Sports Person of the Week
Ortiz Enjoying Final Season of Football
Jake Ortiz is making the most of his senior season with the East Haven football team after dealing with a shoulder injury and challenges presented by COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Jake Ortiz)
When Jake Ortiz was in 4th grade, his friends convinced him to come check out one of their football games. Jake enjoyed it so much that he decided to start playing the sport himself. Now, Jake and that same group of friends are finishing their senior seasons with the East Haven High School football team.
“Knowing it’s the end is kind of hard, because I don’t want to leave the sport I love and grew up playing. But I’m going to make the best of it,” says Jake. “We just want to get out there and win.”
This season has been a challenge for Jake and the Yellowjackets in many ways. While East Haven was able to return to the field after seeing the 2020 campaign get canceled due to COVID-19, the pandemic is still having a big impact on the team. Due to team quarantine situations, Jake has only played in a handful of games this year.
“We’ve had our ups and downs this season. Because of COVID stuff, we’ve only had two games with a full team,” Jake says. “It was really hard at first, because it’s not what we wanted to happen, but our coaches kept our heads up and practiced with the kids who were allowed to play. Then when we were back out there, we practiced hard every day.”
With the constant shift of players, Jake credits the Easties’ coaches and seniors, including captain Shea Carasone, for leading the team the through the challenges. Jake also feels pleased to see East Haven’s younger players stepping up this season.
Jake knows what it’s like to be asked to play varsity as an underclassman. Jake played in two varsity games in his freshman year and, by his sophomore season, he had moved into the Yellowjackets’ varsity lineup. Jake feels thankful to Frannie Belevich, who led summer workouts for the team and helped East Haven’s players learn how to “win the day.” Jake’s freshman season also marked Scott Benoit’s first year as East Haven’s head coach.
“It was definitely a different feeling from youth, because the kids were bigger,” says Jake. “Coach Benoit and the rest of the coaching staff came in believing in us, and he really helped in changing the program around. We started winning a lot of games and got a lot of kids to come play.”
Jake plays running back and linebacker for Coach Benoit’s squad. Benoit says that Jake not only makes a difference for the Yellowjackets with his contributions on the field, but also with the overall presence that he brings to the program.
“Jake has been a good player for us in his four years here,” Benoit says. “He is very energetic and is a student of football. He has overcome a serious shoulder injury. He provides the team with vocal leadership.”
Jake’s shoulder injury occurred during his sophomore season with the East Haven wrestling team. Jake started wrestling in 7th grade after being encouraged by Nick Gargano, who coached the middle school squad at the time; along with his best friend, Robbie Hastings. Gargano is now the defensive coach for the Yellowjackets’ football team, and Jake feels grateful for his guidance in both sports.
Jake began wrestling in varsity matches as a sophomore, and he remembers how good it felt when he earned his first victory. However, just as he was hitting his stride, Jake injured his shoulder and was forced to miss the rest of the season and have surgery.
“It was hard, because I really wanted to finish that season,” says Jake. “I had a great athletic trainer who really helped me get back into shape, and now it feels really good.”
As his sophomore wrestling season came to a close, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports, taking away Jake’s junior campaigns for both football and wrestling. Now, as a senior, Jake is trying to make the most of his final go-round in a Yellowjackets’ uniform and looks forward to getting back on the mat once his time on the gridiron is finished.
“We’ll be taking it one match as a team and will be looking to have a good record as a team,” Jake says. “We’d love to win Class M’s. Our team is looking good and we have a great coach [Mark Tolla]. We have to put in the work, and we’ll be OK.”
Jake is looking to wrestle at either 145 or 152 pounds this winter. Jake loves wrestling due to the individual effort that has to be put forth on the mat and also because “no one else could help you do it.” Jake is hoping to qualify for states for the first time in his wrestling career as a senior.
“I’ll be trying to make the best of my last season,” says Jake. “The team gets along so well and has fun with the bus rides and the tournaments. I know I’ll miss all of that.”
Jake stays in shape by working out during the offseason. Jake, who enjoys math and science, has a goal of becoming an electrician and also getting his real estate license. He appreciates the support of his parents, Frank and Michelle.
“They support me a lot,” Jake says. “They’re always at my matches, telling me to keep up the work and not get down on myself if I lose, and to learn from my mistakes.”
Before he gets back to wrestling, Jake still has two more games remaining as a member of the East Haven football team. Jake wants to enjoy every moment that he gets to spend with a bunch of athletes who he’s been competing alongside since elementary school.
“I love the competition, the family bonding, and playing together with my friends. We have so many memories from growing up playing,” Jake says. “On defense, I love hitting and, on offense, running the ball and scoring a touchdown feels amazing. The crowd’s screaming, and the team is hyped after. I’m going to miss being on the field and the Friday night lights.”
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .