LAUREL -- Laurel got an absolute game changer when Jack Waddell moved from Livingston in 2019. Now with a year in the offense under his belt, Waddell is making his presence felt.
What a blessing it was for Waddell to move from Livingston when he did. The Rangers forfeited the 2019 season and played a JV schedule throughout the year.
“I don’t think that would have been too fun playing up there,” Waddell said. “You’re not really playing for anything. You’re just playing to play. That would be fun, but there’s always that extra little urge to go for that state championship, so that’s a big part of it.”
Waddell, who moved to be with family in Laurel, gives the Locomotives a true field stretcher at wide receiver that can keep opposing defensive coordinators up late at night trying to find ways to slow him down.
But slowing Waddell down isn’t easy – just ask 2019 state track competitors. Waddell, then a sophomore at Livingston, won the 200-meter dash and placed second in the 400. Speed like that is difficult to prepare for.
“We definitely try to get the ball in his hands as much as we can, because I think people don’t realize how fast he is. People know he’s fast, but when you’re watching film you really don’t know how fast, actually, somebody is. If you take a bad angle on him, he’s going to make you pay for it,” Laurel head coach Mike Ludwig said. “You’ve got to know where he’s at, and a lot of the times they put two guys on him. When he’s double-covered, we have enough other play makers that will get open and make plays for us, also. That’s what he brings to the table. Not only can he make plays, but he can also make a defense have to over-shift or put two guys on him. When that happens, it usually leaves somebody one-on-one or gives us an opportunity to take advantage of somebody else.”
Waddell has developed quite the connection with quarterback Eli Aby, who will be headed to Bozeman to play for Montana State next fall. When Aby and Waddell see one-on-one coverage, their eyes light up.
“We threw the ball to each other all summer. He ran a ton of routes and we just developed really good chemistry from last year to this year,” Aby said. “Last year we didn’t really get any time to get with each other before the season and we still made it work, but this year we put in the time in the offseason and got together and it’s paying off. He’s a great receiver -- best one in Class A.”
“I’ve got to make one move. I kind of acted like I was blocking (in Friday's first-round win over Frenchtown) then ran a slant for a touchdown. You kind of play some mind games with the corner. It’s hard to guard one-on-one, so props to them still,” Waddell said.
Waddell is inching up the career leaderboards in Class A. He has 126 career receptions, making him just the ninth Class A player to hit that mark. Waddell also has 20 touchdown receptions in his career, the 25th player to do so in Class A history. With just 10 more receiving yards, Waddell will become the 11th player in Class A history to hit the 2,000-yard mark.
He’ll take aim at improving on those numbers on Saturday afternoon at Hamilton, as the Locomotives hope to lock up a berth in their second consecutive State A title game.
“I think on offense if (Hamilton) plays two-high (safeties), that will test our offense, but then our running backs are going to have to make some plays, and they’re tough to stop, too,” Waddell said.
“Hamilton, they’ve got a good quarterback. He runs really well and throws well. They’ve got some big guys up front, they’re well-coached. We’ll have to be on the top of our game to have a chance to win,” Aby said.
Laurel and Hamilton are slated to kick at noon Saturday. If Hamilton wins, the Broncs will host the title game. Should Laurel win, the Locomotives will either host Miles City or play Billings Central in Lockwood.