Jesse Rack felt the exhilaration race through his body the first time he recorded a sack playing defensive end for Christ the King High School in Queens. What could be better than rushing the quarterback full bore, snaring him in your grasp and taking him to the ground, usually for a substantial loss?
Rack, who also played tight end, soon concluded that for him there is a higher high on the football field than getting to the quarterback.
"When I got my first touchdown in high school, from then on all I wanted to do was score touchdowns and play tight end," he said Wednesday.
The scenario is unfolding to near perfection for Rack, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior from the Maspeth section of Queens. The Zach Maynard era at quarterback has seen the University at Buffalo make more prominent use of the tight end, with Rack already at seven catches for 116 yards and three touchdowns after catching 21 for 205 last year and 15 for 191 as a sophomore.
The chemistry between Rack and Maynard was evident on an exquisitely timed 24-yard TD throw over the middle against Pittsburgh. The two hooked up for a 6-yard scoring play in last Saturday's loss at Central Florida, a game in which Rack also caught a 34-yard TD pass from wideout (and former St. Joe's quarterback) Naaman Roosevelt. Rack finished with a career-high 76 receiving yards. His personal best of six catches in a game was set in last year's miracle victory over Temple, UB's opponent in Saturday's Mid-American Conference opener at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
The Bulls possess an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the receiving game. Roosevelt and Brett Hamlin have 20 catches apiece, with the former averaging 16.2 yards per reception. Throw Rack into the mix and Maynard has plenty of options as the sophomore works his way through his first year as a starter.
"Brett Hamlin, Naaman Roosevelt, you've heard a lot about those two guys. But definitely going into this football season Jesse Rack was going to be a guy we were going to be able to get the ball to," coach Turner Gill said. "He's an excellent receiver, he's also an excellent blocker. So I'd put him up . . . across the MAC conference as far as being one of the top guys. It's just great to see him get some success as far as the catches and touchdowns. And we plan to see more of that."
Rack and Maynard began to build a strong familiarity last season, when they were roommates. They are both learned students of the game, and seemed to forge an instant bond.
"Me and Zach just kind of have a good understanding of each other," Rack said. "It started last year in practice, him throwing me the ball and throwing two-minute drill and stuff like that. It just ended up this year with him being the starting quarterback, he tends to look to me. Because he trusts me, he'll throw the ball to me. He knows I'll catch it and make a play."
Last year's repetitions poured the foundation for this year's success. For one thing, Maynard's a lefty, which requires an adjustment on the part of his receivers. What's more, he unloads the ball with vicious velocity, requiring that his targets brace for a ball closing in on them on sudden notice.
"Definitely learning to catch a ball from a lefty is a little different than from a righty," Rack said. "The rotation of the ball and everything like that, and the way he slings the ball. Last year definitely helped in practice catching balls from him, and now this year you just got to be ready. He'll release that ball and he throws like 100 mph every time. You just got to be ready."
Williamsville North sophomore quarterback Zach Barrett is the son of UB offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Danny Barrett, a former Canadian Football League quarterbacking great. Zach threw for more than 300 yards last week in the same game Williamsville South quarterback Joe Licata set the Western New York single-game passing record. Word is that Zach, who already can punch a fastball 80 mph, might be partial to baseball in the long run.