When Jake Jatis steps on the field, sometimes he needs to take a second and remind himself what position he’s playing.
Listed as a quarterback, the Cornell football senior’s pure athleticism has extended his contributions far beyond the role of gunslinger. Today, you can see Jatis taking snaps for Cornell’s more run-oriented schemes, blocking for sophomore Nickolas Null on punts, holding the ball for field goals and signaling plays from the sidelines to contribute when he’s off the field.
“I try to be as sharp as I can each play and remember which position I am playing for that down,” Jatis said after the team’s 34-7 Homecoming win over Brown, a game in which he racked up 42 rushing yards on six carries, including a 3rd and 4th-down conversion.
A five-game starter at quarterback as a freshman, Jatis was the second freshman given the keys to the offense in program history, joining the ranks of Cornell legend Jeff Mathews ’13. But after an injury derailed Jatis’ inaugural season, Robert Somborn ’17 earned the starting role the ensuing year, slotting Jatis into a backup role again his junior year with the emergence of now-junior Dalton Banks as the starter.
But this year, head coach David Archer ’05 and his coaching staff have found new ways to utilize Jatis’ athleticism.
Along with leading Cornell’s run-oriented offense, Jatis is taking snaps on special teams for the first time in his career, becoming a Swiss Army knife for the Red as a quarterback — typically the position on a team most shielded from contact.
“He’s a jack of all trades,” said Banks, Jatis’ partner in crime under center. “He does everything for us. He’s a great athlete, good quarterback, smart with the ball.”
“He’s basically the quarterback on the punt team,” added special teams coordinator Guido Falbo, who worked with Jatis as an offensive assistant coach Jatis’ freshman and sophomore years. “He imposes a threat on every snap. … No matter what he’s asked to do, he’s up for it.”
Archer said part of his reasoning in giving Jatis more snaps is to “take some of the hits off Dalton,” who has played behind an offensive line that has allowed 23 sacks on the year but has recently begun to put the pieces together.
“It starts when you just list your personnel, like who do you want in the game,” Archer said. “With injuries, Jatis kept rising towards us. It was like, how do we get him in, and it really helped us get the hits off Dalton’s body to where it’s like now Dalton’s feeling good, now Jake’s playing too. Now there’s a multiple dimensional package.”
Banks added that the idea with the dual-threat quarterbacks is to try and stay one step ahead of the opposing defenses to create a state of confusion and force them to have to adapt to two different styles of play.
“It really messes with the defenses, they’re second-guessing themselves,” Banks said. “That’s what we want to do — we want to keep defenses off balance and that’s the plan going forward.”
The conception of the Jatis-Banks experiment came in the team’s 17-14 upset win over Harvard. In that game, Jatis’ number was called seven times, rushing for 24 yards and a pair of two-yard touchdowns, Cornell’s only two of the day. Junior kicker Zach Mays added a fourth-quarter field goal to end the Red’s 12-year drought against the Crimson.
And had it not been for those two key rushes from Jatis into the end zone, Cornell could very well be sitting 1-5 on the season and 1-2 in Ivy play.
So far in 2017, Jatis has totaled 90 yards on the ground and 83 in the air to go along with three touchdowns — the two rushes against Harvard and an air strike to sophomore Davy Lizana in Cornell’s 26-18 loss to Bucknell for the wideout’s first career touchdown and Jatis’ first in the air since his freshman year.
“It’s really anytime I can provide a spark to our team, that’s what I’m really trying to do,” Jatis said. “When they call my number, whatever package I’m in, I’m just really trying to give a spark to our team.”
“Does he want to be the starting quarterback? Absolutely,” Falbo added, “but he accepts his role because he’s such a team player and he wants success for this football team in any which way he can help contribute. … He wants to do whatever it takes to help his team win. He’s a dream to coach.”
Knowing his playing time is just a fraction of what it once was, the 6-foot-4, 224-pound quarterback, who was an all-conference selection as a high school varsity baseball player, is taking his new role in stride.
“Honestly, I love it. I think the coaching staff is really giving me all the opportunities to really succeed,” he said. “I just cherish every single moment I am on for those plays.”