junior. I haven’t played (football) for three years…why don’t we just see what can happen?’”
Kalina emailed some schools, got the shoulder pads out from the back of the closet and hoped for the best.
“Luckily, Doane reached out to me a little bit,” he said. “I got to come on a visit, and I liked everything about the campus. I liked the coaches – everything just fit right into place. It just kind of seemed like the perfect fit.”
Sometimes, “the perfect fit” for a student-athlete can look drastically different when there’s a coaching change.
Chris Bessler replaced Matt Franzen after 11 years as Doane’s head coach in July, while Franzen was promoted to athletic director. All less than two months before the first game.
For Kalina, it was a change for the better.
“When I heard of Mr. Franzen moving to AD, I was kind of excited about that, because it would be a new experience for everyone. Me being a new player, upperclassmen, it was a little bit of a sigh of relief knowing that I’m not going to be the only new guy experiencing everything else.”
Kalina didn’t have much film to show Franzen or Bessler during his recruiting process, as he only played quarterback for one season.
Jeff Govier, Papillion-La Vista’s head football coach from 2008-2014, wanted to give Kalina more time under center. The opportunity just never presented itself.
Alec Ditoro, who was a year older, started under center in both 2012 and ‘13. The all-stater led the Monarchs to playoff berths in both seasons.
“That’s what (Alec) could do, and that was about it,” Govier said. “I couldn’t put him in other positions. Jack, as a sophomore, was so athletic I was able to play him on defense and offense. He played tight end and went out in the slot. Jack did what was best for the team.
“At the same time, I don’t think it gave him a fair look, or chance, to get as recruited as heavily as he normally would have. I think his real love was always being a quarterback and playing football. I’m just so happy he has an opportunity to play and kind of experience more than what he did at the high school level and really realize his potential and his talents.”
Kalina made the most of his lone year at QB, starting all nine games for Papillion-La Vista in 2014, completing 57.6 percent of his passes, passing for 1,620 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 191 yards and four scores.
The Monarchs finished 3-6 that year, but the effort was enough to earn Kalina honorable mention all-state honors, and many months later, the No. 1 QB spot on Doane’s depth chart.
It was also enough to get him offers at quarterback that fall from Nebraska-Kearney, Wayne State and Augustana, but Kalina honored his early baseball commitment to the Mavs.
“Jack didn’t get an opportunity to do too much,” Govier said. “By the time he even had a chance to go to their camps, they had already signed their quarterback for that class. It was kind of unfortunate, because I think he was really, really limited and just didn’t have opportunities to pursue that and play at the highest level that he could have gotten recruited at. I think that’s what led him to (baseball).”
It’s cliche, but perhaps some things do happen for a reason. It was Kalina’s baseball abilities that caught Coach Bessler’s eye in the first place.
That four years away from football didn’t seem to matter for Doane’s new head man. Kalina beat out seven other quarterbacks for the job.
“Jack has a strong arm,” Bessler said. “As a former baseball player, he can put some zip on it. But also, the one thing I’ve noticed about him is he has a very good awareness out on the field. His pocket awareness is good. He doesn’t get rattled, or at least I haven’t seen him get rattled yet.
“Hopefully that stays the same, and I’m sure it will. He’s been a good general for us so far. That showed up against Friends as well.”
If you ask Govier, he’d tell you that the Friends game is likely just the beginning for Kalina, based on his high school work ethic.
“Jack’s biggest strength are his intangibles. His leadership is what I note him for the most. Being a three-sport athlete in high school is very, very challenging. Every sport here in Class A operates full, year-round schedules.
He’s one of the kids that really did it right. He’d go have a doubleheader (in baseball) late into the night (in summer), and turn right around, and be there at 7 A.M. lifting, and seven-on-sevens, doing everything we asked for him. The thing I really, really admired that Jack developed from us and within his teammates is the amount of respect he earned, because of his commitment and his willingness to be dedicated to his sport and to his craft.”
Doane starts its conference schedule on Saturday, traveling to Sioux Center, Iowa to face the Dordt College Defenders. Kickoff from Open Space Park is set for 1 p.m. central. Coverage begins at 12:30 on KUTT 99.5 FM and will stream live here.
Doane is 9-1 all-time vs. Dordt. The Tigers’ only loss to Dordt came last season, when the Defenders stunned No. 12 Doane, 21-16, on homecoming in Crete.
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @Tommy_NCN.