ELDRIDGE — Luke Jennings chose not to go out for football his freshman and sophomore seasons. He came out last year as a junior but played very few competitive snaps on Friday nights.
It might have deterred some individuals from sticking with it. Jennings kept his eye on the bigger picture.
Behind all-state flanker Carson Rollinger on the depth chart, Jennings used last season to learn North Scott's system and improve his skills to be ready for an expanded role this year.
His patience and unselfishness has been rewarded.
Jennings has caught a team-high 33 passes for 269 yards along with a more prominent role on defense recently for the Lancers heading into Friday night's Class 3A quarterfinal at top-ranked Western Dubuque (10-0).
"In today's age of social media, the mentality of give it to me now and I want it now, it is hard when you don't play a varsity sport for a long time and expect to come in and want to play," North Scott coach Kevin Tippet said. "Luke really understood that.
"He worked his tail off last year. He got better, and we knew coming into this year he was a kid we could count on."
Jennings spent the fall months during his first two years of high school attending open gyms and conditioning for basketball season.
With some nudging from North Scott's coaches, Jennings decided to come out for football last season.
He participated on North Scott's scout teams, brought energy to practice and tried to glean insight from Rollinger.
His official stat line from his junior season? One assisted tackle.
"The role wasn't big last year, but I had a good mentor in front of me that taught me how to do my role this year," Jennings said.
Jennings admitted it was difficult not to get discouraged at times, but he praised Tippet for continually building him up and letting him know there would come a point when the Lancers would count on him to fill a substantial role.
When last season ended, Jennings devoted himself to the weight room. He added about 15 to 20 pounds to his frame and is up to 165.
"I thought I had a lot of competition at my position, so I wanted to work hard this past summer and stay after it to make sure I was doing well," Jennings said. "I wanted to go above and beyond at my position."
Tippet said he probably didn't utilize Jennings enough early in the season.
But as the weeks have worn on, Jennings has become a significant piece of North Scott's 9-1 season and third straight quarterfinal appearance.
He's been North Scott's leading receiver each of the past three games. He also has seen considerable time on defense the past two weeks following an injury to defensive back Layne Hamann.
Jennings had an interception in last week's 9-3 win over Cedar Rapids Xavier.
"Luke has been pressed into duty back there and hasn't batted an eye," Tippet said.
The wait has been worth it.
"This has been a great feeling," Jennings said. "I never imagined myself being in this position considering last year was my first year. I love it."
Jennings and the Lancers will try and settle the score against the Bobcats, who have outscored opponents 374-89 in 10 games.
Western Dubuque ousted North Scott in the quarterfinals last year. It also beat Tippet's team 21-3 on Sept. 20 in Epworth this season.
"We have to be physical and disciplined," Jennings said. "We had quite a few penalties in the last game against them that cut us short."
Tippet noted it is paramount for his team to avoid getting behind the chains. The Lancers had at least 13 plays in the first half of the previous meeting where they faced second and 9 or third and 9.
According to Tippet, some of it was self-inflicted and some stemmed from bad offensive execution.
"Our offense has got to help our defense a lot better than we did last Friday and the last time we played up there," he said. "We need to put ourselves in winnable third-down situations."
With the exception of a 20-14 win over Xavier in Week 7, Western Dubuque has won every other game by at least 18 points this season.
Still, Tippet doesn't believe his team has to be flawless Friday to secure its first trip to the UNI-Dome in program history.
"We've been in this situation in previous years where we've gone into the game and I've felt we've got to play darn-near perfect," Tippet said. "We don't here, and that's no disrespect to them.
"Do we have to play really well? Yeah, that's the name of the game at this time of the year. If we play at the level we have defensively, we'll be right there."