When Avon Lake needs a big play, senior wide receiver/defensive back Jimmy Hessel is usually up for the task.
Just four games into the season, Hessel has already turned in a season’s worth of exciting plays in helping the Shoremen get off to a 3-1 start.
There were the two touchdown receptions, one punt return touchdown and interception that set up another touchdown in a 42-28 win over Avon in Week 1.
There were the five catches for 121 yards, along with a 36-yard touchdown, in a 34-21 win over Lorain in Week 2.
And last, but certainly not least, was Hessel’s acrobatic interception off a tipped pass with 6:12 remaining shortly after his team scored the go-ahead touchdown in last Friday’s 33-13 win over North Olmsted in the Southwestern Conference opener.
Just don’t expect the second-year starter pat himself on the back for any of those big plays.
“(Quarterback) David Winkel helps me out a lot,” said Hessel, who leads the Shoremen with 23 catches for 430 yards and four touchdowns. “I can’t stress that enough and can honestly not take all the credit for that. He helps me out a lot. The other receivers do a great job helping me out, getting me open. They make great plays when they need to as well.
“Defensively, like the interception I made last week, that ball was tipped by one of my teammates, Joe Patton, who is one of the other defensive backs. So it’s really a team effort.”
Hessel’s humility is just one of his redeeming qualities, according to longtime Avon Lake head coach Dave Dlugosz. And Dlugosz isn’t shy about how impressive he thought that game-changing interception Hessel came up with was.
“As far as his interception, yeah, it was tipped, but, oh my God, what a tremendous effort by him to make that play,” he said. “He was playing the backside corner and he ran all the way to the middle of the field. The guy tipped it and he (Hessel) caught with one hand about an inch off the ground and brought it up to his chest as he was falling.
“I’ll tell you the other great play he had (last week). He was the far-side corner and they ran a jet sweep reverse pass down the other side. Our other corner bit and their receiver was running down there free. He comes all the way from the other side of the field, all the way across the field about 40 yards deep, and knocks the ball down to save a sure touchdown.
“I told him, ‘There’s just not too many people that make that kind of play,’ and he did.”
As a receiver, Dlugosz puts Hessel on par with some of Avon Lake’s past greats.
“We’ve had some real good ones, like Andrew Means, Trey Stross, Ronnie Willoughby, and Jimmy ranks right up there with them,” Dlugosz said. “He has exceptional hands, runs very good routes and very disciplined routes, and now he kind of understands what’s happening in the secondary, when to cut routes off.
“He is an exceptional athlete. He’s long and lean. He’s got pretty good speed — a 4.6 40-yard dash — for a high school kid. But what he’s got going for him is that he can bend, he can cut, he can make people miss and that makes him very, very dangerous in the open field.”
Hessel didn’t play football as a sophomore and got the starting nod as a junior at both positions based solely on his athleticism. He responded with a team-leading 19 catches for 429 yards and three touchdowns and earned All-SWC and All-Lorain County honors along the way.
Just four games into his senior season and he’s already blown last year’s statistics out of the water.
“Keep in mind, this is really only his second year of playing football,” Dlugosz said. “As a junior, it took him about half the season to get the idea of what’s happening out there with all the bodies flying around.
“This year, things have just really taken off for him. … One of the biggest parts of his improvement is his physicality — he’s not afraid to come up and tackle you.”
Hessel is also a standout small forward on the basketball team and the starting center fielder for the baseball team.
“It really just helps me be quick and have the upper hand,” he said of playing three sports. “A lot of people are out weight lifting, but I’m playing basketball and baseball and keep moving and staying in shape that way, so I think that helps me a lot.”
Hessel’s father is from South Africa and, according to Dlugosz, was a rugby player, so Hessel wasn’t as well-versed in football. He’s obviously been a quick study.
“He plays three sports, and I know he likes baseball a lot, but his best sport is football out of the three,” Dlugosz said. “He’s just so darn athletic that he excels at anything. He’s just one of those kids. You can probably take him to the bowling alley and he’d become a great bowler or enter him in a fishing derby and he’d probably catch more than anyone. He’s just got that knack.
“He is just such a sharp student (close to a 4.0 gpa) and so intelligent that he’s picking something up every single week and making himself better every single week. I can really see him being a very solid receiver on the collegiate level. It’s going to be up to him what he wants to do.”
Hessel isn’t sure what his college plans will be. Right now, though, he’s excited about his team being 3-1 with a big home showdown with 4-0 Midpark on tap tonight.
“Obviously, we’re pumped about this start,” he said. “We had a tough (54-47 double overtime) loss to Massillon Jackson, and I strongly believe we should have won that game. Obviously, we would rather be 4-0, but we can be happy with 3-1, especially being 1-0 in our conference.
“We have to go out and practice for each team. Midpark likes to pass a lot, so we have to go out and make sure that our secondary is especially sharp this week. It should be a fun game.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.